June 30, 2016 Leave a comment
[[ Hey, we’re halfway done! Woohoo!
Prompt: A story about nostalgia
This isn’t really a story, just me talking about a place that’s very special to me. It ended up being pretty long though! ]]
Camp River Ranch is a Girl Scout camp nestled in the woods in Carnation, Washington. I attended many summers as a camper, and then worked two summers as a counselor when I was older. To me, it was always a magical place that was the essence of summer. When the brochure came in the mail, I’d spend hours pouring over the descriptions of the different programs, circling the ones that I liked the most. In the end, I always chose horse programs though, because I loved horses and camp was one of the few times a year that I got to ride. I’d carefully pack all of my things into my dad’s old army duffle bag, sometimes I’d have to ask him for things like a flashlight. The bag was always too heavy, but I insisted I could carry it anyway. The camp is located behind Remlinger Farms, and we’d always stop in the shop after my parents picked me up. They sold fresh berries and fruit, along with jam and pies and the like. As counselors, it was a popular place to go during our break because they sold ice cream.
Counting the days until camp was torture. I didn’t know what unit I’d be in until the counselors told us. Each of the units in the camp have a different style of cabins, and have their own personality. I haven’t slept in all of them, but they certainly all have their own charm. The horse units were usually in Wagons West — shaped like covered wagons — or Cascades. These were cabins with no exterior walls. The very youngest campers stayed in Meadows, the first unit along the road, fully enclosed miniature houses. There was also a unit with A-frames, and one with teepees. As counselors, we slept in the cabins too. There was a designated “counselor cabin”, usually the first in the row. It was exciting to pick a cabin and a bed and meet the other girls and set out our things. In Cascades, it was common to see or hear animals at night — deer, bats, raccoons, squirrels. Black bears and cougars also lived in the woods, but they were far less common to see. I saw a cougar only once in all of my years there — and that was exciting! We did find a deer kill once, while clearing trails. I’m not sure which animal left it there. No candy was allowed in the cabins, because the animals would smell it and seek it out, no matter what it was stored in! Sometimes bats would flutter through at night, which would inevitably frighten the girls, though they were harmless and munching on those pesky mosquitos. Some wet mornings, we’d find banana slugs on the railings of our Cascades cabins, sort of the unofficial mascot of River Ranch. There was even a song about them, I can still remember it today.
Crafts activities were held in a big red barn known as the crafts barn. Besides horses, it was one of my favorite things at camp. We learned how to make lanyards with plastic lacing, and we’d take the laces with us so we could finish while we were waiting at other places. I probably made two dozen over the course of the summer as a counselor. Making candles was another favorite of mine, dipping the wick over and over into the various colors. At night, they’d bring out the telescope and we could look at the stars and planets. I remember seeing Jupiter and Saturn for the first time through it and being so amazed. At the waterfront, there were three sections for swimming based on skill level. I’m not a very good swimmer (at all!) so I’d skip the swimming test and just stay in the first level. It was still fun, and a good way to cool off on a hot day. There were also rowboats, canoes, and kayaks. It was quite a sight to see the lake dotted with campers in their boats. On the far side of the lake was a public boat launch, so we’d often see fishermen there too. In fact, my dad fished there for many years, it was one of his favorite lakes! In the mornings, the mist would rise off the cold water looking like something out a fantasy movie. At dusk, you could hear the fish jumping to catch insects.
Most meals were at the lodge, a beautiful wooden building overlooking the lake. The whole camp gathered there for breakfast and dinner – lunches were usually eaten just with your unit. It was bustling, alive and exciting to have the whole camp there at once. We’d sit two counselors per table and the campers could sit at whichever table they wanted. It was a great way to get to meet campers who weren’t in your own unit, and ask them about their day and what they were doing at camp. A favorite thing to do was to fold our cloth napkins into different shapes to amaze the campers. I remember that the food was always good, but that may just be because you work up a big appetite when you’re at camp! I especially loved when we had oatmeal for breakfast, because it was delicious and very filling. After the meal was over, we’d sing songs until it was time to go back to our units or to the next activity. I still remember all of the songs, they hadn’t changed since I was a camper and I’m sure they’re still singing the same songs at River Ranch this summer.
And the horses, of course the horses. Hiking out to Horse Country, seeing the hoofprints on the trail, being so excited we could hardly stand it. Looking at all the horses and trying to guess which one we’d be assigned. Each camper usually rode the same horse all week, being matched to the rider by personality and skill level. Sometimes there would be swaps of course, but this was usually the case. Meeting “your” horse for the first time. I still remember some of “my” horses: Blackie, Bluebell, Toby. As a counselor, we usually got to ride on Fridays when the campers went on the trail ride. A counselor was placed last in line to watch for any problems, and sometimes one in the middle if it was a particularly large group. The “wrangler” (one of the horse staff) would lead. Horse Country was universally dusty, hot, and sometimes smelly, and there were biting flies. But it was paradise to me and all the other horse-loving girls. My last year at River Ranch, I got to go along on a horsepacking trip in the Cascade mountains with a group of high-school age campers. It was one of the most amazing experiences of my life. We rode for three days straight, up through the forests into the flowery alpine meadows, so high that it was snowing when we arrived at the site — in July. In the mornings there was ice on the outside of our sleeping bags. We could hear the bell attached to the lead horse’s neck as they grazed in the meadow. We saw a black bear, climbing a steep hillside. One day we rode out to a beautiful mountain waterfall. I have a photo of me there, what the photo doesn’t show is that my legs were so wobbly from riding all day that I could hardly stand!
After camp closed for the summer, and the counselors had finished cleaning up and storing all the equipment, I asked if it was okay to bring my dog there to walk on the trails. Walking through the quiet forest, with only the sounds of the birds and my dog Banjo, is a memory that I’ll always treasure.