I am twelve, Loving summer camp With its quests Unexpected and new, Its routines and scenes, Moose Pond in the morning mist— A wide lake in spite of its name— The cloud wisps decorating Pleasant Mountain, Honeymoon and Japanese Islands Present unseen, Loving summer camp especially this summer Because I have a best friend, Louise; We explore, discuss, absorb The Maine woods and our unfolding lives.
Excursions and camping trips Are my pinnacle delight; For some, we paddle across or down our lake; For others, we ride, singing, In the open wooden-gated back of a truck, Sometimes to a distant lake or river That will carry our canoes to our sleeping cove, Other times to a single day’s new source of happiness.
As on the day we campers climb Over the face of a garnet hillside Collecting beauty from the center of the Earth.
I love rocks—geology has risen high Among the fascinations That will rise and fall and rise in new forms Across the eras of my life.
I am jubilant Tapping on the cliff In the warm Maine sun, Loosening treasures, Small rocks sparkling with deep-red gems To carry home with me at the end of summer In a footlocker weighing three times Its going-to-Maine weight.
Back home I am snared in the unhappiness of junior high; My Maine rocks join the granite boulders in our backyard.
As my years continue, Rocks give way to new passions— Folk music, the great apes, ice skating, literature— I live a floating life, Grasping the possibilities in view, Leaving left-behind possibilities on the shores of memory.
I meet rapids And create whirlpools where none are intended; I flail against benevolent waters Because they are not the waters I seek Or believe I need to find.
After journeying to distant shores Seeking elusive settling, I return eventually to Delaware, To our little white house.
Daddy shows me he has kept my loveliest garnet rock, Stored safely against our sheltering home.
Now the garnet-filled rock carries in its crystals Twelve-year-old me Held among the eons its gems have shone Within and on the surface Of our miraculous Earth.
My rock carries within itself Its ancient molten infancy And refracts the Light To bathe my ephemeral now With insight outside of passing time.
The girl I was is not lost But held inside of me; The future I wanted but did not find Forms strata in my knowing, In the strength I have to share.
God’s garnets in my hand Shine their peace-giving glow On who I was, Who I am, And who I still can be.
During my summers at camp in Maine, I learned
all the usual things, such as how to do the backstroke and how to climb back
into an overturned canoe. I learned to shoot a bow and arrow and grout the
tiles in an ashtray. I learned to use a compass, build a fire, and dig a
latrine. I learned a new level of humiliation by crashing my sailboat into an
opponent’s during the camp regatta. While I no longer grout ashtrays, dig
latrines, or sail in regattas, seven of the lessons from summer camp have
kept their value throughout the decades.
Lesson One: If you win praise, some folks won’t be happy.
I arrived at camp the first summer determined
to master all the camp activities in eight weeks. I was eleven and didn’t have
much skill with which to begin, especially in swimming. When I was tested the
first day, I closed my eyes, jumped into the lake, and swam in circles while
the counselors hollered at me to stop.
By the end of week six, I still wasn’t out of
the beginners’ area, but I could swim in a straight line. The counselors
awarded me a swimming “badge” for my effort. I came back from breakfast one
morning to find the decal had been added to the others on the green felt banner
over my bed.
That same morning, I heard my cabinmate
Samantha complaining about what a goody-goody I was. She hadn’t received her swimming
badge yet, even though she was one of the best swimmers in the entire
intermediate unit. The next day during cabin cleanup, Samantha grabbed my
tennis racket and hit me over the head with it. Just before rest period after
lunch, she hid my toothbrush, my jacks and ball, The Island of the Blue
Dolphins, and my regulation green bathing suit. After supper, Samantha and
two of her friends chased me around the outside of the infirmary building. When
I managed to escape and hide in the shower house, I heard them call me a witch
as they passed by.
The following morning after breakfast,
Samantha had a swimming badge on her banner. We learned she should have gotten
it the day I received mine, but there had been a mix-up. Over the course of the
day, my toothbrush, jacks and ball, book, and bathing suit reappeared on my
Lesson Two: If you’re really good at something, people will pay attention to you.
During my first year at camp, I was not very
good at tennis or canoeing, but I could beat everyone at jacks. I knew fifteen
fancies, like “Pigs in the Blanket” and “Around the World,” and I could remove
a single jack from a tangled pile without disturbing the rest. I won both jacks
tournaments that summer and was considered one of the camp’s all-time best.
Being tops at jacks did not bring me lots of
friends, but practically everyone wanted to play jacks with me. Even if most
girls were just attracted by the chance to beat me, I didn’t mind. I never had
to play jacks alone.
Lesson Three: Events with the boys’ camp won’t live up to expectations.
One Friday night during the summer when I was
twelve, we older intermediate girls put on our Sunday uniforms and traveled by
open truck to watch a movie at our brother camp a few miles down the lake.
Missy, Laura, and Samantha—the first, second, and third most popular girls in
our unit—wore pink lipstick and rubbed some of it into their cheeks. We all
curled our hair.
The movie turned out to be a western. The
boys sat in the back of their lodge, while we girls sat in front. I barely even
caught sight of a boy.
The following summer we were old enough for
dances. Truckloads of boys were deposited at our lodge, or we were trucked to
theirs. The counselors teamed up for bush patrol. Each year there seemed to be
exactly three cute boys, one each for Missy, Laura, and Samantha. I liked it
best when the dances were held at our camp because I could sneak back to my
cabin and read a book by flashlight. The year I was fourteen, my best friend,
Louise, and I survived two dances by hiding in the woods and discussing the
When I was fifteen, I did actually spend a
dance with a boy, but I found him highly uninteresting. After the last slow
song he kissed me, my first kiss.
