Summertime has a certain smell to me. From the moment I open my eyes in the morning, if the window is open, I can smell the concrete baking in the early morning sun, and as a little girl, it smelled like the end of school, the start of freedom and sidewalk chalk and popsicles. And summer camp.
I was going into seventh grade the first time I went to camp. For me, camp was Frontier Ranch, located in the gorgeous Santa Cruz mountains of California. I remember being petrified my first summer. I went with other guys and girls from my youth group, and even had a counselor from my church. Having only really been away from home to visit my grandparents, being left to sleep in a weird place, with people I barely knew, without my family seemed so scary. My opinion changed about twenty minutes in to camp, when I quite seriously fell in love with the place.
For the next three summers, I was a camper. I enjoyed the same old camp traditions: Sunday night welcome dinner of hamburgers, salad and cookies, eaten on the field before ice-breaking team games. Getting to know my counselor for the week, who I totally idolized, just about every year. Breakfast, lunch and dinner in the “Wagon Wheel” with food that walked the line between yummy and gross. Hiking up a huge hill to morning chapel. The emotion of Decision Night, where we were challenged in our faith. Camper Skit Night and movie night. Going to the beach on Thursdays. Friday night game of Commando, where we dressed in camouflage, turned off the overhead lights and tried to sneak across the huge field without being tracked by the spotlight, while ducking behind tables. Making new friends, writing endless letters, crying our eyes out on Saturday mornings while saying goodbye to our family for the week. I loved it. Every minute of it. Camp was always the highlight of my summer: a respite away from my hot hometown, from my life and a place where I knew I’d learn, grow and be changed.
When I turned 15, I had the chance to become a Leader In Training, or a junior counselor. To say that I was excited was the world’s biggest understatement. I felt so grown up, and so adult, having a chance to go away and help at a place that had become so dear to me.
My first summer was hard, but amazing. Every staff member was given a nickname, and I was called Micro, as in Micro Machine because of my energy and tendency to talk fast. I stayed for 5 weeks, which was the longest time I’d ever been away from home. I was terribly sad at first, feeling awkward around the older girls who were counselors and missing my family and my life. Plus, there was the whole complication of my first boyfriend EVER, Bryan, who I broke up with midway through my stay there. It was a huge drama to me at the time. I remember spending one night crying, crying, crying because I was so sad, lonely, and out of place. That made things even worse for me, because then everyone thought I was nuts. Slowly, as the weeks went on, I began to find my place. I made friends. I loved the kids and the work and even the scrubbing of toilets (something all Leaders In Training had to do) and kitchen duty and experiencing the traditions from the other side of the table, as a counselor instead of a camper. I grew in confidence so much that summer; it was really my first taste of freedom, and I felt so passionately about what I was doing. My faith became paramount in importance to me that summer, and I had so many quiet moments, where I could just write in my journal, think and ponder life and the young girl I was becoming.
The next summer, I returned, and fell in love even more deeply with Frontier Ranch. This time, there were no tears, until it came time for me to leave. There were weekly ice cream trips, beach bonfires, a million new friends, trips to the Bargain Barn (a HUGE thrift store), tons of amazing kids, weekends laying by the pool and some of the most amazing people I’d ever met. I grew up even more that summer, and it’s so hard for me to believe it’s been 10 years since I was Micro, the Leader In Training.
Though many things about me have changed, I may not still hold the exact same faith and beliefs, and no one ever calls me Micro, those days are among my most treasured. I learned so much there, and developed so many habits I still have. I developed my love of journaling with markers and color, for sitting quietly among the trees or on the beach, my love of Marianne’s Ice Cream, of writing little notes of encouragement (Positive Sunshine For Staff, any old FR readers?), that washing my feet always makes me feel better (camp = dirt) and what it means to have faith. I’m now Facebook friends with a lot of people I counseled with, and it’s so fun to see what ten years can do.
Still, whenever I smell that summery smell, early in the morning, I can’t help but wish I was going to be loading up for a long stay in the Santa Cruz mountains and humming, “I’m glad I’m here at Frontier Ranch, there’s nowhere I’d rather be…”