By Lea – MCE Community Manager and life-long camper, counselor and director.
August is officially upon us and even in Maine, where summer days seem endless, the night sky is falling sooner than the week before and the air is feeling a little bit crisper. Days may still be warm, but there is a faint hint of color in the maple tree’s leaves, and as campers and counselors make their way back to their bunks each evening, they are holding their camp sweatshirts and flashlights just a little bit closer.
The last days of summer camp in Maine are now in sight; at least for this season.
Campers in Maine summer camps have swam, water-skied, knee-boarded, sailed, canoed, paddle boarded, and kayaked every inch of our two dozen camp lakes by this point. They have made thousands of beaded necklaces, friendship bracelets, lopsided pots and mosaic trivets to bring home to mom and dad. They have learned to dribble, bunt, pass, shoot and serve their way to victory. There have been inter-camp wins and losses, first loves and lost loves, all day laughter and some late night tears, new friends, old friends and an endless amount of memories, moments and life lessons that could not have happened anywhere else but at summer camp – and in Maine.
We can easily count the days on both hands now until the busses are loaded, but the best moments are still to come! Each camp has their own unique programs that occur in the final week of camp, but part of what makes Maine summer camps so special is that these are not simply activities but intentional programs that are full of history, community, teaching and tradition.
I’m not sure if the intensity of the last week of camp is meant to trick campers and staff into forgetting they are going home soon, to wear them out before the bus ride home, or that 100+ years of Maine camp traditions that have just become expertly woven together to create the perfect crescendo and decrescendo of the camp season.
The beginning of the last week begins with a bang-figuratively and possibly literally at some camps. It might be a cannon, fireworks or a sea of balloons filling the dining hall-yet there can be no mistake what is happening. COLOR WAR has broken! Some camps refer to the event by their camp colors (Green & Gray, Red & White, etc.), or others host a similar type event like College Days, Olympics or Challenge Days. Even if you tried to hate it-you couldn’t. Decked head to toe in their team color, war paint on their faces, spray hair color and sparkles in their hair, voices gone horse-this is a moment that campers have waited for all summer (and frankly, all year). Spirit has filled their souls, and from the first event to the never-ending anticipation of whose rope will burn first, there is nothing else that matters in the world except their color, their team, their spirit. Win or lose, these are camp traditions and memories that are a part of every camper’s heart and soul for years upon years to come (in fact, for a lifetime).
In the days that follow, voices heal, sleep comes deeply and camper’s talents and skills are given priority. The dance classes share their routines in the camp talent show; photography, paintings and pottery are showcased in the art show; and future Hollywood superstars wow the camp community with the camp play or musical production. Athletes, artisans, budding chefs, musicians, thespians and others get a chance to shine.
Following the flurry of celebrations and showcases something unexpected happens-it’s time to pack! Each cabin explodes into an ocean of towels, identical camp t-shirts, never-matching socks, unclaimed bars of soap, bug spray, unintentionally hijacked camp sports equipment and even more half-finished friendship bracelets for mom. Duffel bags and trunks are transported away in some sort of sophisticated system more high-tech than the airport’s baggage claim area and are quickly separated into piles for the airport, bus and the camp baggage company to ship home.
At the banquet dinner that final camp evening memories are shared, endless photos are taken and often awards are given out to deserving campers and staff. The closing campfire quickly follows, and the mood shifts towards solemn and serious. As the camp director stands before the entire camp one last time it becomes undeniable that these final days have turned to final hours. Many camps have followed the same traditions, especially with the closing campfire, for decades or more. Thousands upon thousands of boys and girls have sat on these same benches, looking out through the dim campfire light to the faces of their fellow campers and felt an amazing mix of sadness, gratitude, appreciation, love and anticipation that cannot be matched. Last night of camp ceremonies like the closing campfire, wish boats and good-bye lines help allow the entire camp community the closure that everyone needs to conclude the summer camp season and prepare for heading home and into fall.
For campers who are in their last season at camp, these moments are even more precious and meaningful. Their love of camp and their camp friendships have grown year after year, and the thought of spending a summer away from Maine is simply unthinkable. For those who are finishing their last summer at camp, soak it all in, savor every moment and don’t discount that you may still yet spend another summer in Maine.
Summer Camp may provide more personal growth and experiences than can seem possible for a simple season, but yet while camp remains where it stands, the “summer” part of camp wanes each and every year- even in the magical land of Maine.
I didn’t intend for the tone of this blog to end up so serious, but yet every summer at this time I try to will time to slow-down to a near stop. I remember to open my eyes a little more to the beauty around me at summer camp in Maine and soak in the laughter, singing and spirit of camp. I know there are too many moments that I have surely taken for granted, and the last few days of camp and the camp traditions help me to reflect upon all that I have experienced and prepare me for the flurry of emotions that set in as I drive down the camp road heading back to another place I call home.
Talk to Laurie, our Maine Campcierge™, about choosing the right camp for your child and what to do in Maine.