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Counseling notes.

"I'm a counselor at Wildlife Camp, a camp in the hills outside of Hendersonville, North Carolina run by the National Wildlife Federation. The camp's aim is to encourage children in their appreciation and understanding of the natural world, to show them exactly what they can do to help take care of the earth. I went to camp here when I was growing up. This summer I'm working here as a counselor.

"I'm writing this on my top bunk in the middle of the night by the light of a small candle lantern. My eight campers and my co-counse.lor are sleeping soundly, the gentle chorus of their breathing all around me. I hear the nighttime drone of the woods behind our cabin.

At the time of the night, it's crazy for me to be awake. Tomorrow I'll wake up tired. I'll probably have a short temper. Still, in this job you need this time alone, after the kids are asleep, after your responsibilites are put to bed.

I want to talk about what it's like to work here. While I still remember things. That's why I'm writing. I've remember things. That's why I'm writing. I've been saving up notes in my journal, like nuts, written in spare moments I have in between the activities which structure each day. Here I'll lay them out.

One woman I worked for a few years ago said that camp counseling is the second hardest job in the world. The hardest, she said, is being a parent. I don't know what it's like to be a parent. I do know what it's like to be a charge of ten eight-year old boys for an entire rainy day, to teach the same knot to the same kid six times in one hour. I know whats it's like to get a few hours off and be too exhausted to do anything, even go to bed. I'm certain that all of this work is worthhile, but sometimes, I swear, I don't feel equal to it. I suspect parents feel this sometimes too.

How much change is involved in growth? I went to camp here when I was young. I returned this summer after having been away for six years. In that interim I did a few things -- graduated from high school and college; lived abroad for a year; had my first serious girlfriend and, later, my first serious ex-girlfriend. The say before I arrived here for the summer, it was easy to believe that I was coming back a different person, that from age sixteen to twenty-two, I had changed. Two months into the job, I'm beginning to doubt this. I see myself going about being a good counselor in the same way I went about being a good camper, and it seems I fear and enjoy many of the same things. It's not hard to get a sense of what kind of adults many of these campers will be.

I go through some days feeling like a tired and ruthless dictator. Other days I'm convinced I'm the kindest and most popular counselor around. I find myself taking the kids' behavior personally when I know my mind that I have very little to do with itl, good or bad.

On the best days, the kids and I meet halfway. We exchange what's best about us.

I feel good when I see campers holding on to something I've given them. Today I heard Clinton telling a joke I told him a few days ago. Raheim can now find sourwood on his own. I want to show them things, I want them to figure things out on their own. I catch myself wanting them to think of me in the future, when they look back at camp.

It's easy to talk over a child's head, easy to give instructions that can't be followed. Sometimes I'm just too tired try to do things right. It's a crazy job. Absolutely crazy. To do as much as we do, to give and get as much as we do, and then have the kids leave as quickly as they came. I'm tired tonight and restless. I want to drive away alone and sleep someplace quiet for a week.

I want to avoid saying that I see a spark in children's eyes after I've taught them something. I want to avoid saying that children closer to nature, and that working with them opens up something inside that I can't define. Most people who work here start thinking these things after a while, if they didn't come already believing them. I'll say this: I find rewards each day, if I keep my eyes open.

This place meant a good deal to me when I was younger. Sentimentality was allowed, even encouraged. I missed that sorely during the school year. I see this in some of the older kids here now. They tell each other that their only real friends are at camp, that they wish they could stay here forever. I have to remember that I said these things too, and that I needed this place where I could say them when I was their age.

Responsibilties. W're rarely aware of what we're teaching others. Or what we're learning. Today in Ecology Quest we explored habitats. The kids investigated a field, a forest floor, and a stream bed, looking for traces of the things that live in each place. They sluggishly gathered data with hand lenses and thermometers (a hot, hot day). They took soil samples, identified plants, and gamely answered the questions that Jenny and I posed. I don't wonder if this is a useful lesson. I have an idea, though, that we taught much more than what we said. Our tone of voice, or enthusiasm, our respect for all that was around us -- they passed along the lasting lessons. The collected facts and data are more easily forgotten, save by the younger campers, who collect and carry around bits of information like Halloween candy.

Today this feels like honest work. I'm awake during the day, hungry at mealtimes, tired in the evening. I carry a water bottle everywhere I go.

I remember my first few moments at Wildlife Camp. I was ten years old, alone and just arrived, terrified. Walking from the ancient bus that picked me up at the airport to the registration desk in front of the dining hall, I tried to look unconcerned. My plan was to sneak away as soon as possible with all of my luggage and foot in into Hendersonville. I would call home and explain that this summer camp business was all a mistake. Surely, someone would come and get me.

I'm amazed every day by this collection of people working here and their knowledge and concern for what we're teaching. Spending time with them away from the kids is absolutely necessary, We all need time to talk about what we're going through, to compare notes and stories.

The kids. The campers. They're everywhere and nowhere in this journal, in my thoughts and not. They're the reason all of us are here. The outnumber, outtalk, and, too often, outsmart and outrun us. We live eat, teach, and play with them. When we leave the camp property, we seem to talk only about them. Every so often, one will say something that makes me forget how tired I am.

Each summer after coming home to Memphis from Wildlife Camp, I was charged up to do good deeds for Nature. I made bird feeders, joined the Sierra Club. After my second summer, I became a staunch vegetarian for severl days. It's hard to determine the long-term influence of this place in my life. These days I enjoy backpacking, and I like old John Denver songs. I suspect that my experience at Wildlife Camp laid the groundwork for many of my present interests and concerns. A few months ago I jumped at the chance to come back to camp and work here.

This morning I asked Chris, one of my eight-year-olds, how he slept. "On my face," he answered. After nearly two sessions of working with eight-year-olds, I'm better at giving concrete, detailed instructions that kids can hold on to and put in their pockets. We have to take raincoats in case it rains. We have to pack our backpacks before an overnight. We have to go to the bathroom before bed.

"Why is it important to respect each other?" "Why do you think I'm asking you to stop?" "What do you think should happen next?" I find myself saying the same things my counselors said to me.

The kids seem to reflect what I give them. If I pay close attention, I can see how I'm doing.

I don't know it all of this holds together. Maybe in the fall, perspective and an opportunity to organize these thoughts will come. For now, it's hard to put things together, and what I feel strongly is difficult to articulate. Something about returning here after the forward thrust of college years and feeling more myself. Something about returning to a familiar, special place and learning from it again.

When I drove up on the first day of Staff Training Week this June, the place seemed smaller: the gravel driveway, the asphalt tennis court, the green slope-roofed boys' cabins. The Wildfire Camp I remembered and the Wildlife Camp to which I had just returned seemed slightly different, both variations of the one I left six years earlier. My sense of myself on that day was surely just as vague, and I won't waste time trying to wrap words around it now. It's late tonight. Work begins when I wake up tomorrow.

Conclusions. I can say that working here has consumed me for a summer. I can say that I'm better for what I've done and that this place, fortunately and remarkably, hasn't changed much at all since I was here. I don't want to say much else. Things like this, they can't be measured, no matter how we try.
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Article Details
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Title Annotation:camp counselors
Author:Lupfer, Eric
Publication:Camping Magazine
Date:Sep 1, 1993
Previous Article:Programming to retain experienced campers.
Next Article:Preparing for growth.

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