By Summer Hornbostel, VI Form
The Long and Winding Road of Brantwood Camp
Editor’s Note: Names have been changed for privacy purposes
The beeping of my watch’s alarm woke me with a start. Snuggling back into my sleeping bag, I enjoyed
thirty more seconds of rest. The cool, misty air of the morning drifted into the cabin, causing goosebumps to run up and down my body. 6:30 am and the first full day of camp lay dauntingly ahead of me. I tiptoed into the main room of the cabin, where twelve campers slept peacefully. I regretted having to wake half of them for their morning shower. The walk to the wayside, or bathroom, through the cool woods was quiet; it was too early in the morning, and in the term, for chit-chat.
Sitting on the wayside porch, timing the girls’ showers on my handy dandy watch, I tried to get to know the campers who were waiting to shower.
“Are you excited for your first real day?” “How did you sleep?” “Yeah, I had a tough time falling asleep, too” “I know, I’m tired, too” “Is this your first year?”
I knew it would take time for the campers to become comfortable with each other and with me, their counselor.
I woke up seconds before my alarm and groaned into my pillow. Exhaustion filled my body – the past two weeks having tested my mental and emotional strength. I might as well not have bothered to knock on Emma’s bunk, knowing fully well she would choose to keep sleeping rather than to wake up and shower. Dana, as I expected, was already awake and ready to go before I came around, and Lauren was engrossed in Harry Potter. I woke Janie first, because she always took the longest to get up, and then Sarah, Becca, and Aaron. As we walked to the wayside, the girls bombarded me with their various dreams and sleeping issues.
“I dreamt that you were, like, a demon, Miss Hornbostel! Like you were possessed, and it was so scary and then someone had to kill you and then we all cried,” one girl exclaimed.
“Wow! You must really not like me,” I replied with a laugh.
As the girls took their turns showering, they burst into song and I joined. Saskatchewan, our cabin, was renowned for our singing. This was partially due to me, a loud and proud singer, just like Mr. Noble in chapel. Our song choices ranged between Disney songs, Taylor Swift, and one particularly jolly afternoon, Christmas songs. Even at 6:30 in the morning, I could hear other cabins singing along to the song “Panic! At The Disco” that one of my campers was belting from her shower.
When living with eleven other girls for two weeks, it is easy to get to know each other on a very personal level, and even easier to get fed up with each other. I served as a volunteer “shackie” at Brantwood Camp for two summers. A paid, more experienced counselor and I were both in charge of twelve girls aged from 12 to 15. Miss Stan was more of a supervisor, while I spent almost every waking moment with the cabin.
I had a tough first few days this summer, despite it being my second time, because I volunteered during the third and final term of the camp. I came in knowing virtually no one; the camp director was new, and the staff had all gotten to know each other over the past two terms. There were two recent St. Mark’s graduates, Jasmine Williams and Payton Nugent, who were welcoming, but I still had difficulty feeling comfortable in the beginning. I especially had difficulty adjusting before the campers arrived because I feel more comfortable being thrown into situations and starting from there. I struggled getting into a rhythm when I didn’t know what to expect from my cabin yet. Of course, when the campers did finally arrive, there was awkward small talk, as well as the “adjustment period”. They began to learn who I was as a counselor, and I learned who they were as campers. After the first few days of orienting and learning the schedule, our cabin fell into a rhythm and we moved on to the next phase of camp. The campers began opening up and sharing their personal lives. One girl told an extremely personal and traumatic love story, which engrossed all the other girls as they sat in a circle, wide-eyed. In this second phase, the girls appreciated each other and listened to each other’s stories respectfully. After a whole week with each other, the girls knew the way each and every person in the cabin got ready for bed, how sassy they were, and how many rules they could break. Everyone was exhausted, including–especially–me.
By the third phase, the Saskatchewan girls were fed up. Almost two weeks with girls who snored, slept-screamed, obsessed over boys, and giggled and shouted during Rest Hour was enough to make anyone want to scream!
Just as friends and family get sick of each other and argue over trivial things, the Saskatchewan girls did the same. One particularly sweltering day, during an exhausting soccer game, the girls reached their breaking point. When Emma wasn’t trying her hardest in the game, Janie rounded up the rest of our team to get in her face and tell her to stop playing if she was not going to try. Naturally, she was upset, and I called an urgent cabin meeting. Despite growing up fighting with my siblings, it was still one of the most difficult things for me to convince eleven girls to get along, and I cannot say I succeeded 100%. I could not force Janie to like Emma, but I could help them tolerate each other and focus their energy on the team effort and have fun.
I am not a perfect counselor (in fact, in the second week, a camper looked aghast when I told her that yes, I was a counselor, not a camper), but I understood the girls and, to me, my job was to help them bond with one another and enjoy a camp experience that other kids take for granted.
Settling in is one of the scariest, hardest parts of Brantwood, and creating a cabin tradition can help girls assimilate. For Saskatchewan, that tradition was the novel Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon. Every night, after half an hour of loud cheering and singing by the campfire, the girls would snuggle up with their sleeping bags, and I would read to them under the light of a flashlight. These pubescent girls grew attached to the modern forbidden love story. They adored the love interest’s ocean blue eyes and his deep voice (of course, I gave him a voice when reading). The book was the one thing that I knew would always bring the girls together and quiet them down, and one day they asked if I could read during Rest Hour. Yes, you read that right. The loud, giggly, hyper girls wanted to sit and listen during Rest Hour, and finally use the time for its true purpose. As I engrossed the girls into the lives of Maddy and Olly, I looked at my watch and realized that Rest Hour was over. Coincidentally, we were at the climactic moment right before Olly and Maddy kiss for the first time. I stopped reading and announced that we had to go to swim period, and the girls shrieked even louder than I had ever heard them cheer for spirit points! Despite my burst eardrums, I was delighted to see how much of an effect a book had on each and every girl. Unfortunately, we never finished the book, but many of the girls reached out to me after camp to tell me they had read it on their own.
The phrase “graduation goggles” really resonated with me, and with the girls, during the last day of camp. Despite complaints about each other, campfire time being too loud, the days starting too early, being too tired for sports and cheering, and losing Inspection (kind of like room inspection at St. Mark’s, but much more intense), the girls and I would miss each and every one of our previous complaints and, most importantly, each other.
It is hard not to cry the first night we sing the slow and melancholy “Long, Long Trail”, because one cannot help but think of their family and friends back home and their own comfy bed. However, singing this song on the last night is even harder. The long trail you never wanted to walk down in the first place is now the only trail you want to travel. The girls whom you had never met are now the only ones with whom you want to walk. The heartwarming memories you had thought were myths, you now realize no one else could understand but the girls of Brantwood Camp. Although it was time to say goodbye, I knew that the memories we shared at Brantwood would forever stay with us.
Summer Hornbostel is a VI Former from New York City. She loves to write, play squash and sing, and she has two younger sisters, Paula and Frances, at St. Mark’s.