The Ordinary Magic of Camp

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As we adventure through this new year, the TVRC team has been working hard at all of the little things that fill the summer with camp magic. As much as camp is about the big moments— the summits, the ceremonies, and the rodeos, camp is also comprised of little moments. Those little instances can define a summer just as much as the big triumphs. Whether it be the first time you host a campfire, playing cards during rest hour with cabinmates, learning a new skill in Lapidary or Craft Shop, growing in your mastery of expeditions skills or being a leader of the day on trail, these simple flashes in time ultimately exemplify the overarching experience of camp.

The big milestones of camp shape your time spent on the Ranch in real and tangible ways, but without the little and often “ordinary” moments a season of camp would be empty. In the ordinary, you get the chance to bond with your cabinmates or the other campers on your trip, and you also have the chance to reflect on the experience of camp in a way that is different from the high energy peak of milestones. Your weeks spent in the valley between Dubois and Jackson would not be complete without either of these, but it is the little vignettes that hold the tapestry of the rest of your experience together. Without the friendships made during rest hour or the talents found at campfire, a summit would not be the same. It is those friendships and talents that you will carry with you to tackle the next trip or challenge on the Ranch and at home.

As a support staff member for the past three summers, it is in this kind of moment that I got the chance to spend time with campers and witness their development. Some of my best memories from camp have been when I sat with a cabin during lightning watch, attended a Circle time, or made s’mores around a campfire. And in a world that has been reshaped by the pandemic, it is these little vignettes that help breathe life back into everyone who comes to the Ranch. When life beyond our gates is so complicated, the simple routine of meals, activity periods, evening Games on the Green, Campfire, and Circle time is so very welcome and offers a reprieve from the adaptations and increasing entropy of the last few years for both campers and staff members. At meals, campers make connections with new friends, in activity periods they build skills and knowledge with campers across all age groups, and at Campfire, campers learn the art of storytelling through skits and engage with the rest of camp through games and songs. Circle time gives voice to the lessons we learn at camp and helps us to put all of the pieces of our days together. And on trail, these experiences are remarkably similar with a new and unfamiliar backdrop, the backcountry. It is the act of putting one foot in front of the other on switchbacks, of practicing choosing and setting up a campsite, and of playing trail games that structure trips from start to summit and back to the trailhead.

In fact, my first summer, when I went on a Pack Trip with a cabin of Rough Riders, the most memorable part of the trip was not when we completed our day hike and found a hidden alpine lake. Instead, the most memorable part of our trip was the last night when a lightning storm whipped into the valley and we huddled under our sleeping tarp for dinner. As the night progressed, the wind and lightning persisted, and faced with the reality of poor weather in the backcountry, we gathered in lightning position and sang songs into the storm until it calmed enough for us to go to sleep. And the next morning on the way out, the girls on the trip spent the entire three hour ride out singing those same songs on horseback. Whenever anyone asks me about the time I have spent at TVRC, I always share that story because it demonstrates the sweet simplicity of life that I have found and cherish about camp.

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