Lessons from Alaska, part III: how camp taught me to swim

At camp, we dismiss campfire by singing a song called “Linger.” It ends “This is goodnight and not goodbye.” That’s also how I said goodbye to my co-workers as we hugged and parted ways at the airport. This is not goodbye. I will be seeing you again.

So that’s it. My summer in Alaska is over. I am moving into my townhouse in two days. My junior year of college starts in less than a week. I am going to be a reporter for the city paper all semester (meep!). Life is rushing right along and all I need to do is jump into the current. It isn’t that hard – I’ve been living in this fast-paced society for my whole life. This is not new.

It is, however, very unlike Alaska. Very unlike camp.

I miss Alaska. I miss my power women co-workers and the spirit of community. I miss singing songs from sun up to sun down (which is only a figure of speech in this instance because it barely gets dark during an Alaska summer). I miss the sounds of kid logic and problem solving. I miss the mountains.

It really was the best way for me to spend my summer. I may not have come away with a lot of money in my bank account, but let me tell you how much richer I feel because of it. I stretched up and down. I problem-solved with adults and children alike. I swallowed pride, fear and uncertainty and jumped right on in to camp. I changed lives. My life changed. It’s a great feeling – knowing for absolute certain that an experience improved you as a human. Especially when a lot of those improvements are immediate and tangible. I say “and.” I separate behaviors from the person with the behavior. I remove myself from negative situations. I solution-solve.

I know there will be more improvements that will unfold and unfurl themselves later down the line. More secure relationships, more genuine interactions, more determination and grit. More happiness. I know that sounds like a very rose-colored-glasses prediction, and I really believe that the power of camp can have that sort of influence.

On an entirely less reflective and mushy note, Alaska is amazing. It is a glorious meeting of mountain and ocean and forest. During camp sessions, I hiked and either kayaked or canoed every week. Three Mile Lake (named for the mile marker we’re at, not the size) is a home to a pair of loons and their chick, swans, cranes and assorted fish. There are moose that live around the edges of camp and occasionally lumber across our roads.

A waterfall tucked in Bertha Creek campsite.
A waterfall tucked in Bertha Creek campsite.
Casual Class IV rapids on Six Mile Creek.
Casual Class IV rapids on Six Mile Creek.

During breaks in between sessions, I got to experience out-of-camp Alaska, and let me be the first to say: wow. I went white-water rafting on Class IV rapid through canyons. I camped in some of the most breath-taking campsites I have ever seen. I hiked to waterfalls. I saw a glacier. I climbed on rocks. I saw: five moose, six bears, a doe and her fawn, a porcupine, four bald eagles, salmon spawning and the tail of a seal. I felt two earthquakes and head Alaska thunder three times (note: thunder is Alaska is extremely rare). And always, always, always, there were the mountains. Solid and soaring, they were the backdrops of every adventure I had.

Staff’s favorite camp song is called “Swimming to the Other Side.” We sang it at every campfire, swaying back and forth and grinning at each other. The lyrics, which I wish I could sing to everyone I meet, fit into each of our hearts like puzzle pieces. No matter where we were in our days, in our lives, these words jumped out and spoke to us. It pulls together everything we loved about this past summer. Everything we love still.

“We are living ‘neath the Great Big Dipper/

We’re all washed by the very same rain/

We are swimming in this stream together/

Some in power and some in pain/

We can worship this ground we walk on/

Cherishing the beings that we live beside/

Loving spirits will live forever/

We’re all swimming to the other side.”

 

Swimming doesn’t mean floating. Swimming doesn’t mean not drowning. Swimming means kicking against current and streamlining and showing grit. It means working hard towards a goal, no matter how distant it seems.

I am going to miss my camp life. Here, in the “real people world,” as staff took to calling it, it is not socially acceptable to wear fleece layers, Keens and hiking pants to my job. I have to shower regularly. My future pans out more than six days at a time. I might have to brush my hair (I’ll probably skip this one).

It’s a whole different adventure out here.

I’m ready, though. Let’s start swimming.

Phoenix and me jumping into Crane Pond. See also: the Dream Team in action.
Phoenix and me jumping into Crane Pond. See also: the Dream Team in action.
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