prayer for a camper
dear mother God of woods and tangled roots, of see-through lakes, and dawn’s first light, of moonbeams drooling on the meadow grass, and birdsong waking up the day,
i have delivered to you my precious child, my tender heart, brave heart. he is yours now, for two whole weeks, yours to hold, to guide along the trails in deepest darkest night, yours to wrap your arms around in those shaky moments just before the sleep comes, when thoughts drift home, when home feels faraway and hollow fills the void.
he is yours now as he leaps off the dock into soft-bottomed sandy swimming hole. he is yours as he climbs the ropes and buckles onto that shiver-me-timber woodsy trick, the zip line. he is yours as he climbs endless dunes and jumps for dear life. hold those ankles straight, dear mother watcher God. keep those bones from cracking into twos. keep bees away, and while you’re at it, please shoosh the darn mosquitoes. ditto poison ivy.
perhaps, too, you could drift down into the dingy cabin — he’s in no. 6, in case that helps — and tap him lightly on the shoulder, whisper in his ear: “don’t forget the sunscreen. slather on the OFF!” and when he loses things, say, the water bottle, or the flashlight, maybe just maybe you could guide his searching little hand to the very secret spot where said essentials are playing hide-n-seek.
dear mother God of star-lit dome, of lake breeze, of rustling in the cottonwoods, you now tend my first-time camper, you hold him to your moss-carpeted bosom. i pray you open up the woods to him, reveal to him the mysteries of your quiet ways, your crashing-booming majesty.
for two short weeks, we’ve unplugged him just for you. he’s all yours now. he has drawn in a deep cleansing breath, shaken off his deep-woods worries, and surrendered to all the glories you have to offer him.
tap his tender heart. unspool for him the depth of confidence that’s buried deep down where he doesn’t always know it dwells. allow him to emerge from these woods, from these weeks along that crystal lake, from romping with the troupes of boys and abiding by generations-old rules of woodsmen’s games, knowing just a bit more solidly how much he has to carry into this blessed world.
if so inclined, please be there when the hour comes, at last, for him to light his torch, and lift it high — to illuminate not merely his way, but, as well, the twisting paths of all of those who walk beside him.
hold him tight, dear mother God, when he needs a squeeze, and be the wind beneath his wings when he glances down and sees that he is soaring, gliding where the eagles glide.
oh, and one last thing while i’m on my knees here begging: see if, just once or twice, you can make him reach for the milk jug — instead of glow-in-the-dark “bug juice,” a vat of red dye no. 2 — when it’s time to fill his lunchtime glass.
that’s pretty much the whole of it from here on the home front, where i’ve nothing left to do, but turn to you, and trust with all my heart.
thank you mama God, God of dappled afternoon light, God of pit-a-pat of summer rain, God who wraps the campers in her arms, and holds them safe and blessed ever after.
so begins my two-week vigil, my prayer for my little one’s safe keeping. it wasn’t a trip without tears, wasn’t one that did not demand an oversized butterfly net to catch the wayward worries. but once there, along torch lake in northern michigan, he allowed the pure pine-woods air to fill his lungs, and animate his every step. he found particular joy in discovering his big brother’s name painted onto a plaque that hangs not far from his cabin, a place he’ll pass morning, noon, and night as he passes to the dining hall, and lakeside campfire. i like to think it’s a bit of a woodsy patron saint, keeping watch on the little one. right in here, we’ll take all the eyes we can muster. be safe, brave camper. but even more: be joy-filled.
Sleep away summer camp is, in my mind, the best thing that can happen to a kid. But a sleep away camp on Torch lake, that must be something special. Mine was a Girl Scout camp on Lake Gilbert in Wild Rose Wisconsin. Just this morning, at church, i was telling someone who’s kid had just returned from camp that we didn’t see a bar of soap or warm water for two full weeks and are now healthy, thriving 50 somethings. I was sad to hear when the Wilmette GS council split my beloved Camp Timberloft into 10 parcels and sold them off for a song. I have dreams still of walking through those woods, full of skeeters and chipmunks and feeling like the world was mine and I hers. Your post brought back a flood of memories of those carefree weeks in the woods…thank you.
