Making lifelong friends at camp

Girl in a climbing adventure park

Outdoor adventures, funny memories, and even good-natured pranks are all part of the special bonding that happens at summer camp.

Last summer, I interviewed several campers about their summer experiences in preparation for a writing assignment. Two themes emerged.

First, many stories centred on playing, having fun, and getting into harmless mischief with camp friends. A group of young boys chuckled as they recalled wading along a muddy, marshy shoreline through arrowhead plants and water lilies, trying to catch frogs in a Nalgene container.

Sensibly, they first removed their shoes and socks; then to save on laundry, they left their shorts on the shore. They chuckled as they described themselves as “boys in boxers, sloshing about in a bog.”

After much splashing and hilarity, they finally succeeded in capturing a couple of frogs. Then these would-be-chefs imagined the taste of fresh frog legs, fried over a campfire.

However, the counsellors quickly squashed that plan by setting the captives free. Nevertheless, the outdoor activity enjoyed with camp friends that sunny afternoon became a treasured memory.

After securing a promise “not to tell our counsellor,” a group of teenage girls confessed to a prank played on the girls in the neighbouring cabin.

Late one night, their neighbours were making considerable noise, but at the time, the counsellor on duty was elsewhere. Seizing the opportunity, the girls quickly donned dark jackets, pulled down the peaks of their baseball caps to conceal their identity, then crept outside.

Silently, they approached the neighbouring cabin.

Hidden in the shadows beneath an open window, they prodded one in the group to be their spokesperson. In an authoritative voice, she delivered the message: “Girls it is late. It is time for sleep. Please respect your neighbours and settle down, now!”

The immediate, apologetic response from the interior of the cabin confirmed that she had succeeded in fooling their neighbours into thinking she was the counsellor on duty. The prank came to an abrupt end when the “real” counsellor appeared in the distance.

The girls took to the woods and huddled in the dark with hands over their mouths to suppress their giggles until the coast was clear, and they were able to dash, undetected, back to bed. Innocent mischief, perpetrated by a group of friends in the dark of night, created a lasting camp memory.

When describing their experiences and relationships with new friends, campers often mention that at camp they are free to be themselves: “I can be silly and crazy and there is always someone to be silly and crazy with me!”

Living with others for days or weeks, campers realize it is futile to try to sustain a façade. At camp, guided by competent, caring counsellors, campers learn to be tolerant, co-operative, respectful and accepting of others who may be different from themselves. Putting aside their electronic devices, they engage with new and old friends actively, outdoors and face-to-face.

In contrast, the second theme centred on trials and tribulations.

Campers recalled situations where their limits were put to the test – battling a hard wind while paddling across a lake, persevering with a heavy pack on a long portage or completing a long-distance swim. In each case, they succeeded with the help, encouragement and support of their camp friends and counsellors.

Camp is the ideal place to learn co-operation and teamwork. Their individual and group successes boosted their confidence and self-esteem.

Camp friends become friends for life. For the length of the camp session, 24/7, campers eat, sleep, work, learn and play together, celebrating the good times and supporting one another through the challenges. Camp friends develop special bonds that endure the test of time.

Catherine Ross is communications officer for the Canadian Camping Association.