Eight summers of my life were dedicated to a little YMCA camp outside of Boulder Junction, WI named Camp Manito-wish. Those who drive by will see a long driveway marked by a big orange canoe and outlined with tall pines. Those who venture down this path will find young girls learning how to shoot bows and arrows, shrieking voices as little toes touch the water the morning of the swim challenge, Chaco covered feet, and the some of the most beautiful souls I have ever come in contact with. This is the place where I found life-long friends, learned what true happiness looked like, and developed a connection with the natural world far beyond what I ever imagined possible. I walked down this road as a shy, naive little girl and walked away from it a little stronger and a whole lot smarter. Here are the 5 lessons that summer camp taught me that changed my life:
1. Life is not meant to be lived in one place. During my canoeing, backpacking, and kayaking trips we were constantly moving, constantly enduring, constantly persevering. Every night when we got to camp we unpacked, set up tents, set up a clothesline, made dinner, and went to bed. Then every morning we got up, made breakfast, took down the clothesline and tents, packed up and did it all over again. We left beautiful camp sites, but then came across even better ones. Places became memories. We. Moved. On. This showed me the pure beauty and essence of an adventure and it showed me that life moves on whether I’m moving with it or not. I might as well get my butt in that canoe and keep on paddling. I don’t want to miss out on the next place, person, or opportunity that is in store for me.
2. Mother Nature is my soul mate. After spending various months in the untouched wilderness, I feel an overwhelming connection with the land, waterways, and skies. As corny as it sounds, I felt that I became one with the Earth. I couldn’t hide from the rain, I couldn’t run from the mosquitos, I couldn’t change the terrain of the portage. I had to embrace. I had to learn how to love the challenges and to appreciate the secret rewards like the cool breeze on a hot day, the tail wind, and a beautiful sunset.
3. Leadership and followership go hand in hand. This is quoted off one of the walls at camp, but it’s definitely one of the most important lessons that I took away from my experiences there. I learned that there are times to be a leader, and times to shut up, sit back, and let others take the reins. The whole concept of “give and take” is super important in any sort of relationship whether it be family, friends, or coworkers. This has helped me take on leadership roles throughout my high school and college careers but it’s also reminded me to assess the situation, listen and learn other people’s opinions and expertise.
4. Just keep going. A few times during my trail experiences I thought I was going to die. No joke. After ten hours of paddling, the brain starts to go crazy and it will start to persuade you that your arms are literally going to fall off. During a three mile portage without any sort of trail, dying actually starts to sound like a nice option. I faced my hardest challenges on these trips, both physically and emotionally. I learned to persist. I learned to use the resources and the people around me to get through. I learned to just keep paddling…
5. Vulnerability is beauty. I have had some of the deepest and most personal conversations with the people at Manito-wish. I have learned that I need to be open with my emotions and feelings so I can build strong connections with others. People need other people to survive. We need to lean on others when the going gets tough. This is why I started writing. And more importantly, this is why I’m actually sharing my writing. Yes, I enjoy it, and yes it helps me reflect, but the main reason is to show other people who I am, the struggles I go through, and the little things that I find beautiful. Hopefully through this I can help even one person navigate through this whirlwind of a life.
Thank you Camp Manito-wish, Boulder Lake, and Saskatchewan for everything you’ve given me.