Summer Soliloquy

 

Growing up, summer is a time to learn about yourself.

I awoke that morning to a peculiar sensation. Through the fog of sleep, my fingers brushed my head and caught something. I blearily looked at the entanglement and found it was a walking stick. I freaked. Adrenaline kicked in and I shook my hand to get it off, noting it seemed to be missing a leg (something to feel bad about later).

It’s hard to say if that was the most effective means of waking up that summer. I was at a camp for kids up to age fourteen and was at that senior age when the walking stick incident occurred. The camp provided another means of shocking one awake: showers that pumped icy cold water from the bottom of the lake. One had to hike about a quarter mile from our tent for the privilege.

The place was owned and run by hippies-turned-entrepreneurs. We learned outdoor skills and even went on excursions that included a three-day hike through a forest (“The Maumee Trace”), an overnight spelunking expedition, an overnight climbing and rappelling trip, and a two-day canoe trip down the Blue River to where it met the mighty Ohio.

Every day at this summer camp was an experience, but there is a day that stands out, a revelatory day where I learned a bit about myself. The summers of youth should be spent that way: searching for the person you’ll become.

There were about fifteen of us walking with packs down an access road in the Hoosier National Forest. Clay, a counselor-in-training, and I moved with a bit more flourish. Okay, we were dancing and singing. The preceding spring, an Australian new wave band called Pseudo Echo remade “Funkytown” and, yes, that was our trail song. Others were most likely annoyed by us but maybe had a chuckle. That’s not a bad thing for morale after hiking several miles, most of them navigating by compass through hilly, wooded terrain.

We arrived at our campsite, a farmyard, around 5 pm. It was a lovely day and we had a chance to wash up in a man-made pond at the back of the property. A second group from the camp took a different route through the forest and perched themselves on a hilltop well above us. After washing up, the plan was to hike up there without our gear and join them for dinner and a campfire.

I wasn’t a particularly good camper, or, at least, wasn’t really equipped for it. Other guys had the waterproof sleeping bags, proper boots, and Dr. Brauner’s All-in-One shampoo/soap/toothpaste/transmission fluid (the latter decided upon after testing the toothpaste notion). The rest of us were impressed.

There was no sign of weather, so I have no explanation for my action prior to heading up the hill. We were issued trash bags in the event of rain to protect our gear. Our tents on the hike weren’t actual tents, but tarps: one set on the ground, another staked above our heads to complete the rudimentary shelter. For whatever reason, I took out my trash bag and placed it over my backpack and was the only one to do so.

The dinner and campfire were cut short by an eerie occurrence. As I said, there was no visible indication of weather when we went up the hill. At the second campsite were a couple dozen stone slabs, each, well, about the size of a sarcophagus. There was a Native American legend that went with the slabs, and stories of failed attempts to remove them suggesting a supernatural connection.

The slab stories continued when a wind kicked up and a strong thunderstorm rolled in. The first sound of thunder turned our attention to the various hills and valleys we could spy from our perch. There was no question the storm was headed straight for us. It sped toward our hilltop like some great snake attacking in slow motion.

We had no time to make it down the hill but instead jumped under the tarps of the second group. It was useless. The rain came sideways. The thunder seemed right on top of us. I saw lightning strike a tree in the valley below us and paid close attention to the hair on my arm in case quick flight was needed. After ten or fifteen minutes there was a lull and a group of us decided to make for our camp. We ran the whole way down through the rain.

Actual camp photo (found on Flickr), same year, same session as the story.

It was a silly effort. The storm moved through and the rest of our group followed a half hour later in a lighter drizzle. It was time for sleep.

I awoke the next morning to find my fellow campers huddling and shivering. All their sleeping bags were soaking wet and they hadn’t slept much. My bag was dry thanks to the trash bag and I’d slept well. It was a cool, humid summer morning and I knew if I gave up my bag it wouldn’t be comfortable, but my fellow campers were in much worse shape.

It really only took a couple seconds of consideration, I unzipped the sleeping bag so it could cover more of them and handed it over. I didn’t know, to that point, whether I was capable of something like that. It was a small test, but at fourteen it seemed bigger. In hindsight, it was a first brush with leadership as well.

There were murmurs of thanks, but accepting such things embarrassed me at that age and well beyond. The camping stove was in my pack, so I quickly got up and out of the shelter to see what could be done about some warm food. The moment was over, but I learned something positive about myself and it felt good.

Later, as we broke camp, I found the sleeping bag discarded carelessly on the sodden ground. Those bastards got my bag all wet and it took two days to dry out. A small price to pay for a bit of faith in yourself. It was still a day, or rather, an experience, to carry forward into the first days of high school.

There are 11 comments.

Become a member to join the conversation. Or sign in if you're already a member.
  1. Arahant Member
    Arahant
    @Arahant

    Sounds like quite a trip and opportunity.


