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Church Camp

By Heather

Once upon a time, I was a Mormon. Long story.

From grades seven through 10 (or thereabouts), I attended a Mormon girls’ camp somewhere in the Sierra Nevada mountain range. Camp lasted for a week or two. God, my memory sucks.

Each year, it became more challenging. First-years weren’t expected to do much more than make bracelets and god’s eyes. They also took a day hike during the week.

By the final year, the hike was four days and 20 miles. It was really, really difficult, but I learned so much.

Don’t get me wrong, I hated every second of it. It was awful. Filthy, sweaty, uphill climby. We had to learn how to hang food from trees so the bears couldn’t get it, and then try go to sleep knowing that bears could be dropping by. We wore hideous hiking boots, drank from canteens and purified our water. We had to start fires with flint or by rubbing sticks together.

Sure, now that I’m not a snotty teenager anymore I can see the value in all that I learned. Just at the time I was miserable and wondering what I had done to deserve this.

***

One of my favorite memories of that final, grueling hike was when our group stumbled upon a stream running through rocks it had carved smooth, forming little pools the size of hot tubs, full of cool, clear water.

We sat in those pools for the longest time. No one wanted to leave. I think that was maybe my first experience really loving and even liking nature.

I would give anything to find that place again and sit in those pools. I’ve tried googling it, thinking maybe someone else had found this stream with “cool, clear water” and “smooth rocks” with “little pools” in the “Sierra Nevada” and written about it.

Maybe I’m that person right now, and someone is looking for this place and will find this post. I hope so. But I also hope they know where it is.

***

Back at camp was a little more cushy. We ate in a pavilion covered by an angled, tin roof lined with wooden picnic tables and open on all sides.

It was the center of camp activity. The site of all meals, competitions, meetings. If it wasn’t happening in the pavilion, it was happening around the campfire at night.

The campfire is where most of us did our singing. If you ask, I might warble a song for you, such as:

It was sad, oh it was sad
It was sad when the great ship went down
to the bottom of the sea

Husbands and wives,
little children lost their lives
It was sad when the great ship went down

It was a very catchy tune. It still gets stuck in my head sometimes.

The counselors didn’t agree and asked us to stop singing it, as it was disrespectful to the people who had perished on the Titanic. You either agree with that, or you’re rolling your eyes right now.

***

Odd that this camp was the setting for a few of my best camping and nature memories, but it’s also where I learned to detest camping.

Aside from the hike we had to endure, there was the camping itself.

Every night, I’d lay out my tarp with care and center my sleeping bag on it.

Every morning, my sleep flailing somehow took me from the dead center to halfway off, my face in the dirt.

We camped in several drought seasons, some pretty severe, which meant we were allowed two-minute showers… Once every three days. Look, I don’t need the Four Seasons, but you have to admit that’s pretty disgusting.

Even the niceness of that stream couldn’t outweigh the rest of it out and make it worth the filth and frustration.

When I got home, it always took several showers of intense scrubbing with pumice to get out the dirt that had been ground into my feet.

***

What changed? Maybe now I do think it’s worth it, the dirt and the hard work of setting up and taking down camp. It’s an escape, a break, a chance to sit still and think, or not.

But what do you have to disconnect from when you’re 12?

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