Oh Canada!

By Ruby Compton

A week after we closed the books on the 2014 season, I ventured to Ontario to spend the weekend with my dear friends Travis and Beth Allison. Travis and Beth can be found online at CampHacker.tv where they produce podcasts, blogs, and other development for camping professionals (or as we are affectionately known #camppros). I have been on a podcast or two with Travis and currently am recording a series of podcasts with Beth, and Gabrielle Raill, on facilitating great staff training for summer staff.

The plan for the weekend was relatively simple. I would spend the evening at Travis and Beth’s home and then we would travel to Glen Mohr where they directed for many years. Through them, I have also had the opportunity to get to know one of camp’s current executive directors, Chantal “Match” Jackson. It is rare that we, directors, get to see our peers in action. Because the Canadian summer camp season runs about two weeks after ours, I would be able to be a part of their closing ceremonies for both campers and staff. After spending the weekend at camp, we would travel back to Woodstock for a day of relaxation before I would travel home.

One of the fantastic things about camp people is that we can talk about camp for hours on end. Long car rides are ripe with discussions of challenges, solutions, theories, and ideas. Sara and I often dream up new ideas or improvements for Green River as we are traveling about the country to Road Show events. To have the opportunity to bounce ideas off of long-time directors and camping professionals who have experience with lots of different camps across the U.S. and Canada was truly a gift and filled my entire weekend with visions for how Green River Preserve can truly be its “best me.”

Some highlights that I will never forget from this trip:

1. The music. Music is ingrained in Glen Mohr’s culture and, like Green River, songs are a part of the ritual and magic of camp. Songs are sung beautifully and proudly. Most songs have four part harmonies that the staff and campers easily slip in to. It was so good it gave me goosebumps every time.

2. The way the community interacted with one another. What struck me right away was how the staff talked to each other and to the campers at Glen Mohr. They always spoke with patience, kindness, and respect. Their enthusiasm for their jobs was clear in every word that was spoken. I never saw a staff member lose his/her cool and I was there for the last day of camp when it can be easy to fall into the trap of being tired or ambivalent. Staff were consistently working to create magical experiences for their campers. Their words, tone, and actions were utterly inspiring and showed what incredible training these young people had been provided as well as what an amazing camp culture has been fostered there.

3. The environment. I was surprised to find that there were plants I recognized. The jewelweed was in bloom and was only a week or two behind our North Carolina plants. The summer had been mild, much like our own, and the leaves were beginning to change color in preparation for the winter. As far as wildlife, I saw two water snakes, a handful of mosquitos, and a black squirrel. I am so used to the phenomenon of Brevard’s white squirrels that it seemed almost serendipitous to meet its relative.

That tall tree sticking above the tree line isn't a tree at all.

4. Metal trees do exist. While standing at the waterfront looking out over the water, Travis asked me, “See that tall tree over there? What kind of tree do you think that is?.” Happily accepting the challenge I said, “Well it’s certainly an evergreen. A pine? A fir? I’m not sure without being too close but it’s probably one of those.” Travis responded, “Cell phone tower.” The residents in cottage country wanted their cell service but didn’t want an unsightly tower so the compromise was to build an aluminum tower that resembled a tree.

5. The stars. The big difference in landscape was that we were in lake country where the “big open sky” effect occurs, unlike the valley at GRP. You can literally be surrounded by the dome of the night sky with almost a 180 degree view. We laid down on the dock and looked at the stars and the Milky Way for at least a half an hour. One particular shooting star was breathtaking as it streaked across the sky long enough for us to say “Wow look at that shooting star!” To share wonder and awe in nature with other adults is always special.

6. Meal enders. Most camps start the meal with a blessing and Glen Mohr was no different. However, at the end of the meal, the campers and staff sang a song or chant or rhythm together as well. It was explained, “We start the meal together. We end the meal together.” That’s what community looks like.

7. Gratitude. I had the privilege of serving the Glen Mohr staff at their staff banquet. Though Match insisted that I was a guest, I couldn’t help but be excited to be a part of giving her staff the appreciation and closure that they deserved. We, as directors, never seem to be able to thank our staff enough for the incredible work that they do during their time at camp so it felt right to be able to give back to another camp’s staff by serving them. “Thank you for making camp great,” I said many times over the course of the evening.

8. Small world. I met a camper at Glen Mohr who was born in Gastonia, NC. He told me to go to Tony’s Ice Cream.

9. Gratitude again. I am just so thankful to be a part of an industry where youth development professionals are doing incredible work. It was inspiring to see that occur across borders and in a camp whose raison d’etre is different from why GRP exists. From the impact on the campers at the frontline, to the challenges put forth for the staff by their directors, to the guidance and mentoring of Travis and Beth, I feel so blessed to work in an industry that is growing itself to be relevant in its service to young people. It is an industry where sharing and caring are valued and where all #camppros must all have more sophisticated conversations to best foster growth in our campers and in the camping industry.

Many thanks go out to Travis, Beth, & Maverick, Match & Palais, Iscus & Arae, to the staff of Cairn Family of Camps for welcoming me into their community, and every person who made this trip the life changing experience that it was. I returned revitalized, re-energized, and totally stoked about 2015!