We spent a week at a camp for GLBT families July 29 to August 6. Yes, 8 days of camp. Here are some notes and photos.
Arrived with ash falling from the sky and the sun red from smoke. Hot as hades. They said a fire burning South of Quincy wasn’t moving this way; no evacuations have been ordered. They think it’s ok. Welcome to camp!
Woke up to a fine white layer of ash on everything. Proof of the fire, but still out of harm’s way for now.
While Jaden was yelling at me for not letting him get candy from the store at 8:30 in the morning, a squirrel ran up to him, followed by 3 little kids. The squirrel ran off and Jaden followed. “Don’t crowd him kids,” I called as they followed (chased?) the squirrel into the bathroom. A mom followed them in. There was chirping, and she came out with the squirrel in her hand. “We’re going to set her loose in the forest,” she told the kids, and she led them to some trees where they said goodbye to the squirrel. I told her how impressed I was that she grabbed and saved the squirrel. “I’ve had them as pets,” she told me. Huh.
The bathrooms are gender-neutral for this week at camp, though it doesn’t take much to tell which one usually is the men’s room (the urinals) and which the women’s, nicer in every way, including little storage stations for toiletries, and rough hewn but adorable swing out seats at the mirrors! Shockingly luxe bathroom accommodations for a camp in the woods. Which leads me to wonder, are all women’s rooms this much nicer? I only go into the (gender neutral) women’s room when my son insists. There’s no reason I can think of to tell him we should use the men’s gender neutral restroom, except my childhood fear of accidentally going into the wrong bathroom and getting in trouble, or worse, laughed at.
Jaden turned 7 today. He got his ice cream after breakfast. This year he’s on “patrol,” ceaselessly riding his bike around. It’s a cop/military thing I guess, though finally his camouflage pants and shirt are too filthy to wear, so I guess he’s undercover. (Several moms had tried to help us with this. “Aren’t you hot in that?” But no getting him out of his costume, heat be damned.)
And the damned heat is nearly unbearable. This is why I left Texas. I sat sweating in the tent, thinking how I’m only here for the kids, who don’t want to be seen with me. Right now I’m not loving camp. Are the other campers unfriendly this year, or is it me? Probably me, nervous in crowds, and at the end of my rope in this heat.
Jaden is having so much fun we can barely get him to bed at 9:30. Shayla’s curfew is 10, but she comes in about 10:15. “Sorry I’m late! I lost track of time. I won $6 gambling!”
The kids have “long activity” day today, they are off on adventures 10 to 3. My plan was to do the adult hike, a strenuous one I did last year that ends at Gold Lake (or Silver Lake? … you hike by one and swim in the other) and was stunning. But with triple digit heat projected, I gather my sack lunch and head on a shorter solo outing, along the creek to a close by spot, a lovely swimming hole. I remembered last year sitting along the river here, fuming over my kids refusing sunscreen. The battles continue this year with my little one, but I might be softening. Shayla is continuing to be more mature and self-sufficient. She can be contrary, but she changes her clothes, brushes her hair, puts on sunscreen. She’s ready for the day without us.
Sitting here on the bank, ridiculously, I continue to worry about the gender neutral bathrooms, which of course are supposed to be no big deal. I don’t mind anyone else using the (formerly) men’s room, but I feel more comfortable there. This morning I’m headed to the urinal (a charming tin trough) when I notice a mom and her little girl brushing their teeth at the sink. What am I supposed to do? I could go into a stall, but is that a courtesy or acting out of shame? Aren’t we post gender? I decide there’s more integrity in my original plan, plus it uses less water. But as I relieve myself I can feel that the gender duality of our culture may not be completely resolved in my lifetime, as long as I’m still on the planet, raised to be so afraid to go outside the lines.
I’m getting hot, and sick of ruminating, so I wade into the icy stream. Is it possible the water is too cold? I reach waist-deep, and see how slowly I can lower the rest of the way in. Once the chill subsides, paradise. Perhaps the most beautiful spot anywhere.
Later in the endless hot afternoon I take Jay to a swimming spot 15 minutes from camp, and on the way home we see smoke, and then fire, in the hills above Quincy. Back at camp they assure us that while the fire is more visible it’s not coming closer, and no evacuations are planned. But aren’t the hills above Quincy closer than the hills beyond that where the fire was before? For about 30 minutes I’m certain we must pack up and leave, the visceral fear seeing the fire puts me on high alert. Finally I accept that the fire service would evacuate us with enough notice if it comes to that. I try to calm down. Everyone has their cars backed in, for a quick exit if needed. I’m ready.
The fires seem to be under control, or no worse, but the water at camp has run out, or the pump broken or something. There are buckets of river water to flush the toilets, and bottled water to drink, and wash our hands. With the smoke in the air it’s hard not to feel a bit under siege.