Camp Timberloft is a very fond memory for me as well. I was a counselor there the summer of 1977-right out of high school! I was a CIT (C-in training) there and at Camp Windego the previous two summers and a camper summers before that. I met my husband at that camp (he was visiting another counselor before camp started) and we’ve been married for over 31 years. Our company is called Wild Rose Management in honor of where we met!
I went to Camp Timberloft until I was 17, (1973). That place saved my life, I remember there was somebody named Kit, a fellow camper, when I was there, don’t know if that was you, my name’s Denise (I go by Deni now) and my favorite counselors were Judy Zito (Doodleloo) and Mary Ann Johnson (Maj). Are you still up there? I want to take my 24 year old daughter to Wild Rose this summer to show her her mothers spiritual homeland. Let me know if you have any recommendations on where to stay.
Hi Denise, The summer’s of ’75 and ’76 was when I was a Counselor In Training at Camp Windego. I was a camper there the previous 3-4 summers. My name was Kitty. I was a counselor at Camp Timberloft the summer of ’77. I never lived in the area as I was from the Illinois Shore GS Council (suburbs just north of Chicago). The properties on Lake Gilbert (Timberloft) and Hills Lake (Windego) were sold in the early 2000’s. You may want to contact the mayor of Wild Rose for information regarding the area as it has probably changed a lot since we were there. I am now living north of the Atlanta area in Georgia!
It was good to hear from a fellow camper. 🙂
Kit, I have enjoyed reading about your memories of Camp Timberloft. A few years back I purchased one of the parcels after the camp was sold. It is too bad that many of the camps in the area have not been able to survive…I guess kids are doing other activities in the summers? You will be happy to know that part of the covenants of the new owners is to not allow construction on the vast majority of the land. There are still many trails and original buildings on the 150 acres. If you have any old pictures that you could share, I would love to see the original camp. Mike
Hello Mike, Glad that someone is enjoying the property! I haven’t been back since I left in ’77-life has taken me to other parts of the US! I have to go digging into boxes for old pictures so that might take until this summer. Hopefully in a few summers, I’ll be able to swing back around for a visit as my working life is coming to a close soon.
Take care, Kitty
Amen, amen, amen.
As with so much of what you write…..I wish I were there! And as Nancy says, amen to all that!
Dear Mother God of Mothers Who Let Their Young`uns Go Off to Adventures Of Their Own…bless them and keep them from worry. Keep an eye on my mother who let me disappear for two weeks every summer even though I was her oldest of the large brood and was her primary aide de camp at home. I thank her for the time to just be me and discover who that \”me\” was away from familiar expectations of neighbors and family. It was a most valuable time in growing into \”me\”. I also am grateful for the many camp songs that are still firmly rooted in my brain bank. I love them still and sang them to my children when they were little and could tolerate this.
I know you will watch over this wonderful mom and she will have SO much fun hearing the stories and adventures her little one brings home to her.
P.S. xxoo to this most wonderful mother and hope there are fun letters.
dear mother God of mothers and friends who so deeply understand the tugs and pulls of all the forks in all the mother road, and most especially who pay attention to the tender hearts and brave hearts among us. to a long life of camp songs, indeed. on that note, dear mother God, might you drop down some cozy earplugs? kidding!?!?!?
chair people, i am struck as i read over these glorious comments at the table, that it should come as no surprise that you who return and return to the table have, in your sprouting days, been pulled to the deep woods, have discovered the sacred there, and endured the butterflies and bee stings and maybe even a twisted ankle, for all of it is why when mama comes back to pick up her little one at the camp gate, that child looks as if she/he’s grown half a foot, but more essentially spread his/her wings and soared.
