Category: Lessons from Alaska, summer 2013

A summer in Wasilla, Alaska, spent as a counselor for Camp Togowoods Girl Scout camp, and other Alaskan adventures.

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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Lessons from Alaska, part II: grit, granola and flannel

I am going to keep this short and sweet, but let’s just say Alaska is still amazing. I learn more about working with kids, my mental strength, my physical strength and the wonderful capability of people to rise to the challenges presented to them.

I have become so gritty, y’all. My body is stronger (although I do have shin splints from trekking all over the concrete in Anchorage). My mind is stronger. I am building up tenacity like I haven’t before. I wear even more flannel and ever more fleece-on-fleece than I did before, which is really something. I have been designated as one of the most granola in our staff, and I am glad to wear that ground.

I am coming home from a two-day trip to Anchorage in which I was a total tourist, looked like a bag lady and spent entirely too much money. It was a welcome change from a two-week-long session, but I will admit I am itching to get back to camp. I feel entirely too clean and materialistic, and I can’t wait to be covered in dirt and surrounded by kids again. I really do believe I have the best job on the planet.

It really is amazing what you learn by forcing yourself out of your comfort zone, out of your circle of mastery. You learn to dig deep within yourself as much as you learn to ask for help from those who know more than you. I am growing, growing, growing and so grateful for it.

I would love to tell you every amazing success story, every frustrating struggle, every moment of camp, and that would take entirely too long. I will forever have camp songs stuck in my head and I don’t think I’ll be actually fully clean for a while after getting home. Camp changes a person like that.

Check out my Instagram for more regular photo updates. Hope y’alls’ summers are going super well!

100 percent in my element.
100 percent in my element.

Casual mountain view after I hiked up Bodenburg Butte

No filter needed. Sorry Instagram.
No filter needed. Sorry Instagram.

Lessons from Alaska: singing, sunsets and platform tents

Alaska is amazing, in case you were wondering. There are mountains everywhere and it’s absolutely breathtaking. I am fighting the urge to take a zillion and two pictures of every scenic view (and kind of succeeding).

I’m not going to take this blog post to explain everything that happened in training or in our first round of day camp. I’m not going to list off all the adorable things my campers did, or the irritating things, or the wacky things. I’m not going to relay all of our training in all its social justice- and empowerment-centered glory. I’m no going to talk (more) about the mountains.

It wouldn’t be worth it for you. These experiences lose power every time they are moved down the line of communication. They wouldn’t mean as much to you… plus I don’t want to type for that long.

I will give you a little glimpse of what I’ve learned, though.

Here’s the short list of lessons from Alaska:

  • Overstimulation is fun until it’s scary.
  • There’s almost never darkness in Alaska. This means it’s hard to sleep, but it also mean the sunsets are super late and amazing.
  • It isn’t ever actually hard to sleep when you’re a counselor. Sleep is the greatest.
  • You will never know mental exhaustion like being a camp counselor.
  • You will also never know a sense of accomplishment like being a camp counselor. Seeing your 6- and 7-year-old campers brave their fears and go boating or swipe away spider webs is such an amazing feeling.
  • Friendship bracelets are armor.
  • True voice. True voice. True voice.
  • Alaska has monster mosquitos.
  • Going off the grid is great.
  • Always wear a watch.
  • People are always stronger than you think they are.

I want to write more and share everything about camp with you, oh Internet, but I need to go to bed. Breakfast before 8:00 a.m. means I need to go to bed while I can.

It’s amazing here, y’all. It’s a hard job, but it’s one of the most rewarding things I have ever done. I cannot wait for this wonderful place to teach me even more.

This summer of Jaybird is magic.

Intentional planning and some light reading.
Intentional planning and some light reading.
At Girl Scout Encampment, 7 a.m.
At Girl Scout Encampment, 7 a.m.
10 p.m. sunset by 3 Mile Lake
10 p.m. sunset by 3 Mile Lake

An Awfully Big Adventure

In 15 hours and 48 minutes, my plane will be taking off. In case you didn’t know, I’m going to Alaska. To be a Girl Scout camp counselor. For two and a half months.

Oy.

An example of the platform tent I'll be staying in all summer.
An example of the platform tent I’ll be staying in all summer.

I’m crazy excited. Alaska is waaay further north than I’ve ever been before, and I’ll be further off the grid for longer. I’ll be in charge of young girls – making sure they make friends, sleep enough, pack well for hikes and make enough friendship bracelets. I’ll also be in charge of taking care of me, working with my co-counselors and not being carried off by giant mosquitos in my sleep.

Summer is such a time for learning and living and giving, giving, giving. I plan on flying back into Missouri on August 12th as a more spiritually centered, tanned and wizened human. Hopefully Alaska has the same plan for me.

I won’t have a whole lot of access to my computer, obviously, but I do hope to be able to blog once a week. A weekly recap, of sorts.  I want to share what I’ve seen (mountains, bears, sunrises), heard (camp songs, rushing water, giddy laughter) and learned (how to live in a tent for 11 weeks, lessons from my campers, how to avoid killer mosquitos).

Message/text/email me your address and I’ll try to send you a postcard! In the mean time, keep an eye out for pictures and posts about camp.

Hope you all have an awesome summer as well!