Coming to an End

By Green River Preserve

The other night I stood on the porch of my adopted cabin, Little Tree, stumbling my way through the opening guitar riff to a Def Leppard song (note: a great spoof song to sing at the Variety Show might be “Pour Some Nature On Me,” but, well, maybe not on second thought) when one of the counselors rushed out of the door with a look of horror on his face.

“Dude,” he said, pointing to his calendar as a ship captain might point out at an impending iceberg. “College.”

I looked suitably shocked at his revelation. At that instant my mouth was agape, perhaps initially to sing one of the many verses of a certain song I was inventing in my head, which was beginning to lose its appropriateness. But luckily the words that came out were, “Whoa man, where’s the time gone?” We nodded silently and shared the first moment of the summer when you sigh and shake your head and realize it’s all coming to an end.

Dude…college.

Now, as one who recently finished college, and in just one short week will be moving across the country for graduate school, I could sympathize with his fear of leaving camp. After all, like campers and much of the staff, we would be returning to work and classes and peer pressures and endless homework. Plus, spending a summer at GRP changes us — staff and campers alike — and that can be scary, not knowing how you’ll fit back into the rest of your life.

What’s worse is that few – if any – of your new friends will be there to help you along the way. Who’s going to stick up for you when your bunkmate isn’t around? Who’s going to cheer for you when you want to break dance in front of everyone? Who’s going to be your buddy on a “see-far”? (Parents, ask your campers about that one. It’s on you to explain Def Leppard.)

I suspect I’m not the only one to slip into this mindset before the last week of camp. You can see it on a face here and there, even if it’s just a glimmer of longing and nostalgia through a mouthful of pancakes. Campers feel this, too. They often talk of leaving camp as a really hard thing to do, even though they can’t wait to see their dogs and fishes and cats and stuffed animals and parents.

For me personally, I try not to think about the end of camp. I busy myself by talking to campers about their dogs (and fishes, etc.) and post blogs and pretend that camp is forever. Because I know that when my friends and I head to different corners of the world I’m going to cry sad, sobby, baby tears and cling to them for dear life.

Which is OK.

Like we tell campers who are feeling homesick, being sad about missing people is a sign that you have a wonderful community who loves you. Who will stick up for you, cheer for you, be your buddy on a “see-far”. It’s all right, healthy even, to feel sad when we part. The lesson is in learning to miss your friends without letting that keep you down.

After many years at camp, I’ve learned two ways to cope with this feeling.

The first strategy is to watch campers on the last day. If you’re paying attention, you can look around the Lodge and see how you’ve helped change campers’ lives. The shy child belting a song across the table. That homesick camper making bright-eyed conversation with a friend. That whole table of kids who haven’t spilled anything all meal!

My favorite example from this session was last night. I walked into the bathroom at Little Tree to find four eight-year-olds calmly brushing their teeth next to no fewer than three enormous arachnids. At the beginning of the two weeks this would have elicited tears and wails and cries for vengeance. Now, however, the sight brought about thoughtful questions. For example:

“What kind is that one?”

“Why do they hold their legs differently?”

“What is the advantage of having a green spotted pattern on its thorax?”

And, my favorite, “Hey Mr. Spider, BET YOU CAN’T EAT ME.”

Thinking about all of the confidence, kindness, and great new ideas this community can bring about is enough to give one a much-needed warm, fuzzy feeling inside

The second tactic is to find some wider perspective.

Folks who have spent many summers at GRP always say that this place is special. The people here share many of the same passions and interests, as well as a deep love of the Preserve and all who have shared in its traditions. They will also tell you that GRP people will always – somehow or another – show up in your life just when you need them. It’s a comforting thought, that closing day isn’t really an end after all. And I can promise that joyous and sometimes accidental reunions happen more often than you’d think.

Let me give just one example. In just a week, I’ll be moving out to Boulder, Colorado, for graduate school. In a strange and mostly unplanned happenstance, my roommate is going to be one of my best friends from GRP. And oh, by the way, one of our favorite former Mentors lives five minutes away. Not good enough? Two other GRP friends will live less than an hour a way, and three others in a day’s drive. How’s that for a reunion? But there’s more.

A few weeks before camp, my roommate and I flew out to Boulder to visit grad school.

From our friend’s sofa we could see the massive Flatirons jutting out from the Rocky Mountains next door. On our second day (the first was spent adjusting to the mile-high altitude), we all went on a Mentor Hike together through the beautiful Chautauqua Park. When we got to the top of the Flatirons we ate Cliff bars, hydrated, and huddled against the wind for as long as we could stand. Then we headed back down to the sofa for Rest Hour.

Just when we were drifting to sleep, we heard our Mentor friend scream from outside. “GUYS,” she shouted, running back in. “You’ll never guess what I found.”

We looked up and there in the doorway stood one of our great friends from last summer, whom we had no idea lived there, who just happened to be walking down the street at just the right time. We laughed and cried and hugged and talked for an hour, until our time together came to an end. She had to be on her way.

“I guess I’ll see you in a few months,” she said, reminding me that sometimes the world makes ends meet.

Avery McGaha