You can sit in the pine trees, you can feel at home
You can breathe a sigh of silence in the woods.
—Jake Bugg, “Pine Trees”
This summer, my name is Apple, and I’m working as a counselor at Tomahawk Ranch Girl Scout Camp in the pine tree wonderland of Bailey, Colorado. Being a camp counselor is the most exhausting, wild, and pricelessly life-giving experience. Seeing tween girls grow mentally and emotionally within the course of one week is SO awesome and it gives me hope. I know for a fact girls can, and will, be the future. Their inherent curiosity and passion for life and learning remind me to use my imagination and marvel at the little things every once in a while. For it is in those things that life dwells. Life in its messiness and vulnerability and beauty.
This summer’s been filled with moments of rich, tear-filled laughter, dancing to Disney music and the Jonas Brothers to my heart’s content, singing loud and proud to annoyingly catchy camp songs, listening intently to crazy stories the girls fabricate, and constantly reminding the girls through words and actions that they are brave, beautiful and cared for.
These girls don’t know anything about me, except my camp name, Apple, which isn’t even my real name. And yet, they look up to me and want to hug me goodnight and ask where I am when I leave. They need me, and that is a beautiful and happy feeling—to be needed. Past accomplishments and appearances don’t matter here (thank goodness, given my showers are few and far between) These girlies see me and love me and want to be with me simply for who I am, in that moment, day-by-day. And working around so many resilient, courageous women (our staff is composed of women…and a few men…from all sorts of walks of life and backgrounds and cultures and beliefs. It is inspiring to sit with them and hear their stories of braveness and heart) has continued to show me how important it is to not only recognize true beauty and character, but to celebrate it. If we really knew about the quiet, humble, invincible strength inside the women around us, we would be absolutely breath taken.
The campers astound me sometimes with their simple wisdom which seems to come out of nowhere. One of the biggest lessons of the summer has been to stay open to the power of possibility. I just finished a profound book by Krista Tippett called Becoming Wise, and in it she sums up beautifully how children can show us how to live—truthful and vulnerable—something I’ve seen first-hand at camp.
There was a pattern of unintentional self-destruction glorified in the twentieth century—to enrich on the outside, and impoverish within. Our kids want us to finally get this right. They have injected the language of transparency and authenticity and integrity into our civic vocabulary. These are fragile words…at risk of overuse and simplification. Behind them I hear a wise refusal to disconnect what we know from who we are, what we believe from how we live and who we are to each other. Such words carry heartbreaking, holy longings for us to see ourselves in our wholeness—to make the move from intelligence to wisdom.
In all of our humanness and unique history that each of us carries is a story of real, nitty-gritty life, and these stories carry the power to influence and inspire and challenge. I am who I am because of where I’ve been and what I’ve learned along the way, and what a gift it is to share that with other people instead of shying away from it and pretending my past didn’t happen. To be true to who I am is to mindfully embrace all of my messiness and wonder and not be afraid to outwardly live that out. I’m still working on this, but I hope I will continue to be taught by these girls how to be okay with not having many guarantees and living in the present moment.
Like my fellow staff members, I have a passion for seeing these girls’ dreams come true. I am a feminist in the sense that I fight for, I pray for, and I try to be an example for young women and girls in pursuit to love and appreciate themselves. These girls are the future and deserve equal pay and the opportunity to do whatever their hearts long for without being objectified, ridiculed, or discriminated against because of their gender. I believe any girl who decides to love herself and ignore society’s standards for her own beauty and behavior is a feminist. Any girl who sets a goal based on something she is passionate about and bravely sets out to achieve it, despite all obstacles, is a feminist. Feminism can mean many things, and I can be a feminist in my own quiet way as I encourage these girls to follow their dreams and be an example of someone who is not defined by how she looks but how she acts and loves and is herself. That is my personal way of feminism: to embrace my own beauty and identity as a woman and human and listen to the deepest part of my heart and follow where it leads.
This is the summer of woman power, simplicity, humanness, childlike imagination, and possibility. These things are powerful. Right here at camp, I am learning to embody these things. I am becoming at peace with who I am in this present time and place.
God, continue to show yourself to me. You are in this place, in the bubbly souls of each girl. Thank you for this moment and for this ready heart of mine. It is open and beating for you.
Sure as I’m breathing, Sure as I’m sad
I’ll keep this wisdom in my flesh
I’ll leave here believing more than I had
This love has got no ceiling
—Eddie Vedder, “No Ceiling”
Since coming here, I’ve been trying to write about small glimpses of each day. Here are a few of them 🙂
Today, I am relaxed on a lawn chair in the sunshine in front of a cobalt lake. I sit and bake my legs into a golden tan as 11 year old girls cast and re-cast fishing lines, giggling and uncrossing poles while munching on turkey sandwiches and reapplying sunscreen. The sky is big and blue, and even as I untangle line after line, I feel at rest. The fishy, rubbery smell of Power Bait is actually quite comforting along with the cool breeze that tickles my hot skin. This is reality. Sitting by the lake with no phone, worried about nothing except what to do if one of these girls catches a fish (cause heck if I know.) Life is made up of moments like these. They won’t define me, and maybe in the long run they won’t mean much, but for now, I am surrounded by giggling girls on a lake in the Rocky Mountains. For now, this matters to me, so I will soak in the sun and be thankful.
I’m proud to say I captured one of the greatest moments to date at camp: when the girls tried to walk one of the pigs and she instead tried to eat Maggie’s shoe. The pig almost won. 🙂
Peace Out Girl Scout (photo by Erin Barnard)
A sweet freckled gal and Smoky the kitten
A rough, tired, long, packed day. Read: any given day at camp. Homesick, crying girls: 6. Puking girls: 2. Difficult girls: all. Extremely hyper: all. Me being tired: YES. Me wishing I were home in my bed taking a nap: yes. Me doubting I can do this all summer: yes. And yet, there are still moments like now, just before bed, singing the Star Spangled Banner with my tongue sticking out, trying to get rid of my hiccups and making the girls laugh hysterically till they cried. Being silly is good for the soul. After a long day and a sore back, I need to giggle.
Sitting on the deck of the dining hall at a table painting nails in my neon pink footie pajamas and pigtails. I am truly the most unqualified to be painting nails, but I had a blast with it. It was calming to stroke bright, sparkly colors on girls’ tiny fingernails next to Kitty and Jumper. It’s the little things.
Playing the wolf-howling game late at night. Creeping around all of Tomahawk while howling in the dark with my group, trying to find the rest of the pack. A free, playful moment of suspense and remaining in the present. Fun and exciting in the twilight chill of summer mountain nights.
a few crazy chickens (photo by Erin Barnard)
Apple with Fuzzy Bear the Llama :’) such a proud moment
Crazy Carly Squid-Face
THE BARN ANIMALS ❤