maybe what we need is a first-ever chair camping trip. i know a beautiful woods, but we’d have to boot the little campers.
one last note: i find this week that i am living in two time tracks at once, nearly every quarter hour i look at my watch, i think, “what are they doing now,” as i airlift my soul and my imagination to where that little boy is trekking in the woods. i just pray to God he is not buckled under with homesick blues. that’s my worst worry.
i wish you could have seen him the other night, the night before drop off, when he hopped out of bed, asked, “can i go to the window?” then stood there, moonlit face staring skyward for a minute or two. at last he made one of those signs of the cross that the ballplayers do, where they do the cross then raise a palm toward the heavens. it was a profile of courage i’ll never ever forget. took 10 more minutes of pacing, then he settled in and under back rubs and a long winding made-up-on-the-spot bedtime story, he finally fell into sleep. thank you mother God….
I just have to share that recently my dear (and most challenging) 24 year old texted the following to me:
“The moon here looks just like the book “Good Night Moon”.
It was his favorite book to read with me, along with the Runaway Bunny. I got a little teary.
Our children carry us in all forms in their hearts. I know your camper has you tucked away nicely in his his heart soul and that it is in the missing each other that makes the love all the more dear.
love it, darlin. love love love it. xoxox
Ah, bam, a magnificent prayer that will certainly be heard–and fulfilled–in the cathedral of the North Woods.
Oh, dearest bam … you speak with your heart so fluently. I can’t help remembering my emotions when I dropped Emily off at her first sleepover camp (5 days … an eternity!). I was a wreck, but she was so excited she barely noticed (at least, she never let on). Joey was different … her first camp was a full week and she didn’t take her eyes off of me as we walked to the car after checking her in. I thought I’d die. I prayed more during those weeks than most other times. They had a blast and I had to learn how to trust. Oh boy … being a mama isn’t for sissies.
Your brave boy will have the time of his life walking the same trails as his big brother. It’s an experience every kid should be able to have. xoxo
i keep thinking of that: it is such a blessing to be able to send your kids to the woods. it’s a luxury, and i know it. and i am so deeply grateful for it. i keep thinking of kids who don’t get to go to the woods. who don’t get to leave the noisy streets where they live….it breaks my heart that not everyone gets into the woods. shouldn’t be that way…..now should it?
It’s July 4th and I’m wondering how your brave camper is saying Happy Birthday to America. I wonder if fireworks will light up his sky, if he’s sitting around a bonfire toasting marshmallows or making s’mores as we love to do. Is he holding a sparkler, perhaps? In many respects, this is an Independence Day for him, too. I am thinking of you, dearest bam, as you most surely think of him. xoxoxo
I too, was a camper at Camp Timberloft for several years in the ’60s and still have photos. The camp had to be sold in accordance with a decision following a lawsuit challenging the charter of the camp. The experience was painful for everyone involved and, in my opinion, counter-productive in the overall purpose of summer camp experiences for kids.
I hadn’t heard about this. Is Windego (the sister camp on Hills Lake) still operating? What was the problem?
I don’t know about Windago, and the Timberloft lawsuit was so long ago, the finer details escape me now. The gist of it is when the National Girl Scouts reorganized, it affected the charters of the individual camps, most of which were owned & operated by individual GS Councils. The terms of the donation for the land for Timberloft, specifically forbade changing the Charter. The Council appealed but lost in court–and subsequently, the camp. I suspect it wasn’t the only one during that time, but I don’t know specifically of any others.
On a strictly coincidental side-note, we stopped for lunch in Wild Rose earlier today while on a cross-state drive home.
That’s so sad. I was a waterfront counselor during the summer of ‘77 at Timberloft. I had been a camper and CIT at Windego for many summers previously. I’m teaching down in GA north of Atlanta. One of my students a few years ago was from Wild Rose-what a small world. Thanks for letting me know.