Last year I worked at a Girl Scouts summer camp in Putnam County, New York (just past Westchester) as the Business Manager. Although my job was mostly administrative, it turned out to be one of the most beautiful, memorable experiences of my life. It was inspiring and wholly empowering even though I occupied that space as a 29 year old staff person rather than a child camper. It taught me so much, and healed and sustained me in ways that totally surprised me. It came at the exact perfect time in my life, where all these different factors had to line up exactly the way they did (for months, actually) in order for me to be there. Camp begins just a few weeks from now, and I'm already feeling pangs of sadness knowing I won't be there this year. Sure, I'll visit for a day or a weekend, but that's definitely not that same as being immersed in that world for the majority of the summer.
Though my partner being a trans fella, he is a lifetime Girl Scout. All the women from Girl Scout council, including the CEO, were overjoyed and even giddy when I told them about how he went to camp as a kid, completed his Gold Award, and is so proud of his history as a Girl Scout while also being open about his identity as a gender-nonconforming FTM person. It was awesome and made me feel so proud - proud of my partner, proud of being part of an org that's as progressive as Girl Scouts, and proud that I got to be a queer voice in that space.
At camp I saw little girls get dirty, lose so many inhibitions, and push the boundaries of what they thought was the only way things could be. One of my favorite stories is from the last day of a 2 week-session, when I saw a little girl in the dining hall playing with other kids from her unit. One by one their parents came and scooped them up, despite all the tears and desperate hugs, and whisked them away to their normal worlds of too much technology and soul-crushing authority. This little girl was definitely under 10 years old and I don't remember interacting with her at all during her time at camp. However, she had green flowers and vines drawn in marker all over her arms and green scribbles in her completely-hairless armpits. This kid had had her friend draw "tattoos" and armpit hair on her, and they were giggling and loudly admiring their handiwork. I couldn't believe it, and as my heart swelled I turned on my heel and high-tailed it out of there before any angry parents could blame me for their kid's social transgressions. I still have a nugget of hope in my heart that that kid will one day be a tattooed feminist, raging against the still-fucking-here patriarchy with a youthful vigor I no longer possess.
Closing Campfires were always the most emotional, magical, deeply moving parts of the summer. As each 1 or 2 week session ended and the kids had to say "see you next summer," these campfires were reflective, solemn, and always ended in tears. It was a time for the kids, counselors, and adults to acknowledge and honor the uniqueness of the experience and how lucky we all are to have been a part of it. The songs sung at campfire are old, long, somber, and incredibly beautiful. Some are well-known general campfire songs, some have passed down through the decades of Girl Scout tradition. All the voices blending together, some tiny and squeaky, faltering, or off-key, was unforgettable. I often close my eyes and try my hardest to remember, to hear the ringing of every sad sweet song's final notes as the sun set over the lake. It was truly something rare and special to behold: the sunset's blazing pinks and purples, the all-encompassing glow of the camp fire, the shimmering reflections and delicate ripples of the water, and everyone huddled together as the night chill set in.
My favorite camp song is "On the Loose," and here's a video of campers from 2008 singing it. It encapsulates the feeling of freedom and ignites my deeply embedded belief in anarchism. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qbEwC00hNyI
On the loose to climb a mountain, On the loose where I am free,
On the loose to live my life the way I think my life should be.
For I only have a moment, and a whole world yet to see.
I'll be looking for tomorrow on the loose.
Have you ever seen the sunrise turn the sky completely red?
Have you slept beneath the moon and stars, a pine bough for your bed?
Have you sat and talked with friends, though a word was never said?
Then you're just like me and you've been on the loose.
There's a trail that I'll be hiking just to see where it might go,
Many places yet to visit, many people yet to know.
But in following my dreams, I will live and I will grow,
In a world that's waiting out there on the loose.
So in search of love and laughter, I am traveling across this land.
Never sure of where I'm going, for I haven't any plans.
Anytime when you are ready, come and join me take my ha
nd. And together we'll share life out on the loose.
As I sit and watch the sunset and the daylight slowly fades,
I am thinking of tomorrow, and the friendships I have made.
I will treasure them for always, and I hope that you will too.
And forever we'll share life out on the loose.