I hope we never take for granted the beauty and mystique of our surroundings. Joey Schrayer, a fourth-year counselor, spoke yesterday about his appreciation not only of our spectacular setting, but also of his spiritual connection to the land and the people who’ve come here before us. I encourage you to read Joey’s sermon to learn how close nature is to us here and its role in shaping all of us fortunate enough to have spent a summer on The Shores.
Dear Kawaga Families, Campers and Counselors,
We are bringing to close another wonderful Kawaga year. I have spent many fine summers on our splendid campgrounds, but I am frank to say that there has never been a year finer in spirit and understanding than the year we are just bringing to a close. For many years we have been in the habit of speaking about the Kawaga spirit. By that, I mean that the camper’ counselors, directors, and owners cooperate in reaching the goal we are after. We have a beautiful camp. I should say that your camp is beautiful, and while that is true of the campgrounds, it is even more true of the camp spirit.
While I wish I could say I wrote that, these are borrowed words. Found in the 1938 annual Pineneedle, this is an excerpt from a letter that Doc E wrote to what was then the Kawaga Nation. The Kawaga Spirit: campers, counselors, directors, and owners working together to reach a common goal.
While reflecting on camp I found there were very few specific moments I can vividly remember. I actually don’t remember my miracle, I don’t remember most of my Sachems, and I certainly don’t remember many sermons. But I do remember the final night of camp in 2012. I was in Cabin 12 with Sam Pacala, Max Routh, and some other characters you may know. Our counselors were Jake Bergel and Jeremy Loewenstein; it was Jeremy’s JC summer. We were awaken at night and snuck around the Diamond One area. As flashlights and headlights glistened in all corners of camp, We — like many others — thought we must be in for a pizza party. But we ended our night at the Omni. My counselor, Jake Bergel, said that they didn’t get us food but instead wanted to show us the oldest part of camp. The Omni? The Council Ring? We threw other guesses into the mix. “The stars,” he told us. And we laid down on our backs on the Omni and looked up to the night sky for what seemed like an eternity.
I didn’t know it at the time but this moment represents to me a part of camp that has undoubtedly had a profound effect on my character and my life. My connection with nature. As a young camper, I would cry before and during every camping trip. For some people, camp was out of their comfort zone; but for me, camp was my comfort zone. I had my brother and two cousins at camp. People knew my name. I had my little area in my cabin with my bed, my books, and my hats all organized, and I found my place at Miracle Dock early on in my camping career. But camping trips took that all away. My “area” was marked by throwing my backpack into a tent. If my things got wet, I wouldn’t have dry clothes; if something went wrong, I couldn’t go to Crow’s Nest and worst of all I wouldn’t have my older brother nearby. The parts of camp that made me feel safe disappeared. I don’t know exactly when it clicked, but slowly and surely, I grew to love camping trips. To this day getting a fire going is one of my favorite things to do and likely will be forever. I came to love being somewhere where I had to be on my own, where the nights were dark and quiet, lit up only by the moon and the stars, hearing only whistling wind, crackling wood, and soft cricket chirps. Camping trips cultivated a love for nature that I consider one my defining characteristics, a grounding pillar in my life. And this trait, that developed outside of our campgrounds, followed me back here.
Doc E, referred to God as the Great Out Doors. In Judaism, my personal religion of which I hold in extremely high value, the word for God is Adonai — said in Hebrew, “yud hey vav hey.” For those unfamiliar, the sounds are meant to imitate the breath. To me, camp and nature are inherently spiritual. My time to be outside and breathe the fresh air is easily, to me, the most sacred part of camp.
During pre-camp, all of staff was read a speech by Chief Seattle, a respected leader of one of the Northwest Indian Nations. He delivered a compelling message to the government in Washington, D.C. who wanted to buy his people’s land.
Paraphrased, Chief Seattle writes:
How can you buy the sky?
How can you own the rain and the wind?
My mother told me,
Every part of this earth is sacred to our people.
Every pine needle. Every sandy shore.
Every mist in the dark woods.
Every meadow and humming insect.
All are holy in the memory of our people.
The voice of my grandfather said to me,
The air is precious. It shares its spirit with all
the life it supports. The wind that gave me my first
breath also received my last sigh.
You must keep the land and air apart and sacred,
as a place where one can go to taste the wind that
is sweetened by the meadow flowers.
Chief Seattle touches on the humanity and transcendence that lie in nature and mother earth. While our ceremonies are a nod to the Indian traditions and done in good faith and true heart, they are borrowed, and so I believe they will eventually be left behind. But there is something that connects us to the native Sioux and Oneida of this land, to Chief Seattle, to Doc E, and to all past, present, and future Kawaga Braves. The Kawaga Spirit, the great spirit. As I told all of my campers and as I will tell all of you, if you went back to camp in 1915, you wouldn’t recognize much. There were no cabins, there was no running water, there were no tennis courts, and certainly there was no Miracle Dock. But the fresh air would taste and smell just like it does now. The morning polar bear would wake you up just the same. The stars above the Omni would be shining bright as ever; and, of course, the Kawaga Ideal would be sitting at the top of the hill. To me the Kawaga Spirit, the great spirit, and God are all similar ideas. They are an indescribable connection and feeling that I get here at camp, they are the thin string connecting me to all those who have ever walked these grounds.
To mother earth, from whence the Indian came and whether he shall return, we ask thy blessing.
In my many years at camp I have learned that no one man can perfectly live the Kawaga Ideal. But, as Doc E said, the Kawaga Spirit is the campers, counselors, directors, and owners, working together to reach a shared goal. Is it the pure air and pure spirit of camp that connects us to the rest of the Kawaga the Nation and the desire to work together with one another that allows us to collectively uphold the Kawaga Ideal.
Camp to me at its most basic is bare feet and lake water. Slapping mosquitos, building fires, or admiring the lightning of a storm late at night. It’s who owns man and who owns nature, and morning glass or afternoon whitecaps. Camp is fresh air and purity of mind and body. Camp is a state of mind: the campers, counselors, directors, and owners, working together to reach a shared goal. If we can, we will. Well, we have and we are. So here goes.
Breathe the fresh air and touch the wet grass. Dunk your head at skiing, and soak up the sun at the waterfront. Embrace what connects you to nature and you to camp and to the many before you who have come and the many after who will follow. For we are each but a link in the great chain and together, if we work together in reaching our shared goal, we as the Kawaga Nation will live the Ideal and will embody the Kawaga Spirit.
Finally, I leave you once again with Doc E’s words from that 1938 pineneedle, as they stand true 82 summers later:
We trust and pray that the great spirit will be with you in the coming months and years, and as the sun and moons make the days and years, your thoughts will wander back again to us, and you shall think kindly of those who helped to make your days happy on the Kawaga grounds. We shall think of you always, and shall pray for your happiness, and for the peace of mind for all of you. May peace be with you in your homes and in your hearts is the fond prayer of your Great Chief of the Kawaga Nation,
Cordially your friend,