Another Day at Camp

1:33 PM

When I was a youngun’, my parents made it possible for me to go to camp, and not just any camp. This was a fantasy-style adventure at Camp Gold Arrow, a luxury getaway for children.

Once a year, my fiercely organized mama packed trunks for each of her four girls, complete with dried snacks, bandanas, military grade canteens and rolled sleeping bags, and we sisters spent a whole month in the Sierra Nevada mountains, engaged in hiking, canoe-paddling, sailing, horseback-riding, and campfire enhanced story-telling. Amazing.

My recollection of this recursive experience is a bit patchy, a mental mural of sensory experiences. I can pull up a mix of sights, smells and sounds: pine-needle-covered pathways, hay-stuffed archery targets, capsized sailboats manned only by children, and weekend trips to the little country store where I bought candy and Archie comic books to get me through the coming week without cartoons.

It was particularly thrilling to hear the call to line up in order of cabin numbers for the assignment of activities, once in the morning and again in the afternoon. The suspense was gripping. I was giddy when we were assigned as a cabin to water ski, or toboggan. Whoo-Hoo!!!! On the other hand, It was deflating to be assigned something benign or lame for a tomboy… like crafts. Of course, there were no choices in these matters. 

We all had chores, and if we were expected to wash the dishes on a given day, there would be no process for challenging the decision. We would do the dirty work, and another cabin would deal with that assignment next time.

The most emotionally charged and therefore memorable moment at camp was always the electrifying Capture the Flag game that was the climactic event every summer. The camp was divided into two teams, and the teams were assigned a fort, topped by each team’s flag and colors. The terrain between the two forts consisted of mountain-side trees, rocks, utility cabins and mysterious caves with challenging visibility for nine and ten year old campers. All the little soldiers were given a certain number of flour-stuffed ammunition packs which amounted to Kleenex tissue covering ½ a cup of flour that, when hurled at an opposing team-member, would stain them and force them to be captured, or be counted (virtually) as “deceased.”

The heightened emotion of running from a 9 year old opposing assassin is funny in retrospect.   I told myself, C’mon Laury, it’s just a game, but the amped-up adrenalin in my body worked like a loud speaker, screaming at me to run for my life, so I did! I would even feel something like real grief when a team mate would be “shot” or taken, but most of the time, to my shame, I would abandon my friends to save myself! (Give me a break…I was 10.) The temptation to avoid the battle and self-protect would always be there, but the true heroes of the game would go after their captured friends, the wounded warriors held behind “bars” in the dungeons of the other team.

After all, the whole point of the exercise was to sneak into the fort, capture the flag of the oppressors, and release the captives. 

I don’t remember how many years I went to camp, or how many Capture the Flag games I played at Camp Gold Arrow throughout my childhood, but I can still access some of the emotions I negotiated as a very small child, learning to experience the independence camp offered. For one month each year, retreating to the dependent relationship I had with my parents wasn’t an option, so I dealt with my frustrations, fears and disappointments on my own; it was a safe place to experience life outside the nest.

I often reflect on my camp experience, and it’s become a daydream-like metaphor for the day-to-day operations as an adult; there are quite a few takeaway tips I can glean from camp memories that are useful in my so-called-grown-up routine. It’s all just another day at camp.

  • First, assignment of the daily cabin activity is a collective operation. You aren’t only receiving individual assignments; even when you aren’t aware of it, you are part of a group
  • You are assigned the group, or culture, within which you find your origin of experience, say, like a family, or childhood geographical environment. You don’t get to choose your "cabin," but you can choose to accept and embrace it
  • Every activity is temporary and only lasts for a few hours. You aren’t stuck here, and lanyard weaving isn’t your life; it’s just your morning. You can expect this to change 100% of the time, and another activity is on the horizon
  • Like a Capture the Flag game, your experience will be impacted by the people you pair off with. Don’t embark on a quest with people who just want to mess things up or run away. You want to work with the ones who pay attention, the creative problem solvers, negotiators, investigators and inventors. They make things happen.
  • Don’t argue with the camp managers. They create your experience, and you may as well accept that experience as yours for the day. Period. Your attitude is your business.
  • If you pay attention, surrendering to life-camp adventures might give you a great way to find out who you are.  So you aren’t great at archery…you kick ass at slalom skiing, and this begins to give you an awareness of where to put your life energy.
  • Finally, and most significantly… inertia and self-protection can occasionally offer an appealing way to stumble through life. But the goal of the game is to plow forward, energized with purpose, unbridled by self-interests. To fearlessly capture the flag, and when you can, be a part of releasing the prisoners.

                                                Copyright © 2016 Laury Boone Browning

Image: Girl Scouts

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  1. Laury, I hadn't read this post before but I just wanted you to know that I really loved it! Not only did it bring back vivid memories of Gold Arrow Camp, but your observations about the takeaways available as a result of having had that experience were right on target!

    1. Hahaha, that would definitely be a different read for sisters :-) and anyone else who knew Camp Gold Arrow! Thank you sister


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