    This conversation is an entry in our Group Writing Series under February’s theme of “We Need a Little Summer.” If you would like to warm yourself and others with memories of summers past or present, why not sign up to share a story today?

    • #1
  2. Vectorman Inactive
    Vectorman
    @Vectorman

    Original Funky Town:

    Pseudo Echo Version:

    I like the original, but the Pseudo musicianship is top notch!

    • #2
  3. Chris O. Coolidge
    Chris O.
    @ChrisO

    Arahant (View Comment):
    Sounds like quite a trip and opportunity.

    There have been many, many times when someone asks have you ever done this/that activity and thanks to the camp, the answer is often ‘yes.’

    I was going for a “Wonder Years” vibe here.

    • #3
  4. Chris O. Coolidge
    Chris O.
    @ChrisO

    Vectorman (View Comment):
    Original Funky Town:

    Pseudo Echo Version:

    I like the original, but the Pseudo musicianship is top notch!

    Agree 100%. They had another fairly popular song called “Living in a Dream.”

    • #4
  5. Mim526 Member
    Mim526
    @Mim526

    Chris O. (View Comment):
    I was going for a “Wonder Years” vibe here.

    Mission accomplished.  Enjoyed your story very much.

    • #5
  6. Chris O. Coolidge
    Chris O.
    @ChrisO

    Mim526 (View Comment):

    Chris O. (View Comment):
    I was going for a “Wonder Years” vibe here.

    Mission accomplished. Enjoyed your story very much.

    Thanks, Mim!

    • #6
  7. Trink Coolidge
    Trink
    @Trink

    Where do you think your impulse to help others originated?

    Did your family life at home embrace a “golden rule” culture.

    Do you think the urge to help other is simply  inherent in our genetic makeup.  More so in some than others?

     

    • #7
  8. Cow Girl Thatcher
    Cow Girl
    @CowGirl

    Did you find yourself doing good things for other people more often after that? I hope so. I hope that the good feelings you had when you were kind and shared with others made you more willing to try it again. Yeah, yeah, they messed up your sleeping bag later. But, it didn’t negate the good thing you did.

    • #8
  9. Chris O. Coolidge
    Chris O.
    @ChrisO

    Trink (View Comment):
    Where do you think your impulse to help others originated?

    Did your family life at home embrace a “golden rule” culture.

    Do you think the urge to help other is simply inherent in our genetic makeup. More so in some than others?

    It’s a good question, Trink, and I simply don’t know the answer. That’s partially why the moment was significant. I’ll just say there was a lot of clutter blocking the impulse. I wouldn’t have given it a second thought today.

    My family (growing up) never discussed giving. Money was given to the church, but I only knew about it because I saw Dad write the check. My parents did significant volunteer activities within the church and the community, but we never, ever discussed it, so I have to answer “no” on the golden rule question.

    To your third question, I think the willingness to help others comes much easier when we’re at ease with ourselves. In other words, when we feel little or no want, then there’s just an existing need (cold, wet campers) and the willingness and resources to meet that need. How many of us are at ease with ourselves in our mid teens?!

    • #9
  10. Chris O. Coolidge
    Chris O.
    @ChrisO

    Cow Girl (View Comment):
    they messed up your sleeping bag later. But, it didn’t negate the good thing you did.

    I forgot about the whole thing until I turned my brain to the task of coming up with a summertime story. After a couple of days, the brain reported back and brought up this memory. There was frustration at the time that the other guys didn’t give me the consideration I gave them, but to your point, it didn’t diminish the feeling I did the right thing.

    Take a look at my answer to Trink above, it partially answers your question. I have given time to many charitable organizations over the years, but it wasn’t an easy impulse until I dropped some baggage. I’d say that for many years guilt compelled the service, and now it’s just the joy of helping.

    • #10
  11. Chris O. Coolidge
    Chris O.
    @ChrisO

    Chris O. (View Comment):
    when we feel little or no want, then there’s just an existing need (cold, wet campers) and the willingness and resources to meet that need.

    It occurs to me, @trink, I need to reverse the end part of this. There is an external existing need, I have the resources to meet the need. It is very easy to act and meet the need when you don’t have a sense of scarcity. It is not a rare thing to think, “Well, I have to give up my comfort to meet that need and I don’t want to do that.” So it’s a matter of where your comfort comes from: is it external (warm, dry sleeping bag) or is it internal (there are other ways to stay warm)?

    The latter is the easier and more natural thought, in my opinion. The former comes from conditioning to believe that there is only so much to go around/one’s resources are finite. Just a thought. Thanks for spinning the wheels in my head on this!

    • #11
Become a member to join the conversation. Or sign in if you're already a member.

Comments are closed because this post is more than six months old. Please write a new post if you would like to continue this conversation.