Life. Simplified. column: Everything I need to know I learned at summer camp
My memories as a child are punctuated by summers spent at sleep-away camp. I was a chubby, pasty kid with freckles and a sweaty nose. I had big ears that stuck out of the side of my face like two tea cup saucers. I wore brown-tinted glasses held together on one side with a wad of tape and a bent piece of paperclip. I was a combination of Alfred E. Neuman and Alfalfa — but awkward, spectacled and sweaty. For the most part, I did OK. But as soon as school let out, I dreaded another summer at sleep-away camp. It’s true: What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger (if not slightly neurotic).
My memories of camp consist of shocking tales of tragic loss and epic survival. At Greenbriar Camp for Boys in the humid hills of West Virginia, I remember a kid behind me almost drowned when he had a panic attack, while spelunking through a wet cave that went on for miles underground. That summer, another kid was rumored to have been trampled to death by a bull during a clandestine attempt at midnight cow-tipping.
A year later, at Camp Greentop in the Catoctin Mountains adjacent to Camp David, Maryland, I was introduced to cigarettes and Playboy magazine by a senior counselor who turned out to be a felon. Apparently, he brought a handgun with him to camp and was arrested mid-summer by the Secret Service. The following year, at Camp Moshava in the Pennsylvania wilderness, a bunkmate and I escaped certain death after catching a handsome dappled snake outside our bunk — only to learn that it was a copperhead, which didn’t bite us only because it was digesting a rat, which it promptly barfed up as soon as we placed it in the terrarium at science lab.
When I was in fourth grade, my parents drove me out to Camp Flaming Arrow in Hunt, Texas. That summer, a horse had a heart attack and died (in the middle of a trail ride through the Texas desert — with a camper on his back). That year a lanky kid in the bunk next to mine met with an abrupt end to his summer (with a three-hour ambulance ride) after bursting a testicle on a rock submerged underneath the rope swing, which emptied into the shallow waters of our camp creek (which turned out to be the run-off for a local cattle ranch — which is probably why we smelled like cow piss all summer).
The undisputed high point of my childhood was the day a bunkmate and I were throwing a football in the grassy field outside our cabin. Suddenly, a six-foot diamondback rattlesnake clamped down on my friend’s cowboy boot, inadvertently lodging his throbbing fangs into the leather of his boot. Unable to extricate its pulsating jaws from the terrified boy’s boot, the giant serpent thrashed around for a full 60 seconds before a camp counselor ran over, and dropped a massive boulder on the snake, crushing it in the middle. Without a word, he then pulled out a nine-inch hunting knife and proceeded to saw the snake’s head off — still lodged in the petrified boy’s boot. Unbitten, my buddy peed his pants and the snake skin was later nailed to the wall at the entrance of the mess hall. Utterly traumatized, we all tiptoed around, eyes glued to the ground, for the remainder of the summer.
Life is a bit like sleep away camp. Anything can happen. The point is to do the best you can, try to make a few friends, and get through it with a few laughs, and a scar or two to tell your kids about. With death lurking just around the corner, it turns out the most rewarding adventures are the ones when there’s real skin in the game, where the threat of the unknown could cost you your life, and there’s a hero’s welcome after surviving another season relatively unscathed.
Evan Zislis is founder and principal consultant of http://www.MyIntentionalSolutions.com, delivering hands-on organizational solutions and strategies consulting for households, businesses, students, and life transitions. His bestselling book, “ClutterFree Revolution: Simplify Your Stuff, Organize Your Life & Save the World” is available on Amazon. For more information about simplifying your stuff and organizing your life, LIKE ClutterFree Revolution on Facebook, call 970-366-2532, or email Evan@MyIntentionalSolutions.com.
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