Last weekend I had an unexpected opportunity to visit the camp where I spent the better part of my childhood, first as a camper and later as a staff member, as we gathered friends and family for my Dad’s memorial.
It’s a little sad that my old stomping grounds are all but shuttered at this point, having been first closed by the Boy Scouts back in 2016 and then re-closed by its actual owners, the local Rotary Club, last year due to business conflicts with the neighbors regarding their desire to bring larger groups through the property.
Truth be told, the last time I set foot at camp was probably 20 years ago before I moved to Florida!
So it was a nice, little treat that helped to lessen the stresses of the day to walk around a place that was featured in some of my favorite memories of scouting, savoring the nostalgia and also confronting the bittersweet reminders of things that have changed and things that will never be the same again.
That whole saying, “You can never go home again…” is so very true.
We spent the night in one of the cabins where the adult staff members used to stay, which was a neat throwback because my best summer ever there was my third year on staff when five of us 17 year-olds were given one of the cabins because there wasn’t enough space for everyone on staff row. We had that place totally decked out with shag carpeting and tie dye and there was almost always someone playing Excitebike on the NES in our free time … it was great!
No Nintendo this time because we didn’t get there until after midnight, and instead the challenge was getting five kids who were hyped up on sugar from the Cherry Fest to actually go to sleep, but it was nice waking up in the morning and already being there instead of having to drive over from Gaylord on only a few hours of sleep.
It was admittedly a little eerie being there all by ourselves, starting with driving in late the night before to not a single light except for a flashlight waved by my friend and former camp director who made the arrangements for us. It’s funny how you get so used to background noise living in suburbia that the dark nothingness of the outdoors is a little overwhelming, but in the same way it was nice to just have some time more or less to myself before the crowds began to gather for the memorial.
One familiar face was still present at his post – George the Moose, who looked over the dining hall and was the subject of frequent smooches by camp staffers when prompted by a loud enough round of chanting. It was neat to be able to share this little snippet from my youth with my own kids by hoisting each of them up so that they too could kiss the moose!
I also took the kids on a makeshift nature hike around to some of the other areas of camp where they got to see one of the campsites, the waterfront that I tried my hardest to avoid because I was a terrible swimmer, the trading post and handicraft area, and of course, my own beloved nature shack that admittedly wasn’t very impressive to them as it was literally just a shed, but for me it was a window into my life 25 years ago where I spent weeks teaching kids about nature and ecology and taking better care of the planet…
I also took a lot of naps – quite possibly on that very picnic table!
On our way back to the pavilion, sadly Matthew and I apparently managed to anger one or more yellow jackets that got us a handful of times while we were climbing the stairs out of the fire bowl, so that was a painful bummer that still has me itching a bit as I write this now almost a week later! Ironic because in my probably 15 years of going to camp, I don’t think that I ever got bitten or stung by anything, and that was with kids literally bringing me creatures that they’d caught at dinner!
My best guess is that they could smell that I was no longer the nature boy that I was in my youth and they saw an opportunity to strike, which is fair. Back in those days, it took a lot to creep me out whereas today I’m more likely to close the door and wait for it to leave then go grabbing at random snakes that we find hanging out on our patio by the pool. 😉
By the time we had returned, pretty much everyone else had gone and we finished cleaning up our messes before heading back to one of the closest campsites to spread some of Dad’s ashes in the site where our troop most often stayed when we came for summer camp. It was a peaceful end to the trip to walk around sprinkling his remains, picturing the campsite still alive with kids running around in bright red Troop 1 shirts and leaders sitting around the campfire trying to make sure none of them caught themselves on fire.
I imagined what I could best remember as the place where one of my first tents was set, conveniently located right next to the hidden path that was used as a shortcut down to the trading post for candy and treats!
After leaving flowers on a seat by the fire pit, we quietly walked back to the cars where I closed each of the gates behind us, knowing that there’s a good chance that I probably won’t ever be back there again … but you never know, and for all of the wonderful memories of Camp Greilick that I had throughout my time there, I certainly hope that future generations still get a chance to have a few of their own, too.