The cicadas are buzzing in the trees overhead, indignant that I dare sit beneath them. The wind is blowing hot air through the camp, heating the already warm ground. The tip of my nose is sore and cracked from inhaling the dry air of the Sierra Nevada mountains, every few hours I have to reapply Vaseline there. But even so, I am in love with the forest. If I walk 20 metres into the trees, I find myself surrounded by absolute peace and tranquility. And yet if I look closely, there is life everywhere. Ants scouring the undergrowth for food, a swarm of midges overhead, a deer snapping twigs underfoot in the distance. I have yet to spot a black bear though, which is at the top of my list of things to see whilst I’m here. However with the amount of noise that the girls make during the day, I’m sure they’ll be keeping their distance.
On Saturday night we went into Reno for dinner on a night off. As we drove, I looked into the sea of trees in the valley to the left of the road. Camp is in there somewhere. It made me feel sort of special, knowing that I’d seen parts of the forest that most people just drive past on their way to Truckee or Lake Tahoe, places more accommodating to visitors. I enjoy that sense of isolation, of knowing that I have fallen in love with somewhere that most people don’t even know exists.
Camp life suits me. I’ve adapted quickly to the routine that is set for us, following the same pattern every day means that I find myself waking shortly before my alarm each morning, and falling asleep quickly at night. Of course, this is helped by the incredible sleeping bags we’ve been provided with. I thoroughly enjoy my part in the running of camp, that being that I’m one of the lifeguards in charge of pool and lake activities. Myself, Flex, (from New Zealand), Rainbow, (from Scotland) and Moose (from Pennsylvania) are the waterfront team, and I couldn’t think of a better group to spend my time with. At the pool we take the kids for swimming lessons and then a fun swim. Standing on poolside, judging their diving competitions beneath the brilliant blue sky and the forest of pine trees, I couldn’t be happier. In the afternoon we move to the lake, and go out in kayaks whilst the kids team up in canoes or go solo on stand-up paddle boards. That is my happy place. Sitting out on the water watching fish swimming underneath me and birds flying up above me, overlooked by the looming snow-capped Sierra Buttes. Watching children from seven years old right up to the 16 year old Councillors-in-Training having fun because of something I’m helping to facilitate. That’s the golden feeling.
I truly admire the work that the councillors do. I am a live-in with a group, currently ‘Team Xtreme’ which means that I help their councillors to wake them up in the morning and do their evening activities with them after dinner before putting them to bed. However during the day I spend an hour with each programme, no more. Their councillors spend 16 hours a day with their groups for five days, which can get truly exhausting if your group consists of 20 eight year olds. I’m not sure I would have the patience nor the emotional strength to deal with that.
The transformation that some of these children go through is tremendous. They come to camp, especially if they haven’t been before, in their nice clothes with their hair brushed out, their demeanour shy and reserved. Two days in and you wouldn’t recognise them. Dirty faces from playing in the GaGa pit, colourful hands from tie-dying, singing and dancing along to the camp songs. The enthusiastic attitude that’s been drilled into all of the staff rubs off on the kids, if we don’t mind making fools of ourselves then they don’t either. It’s a cliche, but camp really does change the lives of some of these children.