Monday, August 31, 2015

Sunshine and Sea Salt

Summer ended today. For me, summer ended as a group of friends dropped me off at another friend's apartment so I could catch a flight early the next morning. Even as I excitedly sit in the airport, waiting for my flight to take my to the next leg of my adventure, a part of me wonders why I am leaving people and a place who are so incredibly good to me. Something good ending, especially a summer as enjoyable as this one, even coming at the cusp of an exciting beginning is always a sad moment for me.

And as my summer has been drawing to a close, I’ve tried to spend every last moment with the people I love so dearly, and was fortunate enough to catch up with a friend from last summer who was on the island for just a little bit. We were reminiscing on the golden days of the previous summer and sharing stories of the intervening year when he started telling me about friends whose relationship had fizzled as the school year started again because it was built on, as he so eloquently phrased it, “sunshine and sea salt.” The implication being that clearly nothing between them could have lasted, having been built on such a foundation as that. 

And that poignant description stuck with me all through the next day–everything I treasure about this place, rests on sunshine and sea salt. It started building in the magic that is unique to the beginning of summer. When the light fades slower into the pleasantly warm evening, the glow of the stars and lightning bugs makes anything seems possible. All that summer could hold is big enough to make any dream feel destined to come true because in those moments all the dreams of climbing, paddle boarding, bonfires, friendship, marathons and spectacular camp programming will happen. There's no reason for them not to because the days are just long enough and ten weeks is just long enough to pretend like the magic of summer will never fade into Fall. But inevitably, the sunshine fades into a darker autumn and waters grow too cold to swim, and the question seems to arise with every heart-rending goodbye, will it be enough? Is the friendship we sowed with sunshine and sea salt enough to last?

It’s a hard question to answer because the answer only comes through time, and it’s not always yes. And it’s even harder, knowing that there are always people who remain only in the blissful memories of carefree evenings, baking in the summer sun. But then, there are those special cases–and I feel lucky because at CBC they seem to be as much the rule as the exception–that prove sunshine, sea salt and just a little bit of that summer camp magic can yield amazing friendships. 

It’s hard to say when exactly it happens, but somewhere between trekking up and down the hill, tag team counseling a distraught camper, and acting on those long dreamed of climbing trips, friendships are born that are as deep and fulfilling as those developed over many years. So when that moment comes to say goodbye and emerge from camp bliss, the parting sentiment goes much deeper than “keep in touch.” When I hear my camp friends say, “Let me know if you ever need anything” or sometimes more specifically, "Come on a road trip with me and then stay on my couch for a while" I know they mean it. 

In my two summers spent pretending like I’m a Mainer, I have made better friends than I feel I could ever deserve. And those relationships carried me through many of the less spectacular moments of the intervening year. From the friend I’ve called in tears, miserably stuck in my house on top of a mountain, needing a weekend away from my life to the ones I’ve called asking for a ride to the airport before 5 am. I know they would do anything for me because they’ve proven they will, and I, in equal measure, do the same for them–answer those 3 a.m. phone calls because I know that’s when they need it most and put plans on hold to edit papers shortly before they’re due.

In the incredibly short 20 weeks I've spent working at CBC, I’ve made the kind of friends that make my heart leap when I see a letter in Tyler’s handwriting, a voicemail from Paul or an incoming FaceTime from Jenny and Jim. It might not be an every day occurrence, but in those happy moments, the warm rays of summer shine through and I can smell the sea again. 

Sunday, February 15, 2015

There's Something about Working in the Mountains

I work a job where I am on the clock 22.5 hours a day, 5 days week. I work a job where I spend more time walking around, retrieving extra forks and drinks at meals than actually sitting down and eating. I work a job where I maybe have time to shower once during the week. I work a job where I have to use every trick, tip, song and dance I've learned in my years of working with children on a daily basis.

My job is hard, and my job is fantastic. But at the end of the week I have given everything I have to give; it's all been laid out for the kids I take care of every week. My brain is mush by the time I drive out of the gates Friday afternoon.

We, as an instructional staff, have a lot of responsibility and expectations placed on us to do an exceptional job. At summer camp, the children's parents put on the pressure to keep their kids happy and healthy in a very active setting. In outdoor education, that same standard applies but with the additional responsibility of meeting their teachers' expectations that you teach their students lessons better than they could have in their classroom, otherwise half the point of coming all the way up the mountain is gone.