It’s over 100 again today. But at a low point Jay says to me “you know these are days the kids will remember all their lives; staying up late with their friends, running around free on a summer night in the woods. This is so great for them.” He’s such an unlikely source of this wisdom (hating the heat more than I do, and a more unlikely camper). So I guess if he can do it, I can. We must put the kids, and the extreme fun they’re having, first. But it’s like were at “abandon your family” camp, the barely tolerated support staff required for the kids to run amok In the woods.
I’m trying to enjoy how much they love it.
This is the afternoon people go to the pool in Quincy, but the pool is closed due to smoke / air quality. I take Jaden to the falls where he plays with his friends. His confidence exceeds his abilities, so with rapids and rocks and some deep water I’m keeping a close eye, from a certain distance, feigning nonchalance if he looks my way. He and two friends collect sticks and sticks and sticks, in a never-old game. I love seeing it, but am a bit worn out by the unappreciated vigilance safety requires.
You must be 7 to ride the horses, and since his birthday delivered this magic number Jaden has been asking. Of course now that the morning for riding is here he’s saying he won’t go. Doesn’t want to miss his group. After cajoling and begging I give up, and am making the rounds trying to give away our horse riding slots, since they’re paid for. I feel humiliated, bested by my kid. But at the last minute Jaden decides he’ll go!
At the stable our cowgirl is talkative and interesting, and Jaden’s attentive through the orientation. He tells her he’s been on horses before, though this is likely fake news. We start the ride, and my horse isn’t sure she respects my command. She’s off on the side, refusing to go much of anywhere. Is she trying to walk me into a branch? “Give Nanna a kick,” says the cowgirl, “show her who’s boss.” Really? But finally Nanna accepts my pleas and we saunter slooowly until we’ve caught up. Now I see Jaden’s getting scared. There are some hills, and you have to lean away from them, back when going downhill or forward for uphill, and it’s bumpy and really does feel like you could be flung off. He starts to cry but the cowgirl explains that he’s got to stay calm for the horse, who will worry if he’s upset. Oh that’ll work, I think bitterly. But in the end Jaden agrees to continue the full loop, not head back early, and “cowboys” through it. Back at the stable he’s beaming, so proud of himself.
I finished Bill Hayes’ “Insomniac City,” his memoir/love letter to New York City and his boyfriend the late Oliver Sacks. The author’s appealing openness to everything and everyone puts him in interesting situations and company, and makes for good reading. Now diving into Sebastian Barry’s “Days Without End,” about a boy who starts out dancing as a “saloon lady” in an all-male mining town, and when he’s grown too old for that, enlists with his friend in the Indian Wars and then the Civil War. The narration is funny and lyrical and the quirky historic grammar and wit creates an unforgettable voice that makes the brutality and suffering more shocking, but also somehow bearable.
I sat in on a group discussion about advocating for our children of color. Hot politics, but good hearts facing the tragedy of racism in our culture.
We swam in the river, and then the kids have a “carnival,” where Jaden’s favorite game is trying to bite mini-donuts hanging on strings. This is more difficult than it sounds. Shayla’s favorite involves a little tower of flour, sand-castle-style formed in a cup, that you try to slice off the side without the lifesaver perched on top collapsing, but when it does the loser has to retrieve the candy with her mouth. Messy fun.
Tonight they sleep with their groups, away from our tent. Excitement is in the air.
I wake early because on sleepover night parents tragically have to pick up the kids by 7:30. All week in our tent they slept until 8. This pickup is required for the young kids, but seems pointless once I’m there. I say hi and I’m done. Oh, I have to haul his stuff back to our tent. But I’m reminded that I do better if I’m up before 7, and the morning is pleasant.
After eggs and sausage, I go back to “Days Without End” which is so gorgeously transcendental I regret some of the 5 stars I’ve given other great books. Truly beyond great: funny and tragic and violent and somehow makes the trees around me more beautiful when I blink and look up.
Some people are leaving today but we’re still in trouble for not having planned to stay the full time last year, missing the big show. So there’s no chance of going. But who has an 8-night camp? It’s insane and we’ve been without cell service or wifi, so have little idea what’s going on. That part is relaxing. Some people have left, so I wander around and scope out other tent cabins: are there better spots I should know about?
It’s possible today is cool, or maybe we’ve gone native and are just grateful for 80 degree weather. Truly I’m a Northern California wimp, meant for 55 to 70 degree weather and not much good outside those limits.
This morning I’m a mad blur. For the sake of the camp experience I want to stay for the goodbye circle. For my sanity and a bath and because I’ve been here 8 damn days I want to get the hell out of dodge. Luckily the kids seem ready, believe it or not. We crap all our stuff back in (and on) the car, and are on the road by 9. A mere 6 hours back to civilization, with traffic and burgers.
Second best week of the year.