Thursday, July 19, 2012

Girl Scout Camp Reunion

Elizabeth Zelvin

I got an unexpected phone call recently from a woman I didn’t know, inviting me to join the Facebook group devoted to my old Girl Scout camp
and to attend a weekend reunion, not at the camp itself, long abandoned, but at a campground on a neighboring lake in Harriman State Park, near Bear Mountain. I loved Girl Scout camp—a fact that may astound people who can’t imagine this Outrageous Older Woman in any kind of uniform but will not surprise those who know that many feminists first learned self-reliance and the joys of female friendships as Girl Scouts.

I grew up in one of New York’s outer boroughs (appropriately, Queens). My camp was on Lake Kanawauke, close enough that the bus ride was not intolerable for kids (today it’s just an hour’s drive from Manhattan) and wild enough for an abundance of deer, skunks, raccoons, snapping turtles, and the occasional beaver dam.
We lived in tents. We washed our own dishes and made our own beds with hospital corners. We learned to build one-match fires and lash logs together with twine so we could build a raft or a picnic table if the need arose. We hiked and climbed the local mountains on trails that occasionally crossed the Appalachian Trail, which we considered very cool indeed. We swam and canoed in the lake. We sang corny campfire songs in melting harmonies. We ate s’mores. (That’s some-more, two syllables.)

I couldn’t make it for the whole weekend, but I wasn’t going to miss the reunion. I found and dusted off my looseleaf book of campfire songs, packed my mosquito repellent and a bathing suit, and early on Saturday morning, away I went. I had an absolutely wonderful time! There was a small group of women who’d been at camp with me and a larger group between five and ten years younger. We hadn’t changed a bit, except for some heavy breathing where the trails went uphill and a few knee replacements and cancer survival stories. Most of us were still up for a hike and a swim.
We could still make a one-match fire—except that none of the fifteen or twenty women were carrying matches. And we can still remember the words to all the songs and most of the two-part harmonies. I stayed till the embers of the campfire were glowing and still had to tear myself away to drive back to the city.

The reunion took place at a camp on Lake Sebago, a low-cost retreat for groups and families that’s one of the few still open in the park, but we made a pilgrimage to our own camp, which closed in 1972.
It’s become so overgrown in the past forty years that I found it hard to orient myself. But it’s still beautiful—and not littered with debris and trash as it was when I paid a visit to the site in the early Eighties.
I had hoped we might hike to Bald Rock, a local lookout spot that I remembered as only half a mile away and which was the inspiration for a murder site in one of my mysteries. But those who had attended previous reunions advised against it, pointing out that that’s half a mile straight up—and after puffing my way up a simple fire trail, I thought better of it myself. What I really want is a photo of a skeleton seated cross-legged on the edge of such a lookout, seen from the back, if possible wearing rainbow suspenders, looking out over a vista of mountains.


Sandra Parshall said...

With Photoshop, you can have that picture, Liz. :-)

What a beautiful area. Sounds like you had a wonderful time.

Leslie Budewitz said...

Oh, what fun! I haven't been back to Timbercrest, in the Beartooth Mountains outside Red Lodge, Montana, in literally decades -- but I do still have my camp song notebook, and occasionally haul it out! Thanks for triggering some great memories!

Anonymous said...

So many of us grew up at Girl Scout camp! I spent happy days at Camp Matoaka on Lake Prince near Suffolk, VA, then the GS Camp near Johnstown, PA. One summer, when I served on the staff at the Henry St. Settlement House Camp in Westchester County, I learned such marvelous folk songs - my favorite was If I Had a Hammer - which I took back to Camp Matoaka - it became the favorite too with the girls in rural Virginia! Thelma Straw

K.B. Gibson said...

Sounds like a wonderful time. My Girl Scout camp days were spent somewhere in Texas Hill Country. I'm afraid I don't remember the name, but it shares a special place in my childhood memories.

Sue Mattson said...

A lot insist that the girl scouts is a feminist organization. Well, radically, I guess, because they support equality for women and girls from the very beginning. In my own point of view, there's nothing wrong with females getting out of the house and experiencing fun activities! :) I'm glad that camps provide information about various dangers of today like domestic violence, drugs, alcohol, sex education, and sexual abuse to educate our women, and that which America needs also, especially the young ones.

Susie said...

Was the name of your camp, Camp Matta Waccaa?

Susie said...

I went to a girl scout camp called Camp Matta Wacca up there. Any chance it was the same one?