Ty’s Take | The Kawaga Bubble

As I was thinking about what to write for this edition of “Ty’s Take,” I walk outside my office, where I was soon looking over Sunset Bay. I’m watching Harland, a 10-year-old who just arrived three days ago for his first summer at Kawaga, trying to get up on two skis for the very first time. I’m watching his fifth attempt off of Miracle Dock. I hear the staff encouraging him and put the boat in gear. I see him wobbling back and forth but hanging on with as much determination as he could muster and ever so slowly stand up. “Way to go, Harland,” I yelled – not that he could hear me from behind the boat. But I could hear counselors and campers cheering him on as he accomplished his own “miracle.”

As you’ve no doubt heard, we talk about being in a “bubble” at Kawaga. It’s not a new word for us. I think generations of Kawaga alumni have used it to sum up the peaceful, protective peace we enjoy up here when we’re away from all the challenges that the real world gives us. Now, when we hear “bubble,” I think so many of us immediately think about Covid. Yes, the pandemic has brought a new meaning to this word, one that we could never have imagined before. But, as announced in yesterday’s Daily Update, we’ve again passed the test of being Covid-free.

There are seasons to camp, not just sessions. I first brought my then seven-month-old Golden Retriever puppy, Karma, to Kawaga with me in 2007. I was interviewing for jobs in the real world at that time in Chicago but found a window to return to camp during that summer. I told Taz, our director and my friend, that I’d love to come, but I’m now a pet parent. Taz said to bring Karma! And, just as it has for so many of us, Kawaga became Karma’s favorite place in the world. So, we took comfort when Karma took her final breath up here just days ago. Her timing made her passing easier: right in between our two sessions, which gave all of us here more time to think about her and deal with the loss.

Karma’s passing, like the bubble we’ve created, has helped put things into perspective. You can’t help feeling this way – whether it’s loss, kids seeing their parents for the first time in four weeks on Zoom, or saying a very quick “so long, love you!” to their families for four weeks, as counselors quickly grabbed their luggage and whisked them away to the bus. These are real reminders that time moves quickly and new challenges face us.

For Lauren and me, it’s about taking these reminders together with all of these special moments and helping weave them together for our campers, to make sense of it all. Yes, we teach boys how to ski, play paddle tennis, shoot archery, set up a tent, sail, you name it. But what we’re really teaching them is knowing what they’re capable of doing. So, when they face a challenge at home or at school, they’ve experienced fortitude and success, which has helped them develop self-confidence.

In many ways, we feel far removed from the real world in our beautiful bubble. We don’t turn on the news up here. But we’re of course aware that Covid isn’t trending in the right direction in much of the world. Yet, we’re trending in the right way here at camp. During our Virtual Visitors Weekend, we didn’t let boys have their phones (to the understandable chagrin of some parents). We want to protect our bubble. So, we rented iPads for Zooming with parents. These boys are on their phones enough when they’re home. And, soon enough, they’ll be back with you and in the real world with all of its challenges, hopefully a bit more equipped to face them.

Camp continues to progress in the right direction in spite of what’s going on in the world. Despite (or perhaps because of) our being “out of touch,” life just feels more normal up here. Camp gives us the gift of distance from these problems.

Two nights ago, I noticed a setting sun distinct from any I’ve ever seen. It had a deep, glowing red silhouette. I since learned that it was caused by the fires in the West – all the way from Oregon, northern California and Canada. It was a reminder to me that, despite the protective peace of Camp Kawaga, we’re not immune from yet another crisis.

Which reminded me about the law of polarity: With every reaction, there’s an equal and opposite reaction. I’d like to think at Kawaga we’re doing our part to provide balance. If you read the Saturday “sermons” from our counselors, you’ll hear a lot about the value of “paying it forward.” So many of these young men grew up at Kawaga, learning life lessons from their counselors. Now, they want to pass on this same gift. But as important as the concept of paying it forward is, I want to celebrate all of our boys’ achievements right now. We want your boys to believe in themselves. The real magic is when they take that confidence we help to build at Kawaga and apply it to other areas of their lives.

As we all know too well, life challenges, such as losing someone close to you, are inevitable. When Karma was struggling at the end, it was a few boys from Group One who saw her and came to get me.  To which was brave of them.  I moved Karma to her favorite spot near Bide-a-Wee. Shortly after Karma left us, my sister Tori arrived to work with us here for the next session. She was accompanied not only by her six-year-old son Huck, but also her two-year-old Golden Retriever Sampson. Campers did a double take seeing another Golden so happily running around our grounds. A new season.

We all may have different ideas about what’s the primary purpose of camp. But, when I see a boy like Harlan getting up on skis – not on his first or even his second try – but on his fifth, then I feel I get it. Maybe because of that moment of accomplishment the next time he attempts something difficult, he’ll have a little more confidence in himself.

Thank you all for reaching out about Karma. She loved her extended Kawaga family.

Be Kawaga,