From 1999-2002, my summers were spent dancing in fields, running through swamps, reading in the woods, and learning new and wonderful things about life and the world we live in at Don Webb's Nature Camps. Each summer was amazing and special in a unique way. But one summer in particular was most influential and in fact, life changing.
Just as every camper did, I practically worshipped and idolized the counselors. They seemed to have a grace about them as they greeted every child by name and lead hikes with nothing but a pair Birkenstocks and a full Nalgene bottle. In the eyes of the kids, they had a supreme wisdom about the earth and everything in it. They also possessed unimaginable powers, such as the ability to get even the most restless, hyperactive child to enjoy a hike wide eyed in almost perfect silence. Each summer we left with unanswered questions about our mystery guides. How did they know all our names and always say them with a smile? Or, how did they always manage to have the same about of energy and enthusiasm at the end of the day, when our parents pulled up, as they did at 8:00 am when our parents dropped us off? In the summer of 2002, I would have the opportunity to figure out everything I ever wanted to know about these unexplainable creatures we knew simply as our Counselors.
I was hired by Don himself in April and quickly began counting down the days until I would officially become a Senior Counselor. The school year quickly ended, and I was finally about to start the long awaited summer as a Nature Camps Counselor. The first two weeks of the summer were spent training for the 8 weeks of camp. Twenty-some 18-24 years olds would make up the staff of Nature Camps, and we had to start working as that team from day one. After spending 12 days building swings, repairing the ropes course, setting up craft stations, learning about our surroundings, and forming friendships we were ready for the kids. Or so we thought.
The first day of camp arrived along with 90 plus kids. Some stampeded or skipped; others staggered, stumbled, and even cried their way out of their parents' cars and into the lodge. Over the next 2 months, I lead hikes, shared crafts, and taught. I taught children everything from how to swim to why the clouds change shape. I was able to see their faces when they learned something new and heard their voices as they told their parents how wonderful their day was. I also saw the children that had been dropped off at camp crying, later walk away with tears because they didn't want to leave. Through the course of the summer, I watched children grow and change, and felt proud to think that I had played a small role in their development and happiness.
By the end of the long and draining summer, I had dealt with the whiny kid and the smart aleck; I had treated hundreds of assorted "boo boos" and consumed what seemed like a lifetime supply of coffee. I also loved every minute of it. I came out of camp having learned quite a few things. First, I found that counselors were not super heroes, but in fact just some young adults with a lot of love to give and knowledge to share. I also discovered the amazing feeling that one gets when one changes or influences the lives of others. During the upcoming fall, I would go off to college to begin preparing for a career, which is supposed to be one of the most difficult and complicated choices you make in a life time. I found mine to be the most natural choice I'd ever made. Teaching. Thanks to the summer I spent working at Nature Camps, I had found my unknown gift for working with, and caring for, children and ultimately discovered the path that I wanted to spend my life following.