Lesson Four: Some of the folks in charge simply won’t like you.
All of my cabin counselors were lovely and
kind young women, except for Betsy. Betsy let me know I had no hope of ever
being popular like Missy, Laura, and Samantha. Therefore she found me boring
and not worth her attention. Betsy had been a camper before she was a
counselor. I figured she had been just like Samantha. Betsy told me about my
flat singing, mousy hair, and feeble tennis strokes. Once when I had such a bad
sunburn that my back blistered, Betsy was annoyed because I groaned in my sleep
and disturbed her rest.
Each summer on the second-to-last night of
camp, we had a special banquet. The counselors decorated the lodge with pine
boughs and candles and danced and sang songs they had made up about the summer.
When I saw Betsy up there singing about Sports Day and the Fourth of July and
all the other now-past times, I started to cry a little. Maybe I was going to
miss Betsy. Maybe she was not such a bad counselor after all. Maybe with more
time we could have been friends.
When we went back to the cabin after the
banquet, Betsy hollered at me for accidentally banging into her foot locker.
Lesson Five: Yes, there can be too much of a good thing.
Every Wednesday evening, we had a cookout and
ate hamburgers and hotdogs, with watermelon for dessert. On Sunday nights, if
we turned in a letter home, we were given Italian sandwiches, and watermelon
for dessert. For the first three summers, I ate two or three pieces of
watermelon each Wednesday and Sunday. By the fifth summer, I passed up the
I didn’t grow tired of the ice cream we had
at noon on Sundays, or of canoeing or sailing a boat, but overnight camping
trips suffered the same fate as the watermelon. My first year I was allowed to
go on an overnight to a small pine-covered point of land directly across the
mile-wide lake from the camp. I was as happy as an adult on a ten-day cruise.
When I looked up from my warm sleeping bag, all the stars in the Universe shone
out there in front of me, with the Milky Way a nearly solid band of white. The
donut holes and French toast we cooked over the fire for breakfast were, to my
mind, among the best things I’d ever eaten.
Four years later, I was an experienced
camper. As a reward I was scheduled to go on seven trips, most of them for
three or four days at a time. That summer was unusually rainy. Between some
outings, my sneakers didn’t even have time to dry out. My life was cold rain,
dirt, and bugs. I learned about the impossibility of feeling warm and dry
sleeping in a tent during a storm, no matter how diligently we had dug the
trenches. The buzz of mosquitoes and black flies mingled with the sound of rain
Lesson Six: Simple pleasures are enduring pleasures.
Right from the first night of camp, I loved
singing all the songs. We sang at every meal, during evening program, on trips,
and around the campfire. We tried harmony to “Witchcraft” and “Seven Daffodils.”
We shouted out the happy songs, especially while we bumped along the Maine
roads in the back of a truck. I still remember the words to our favorites.
On Sundays we could sleep half an hour extra.
After breakfast, we were free until service in the pine grove at eleven.
Counselors, counselors-in-training, and campers from the three units took turns
presenting the service. Even when I was just an intermediate camper, I always
felt peaceful in the pine grove. I’d lean back on my elbows against the steep
hillside and look up to the very tops of the trees, where the green branches
began. The sound of guitars and singing spread through the otherwise silent
grove and over the empty cabins and quiet lake below. The motorboats didn’t
appear until afternoon. As I listened to the music, my fingers played with the
long, thick red-pine needles and the neat little five-needle bundles from the
After grove service, we were free until
lunch, which always included chicken with cranberry sauce and mustard pickles.
After rest hour we were on our own again until supper. The only activity
scheduled was a free swim at four. As I grew older, I used all the glorious
spare time in different ways. The first two years I spent most of every Sunday
playing jacks. Other summers I followed my secret path along the lake to a huge
flat rock in a clearing hidden from view at camp. I could read all afternoon.
Some Sundays, Louise and I looked for frogs or four-leaf clovers while we
discussed religion, philosophy, and rock ’n roll stars.
During the cold Maine nights—especially in
August, when the first leaves started turning red—I slept under seven blankets
and left my bathrobe on for a little extra warmth. The seven blankets served a
second purpose. They created a tent under which I could read after “Taps”
without being discovered. The dimmer my flashlight, the cozier I was. I read Little
Women under the blankets my second summer at camp. I’d already read it
three or four times before, but Jo and her sisters were a comforting contrast
to Missy, Laura, and Samantha.
Lesson Seven: If you’re in charge, you have to act as if you know what you’re doing.
While I was a camper and
counselor-in-training, someone else was always in charge. When I became a
counselor, I had trouble with the fact I was the one who was supposed to know
just what to do.
On one camping trip with a dozen eight- and
nine-year-olds, we ran out of firewood. Sarah, the other counselor on the trip,
had never used an ax. She and the little girls followed me into the woods to
watch me fell a small tree.
When a thunderstorm broke while I was on top
of a mountain with eight junior campers, I wondered whether my counselors had
ever felt as nervous as I did listening to the thunder coming closer.
One night about an hour after “Taps,” another
counselor, Trudy, and I heard screaming and running feet as we walked near our
duplex cabin. Cabin Four was hers, Cabin Three mine. A bat was flying around
inside. While Trudy and I were giving the girls a “bats are our friends” talk,
the bat flew at Trudy, who screamed and ran out the door. I never did coax the
bat to leave, but eventually he settled down and so did the girls. For the rest
of the summer, he spent his days hanging upside down from a beam in the Cabin Three
ceiling. If you’re in charge, you can’t complain about what lives over your