I expected, coming into this job, that the formal teaching part of the job would be the aspect that I would find easier and corralling a cabin of girls would be the part I would struggle with. That, as it turns out, is completely opposite. Spending time with my cabins of 5th to 8th grade girls has been, well, I won't say a breeze because that make it sound too easy, but it's been the most fun part of the job.

That's not to say that I don't enjoy teaching the classes. But it's been more difficult than I originally anticipated simply because I didn't arrive having a good depth of knowledge of the curriculum. I have never studied Forest Ecology or Aerodynamics, and now, I teach three hour lessons on the subjects.

Being able to teach those classes didn't happen by magic. We have all had to devote a significant portion of our weekend to interpreting and planning these lessons. My house, called Onacrest, tends to prep at the same time, so we can all figure it out together and tap into the knowledge of the returning staff. Fortunately, I work with a very diverse group. We all have a wide array of skills, all relating to the field of Outdoor Education, and we often times find ourselves sitting around the staff lounge during our precious off time trading tips and information on tactics that worked in the 26 classes we have to be able to teach.

Each time I teach a class, it gets a little bit better. The first time I taught Orienteering, all of my 16 kids went wandering in the woods, despite my instructions that they must stay within sight of me. Saying that class was stressful is the biggest understatement I could ever make. The second time I taught that class, I knew I had to drop the hammer early, and because I knew I had to be a lot stricter, all of my kids stay within sight and completed the activity. So I know I am not perfect, but I can see myself getting better at what I do.

Working in the Outdoor Education and Camp Industry, like most fields that deal with kids, requires an exceptional amount of self sacrifice. In the first two weeks of camp, everyone and I mean everyone caught the plague and worked through it with smiles and as much cheer as it was possible to muster. It can be difficult to find the time to go to the bathroom during the day, let alone take care of any other personal needs, yet you would never know it by looking around at my coworkers. Our job is to make what we do seem easy and natural, smiling through every adversity. No one does it perfectly, but I have been impressed with how well we as a staff cheerfully greet the very real struggles in our jobs.

In the very little time I have for self reflection and self evaluation, I have been wondering what I get out of the work that makes it so enjoyable to me because on paper, it sounds miserable. The most glaring reward I get, the one everyone talks about, is the satisfaction of giving kids an experience unlike most others they've had in their lives. Kids are almost uniformly sad to leave camp. They load the busses amidst declarations that they never want to leave or want to bring the whole family to live at camp.

But that is not all that I get from this job. The rewards that make this job worth doing may seem nonsensical, but to me they make all the difference.

I get...

To have a trash picking up party every Friday while listening to what the musical geniuses that are Lil Debbie, Nicki Minaj and Ke$ha have provided the world.

A place to use my ridiculously bad dances moves in a nonjudgmental environment in both planned and impromptu dance parties.

To tap into the vast experience of +50 coworkers to become better at my job.

To spend almost all day outside hiking, climbing and playing among the trees.

An incredible support system for all my personal and professional triumphs and shortcomings and the ability to share in my friends' successes and struggles.

5 Valentines dates who are excited to get dressed up to go to a burger restaurant.

The opportunity to live in the mountains with stunning views, clear(ish) air, and now this is the most important part for me, weather that has been in the 60s during February.

To live in the same house with some truly wonderful and hilarious humans who are rapidly become some of my best friends. One of these people is a really incredible artist and was kind enough to let me use some of his photos to show you all the San Bernardino Mountains. All these photos are Avery Meaux.

My house Onacrest back when there was actual snow. #DCH

It's hard to beat having views like this every day.

We actually live above the clouds. 

I love my job. I love how hard it is. I love the people I work with. I have spent so much time going out into the world and trying to find myself, trying to figure out who exactly I am and where I want to go. I don't have it all figured out, who does, but being in places like this affirms that I am in a place where I belong. I look around at my coworkers singing at the top of their lungs and consoling the homesick campers and know that I am in the right field. Seeing them I can't help but thinking "these are my people; I am home" and feeling incredibly lucky to be able to lay out everything I have each week for the sake of the kids and the benefit of my coworkers.