Monday, July 9, 2012

Camp Oconto 1969

   It was a lovely sunny July 8th as my campers and I paddled on Eagel Lake. For them it was their initiation in overnight canoe tripping. They'd had to plan the destination and what to load into two canoes safely. Before ever getting to do any of this they had to pass a swim test and a canoeing test that included making a canoe tip while they were in it and then righting it. My training in these skills occurred the week before the campers arrived. I was amongst those who managed to pass the demanding safe canoeing test.
    Camp Oconto is a prestigious camp for girls. Campers come from all over the world to spend time in the Canadian beautiful wilderness. Being from upper class environments this place is chosen for them to learn some of the more rustic ways. Camp fire lighting, cooking over a fire, pitching a small pup tent, canoeing and much more was in store for them. In the senior section four teens  had one counsellor. They would live together while their counsellor would reside close by. I was assigned counsellor for a teen group. The younger campers had other arrangements. Not surprising, many of the campers were repeat clients. While some stayed for the entire eight weeks, others came for four and a few for two. Some were sent to improve their skills in spoken English. Others came to enjoy the boating skills or the equestrian ones. All campers were given the best experiences. All staff was carefully screened and selected by the Labbetts who owned and operated the camp at that time. The camper's family was able to preselect activities and the counsellors were given campers according to those selections. I was one of the staff selected for canoe trips.
   So for our small overnight canoe adventure we agreed that a pup tent would be unnecessary. The forecast was for clear weather. Any boating activity required knowledge of weather and safety associated with it. It was my job to go to the weather report location to ensure that we would be risk free.  Along with my CIT the six of us had paddled off to our chosen destination around 11am that day. As we paddled we sang or just listened to the swooshing sound of our paddles. When necessary we munched on snacks and drank water to keep up our energy.
    We arrived at our destination around 6pm. Once the canoes were secured we set up our site. We organized a little fire pit in a safe location, put some rocks around it, adding twigs and kindling into the pit and when we had a small fire, moved on to some logs from stuff that we had gathered. By 7:30 we were warming our dinner camp style, dehydrated food packages opened and then wet and heated before consumption. Not the gourmet meal these girls were used to! After eating, then cleaning our dishes we just sat around relaxing and sharing by talking, sketching or journalling. Around 9:30pm we were ready to unroll our sleeping bags and lay them onto groundsheets ready for our sleepover.
    We made sure that our fire was completely out and that we had set aside kindling and twigs under cover for the morning. And our food was hung from a tree branch away from us. Then we climbed into our bags. There's something very grand about lying on the ground in the middle of nowhere and staring up at the night sky! The stars just seem to twinkle more brightly. As we lay there  we tried to figure out some of the basic star arrangements like the Big Dipper and so on. Gradually all the girls drifted off to sleep and it was my turn. I tucked my thick lensed glasses close by my head and dosed off lightly. It seems when one has responsibility for others' well being one ear remains on alert.
    Thump, thump, thump came the noise and vibration. I quickly recognized it to be running horses. They were heading right towards us probably on their way to the lake for a drink. My heart pounded at the thought of us being trampled.  As I grabbed for my glasses I awakened my CIT. Together we turned on our flashlights waving them as we listened. The horses got our message! Smart! They detoured around us.
    I thanked my CIT for supporting my plan. Then as I crawled back into my sleeping bag, satisfied that we were okay, a warm feeling came over me under the moonlight. I realized that I was going to have my campfire breakfast in a very special place, one shared by many of nature's creatures including the horses. And it would be my 23rd birthday! Could anything top that?
    July was exceptionally special that year. On the eve of the 21st all the campers and counsellors were requested to go for a pow wow set on a cleared hill, but surrounded by forest wilderness yet near to the main lodge. There we were to seat ourselves facing an enormous white movie screen. Odd. This was very much out of our usual evening activities since electronic devices were not allowed. At first it was thought that the Labbett's were starting a movie night activity and decided to surprise us. We had not had any prior discussion to a this type of pow wow. There was intense curiosity growing as everyone waited. Then the sound system came on and Mr.Labbett announced why we were summoned to the screen. We were to witnessed something unusual, something that would become an historical event on the globe. Camp Oconto wanted to include its staff and campers to be a part of that infamous lunar moment when Neil Armstrong stepped out and onto the moon. It happened there on that screen.
    Us perched on a hillside outdoors surrounded by forests with the moon shining down as we sat staring at a huge white screen oohing and awing at Armstrong was a grand juxtaposition! And as I write these words I'm reliving those moments. The emotions experienced then still send shivers down my spine.
    Oconto 1969 was a truly memorable summer. It gave me a renewed sense of self worth and the feeling that I was ready to tackle the next phase of my life, teaching.

   And what were you up to back then?


  1. I loved reading this. What a memory. I was pregnant with my second born. I remember much of the summer as if it were yesterday. It was a wonderful time in my life.

  2. I also loved reading this wonderful memory! That was the summer I graduated from high school. I was working at an amusement park and having the time of my life, earning my first weekly pay check and just having fun. I have many good memories of that summer. Thanks for bringing them back!

  3. Wow, did that bring back memories of a less successful canoe over night in the Maine woods about two years later than yours and I was ten years older.
    In spite of the close calls, I loved my time at camp as a head counseler. Wonderful post.

  4. My son was six years old and I was working full time for the school district in Flint, Michigan. Married to my second husband already, and things were not looking good, as he was very controlling. I would much rather have been in YOUR situation, Heidrun! :-)

  5. in 1969 i had just had my second son and had 2 in diapers and I was 22, i barely had time to breathe so did not pay much attention to Armstrong except that i knew about it.
    great idea on waving the flashlights at the horses, could have been bad if it had not wakened you.

  6. I was 12 years old and going into the 8th grade. I remember all the talk at the end of school about the moon landing, but I cannot really recall it happening. I am sure it did! LOL! Since it was summer, I really didn't watch television very much, so it is quite possible that I didn't even see it on television.

    How exciting for you to remember it in such a great setting.

  7. What a wonderful posting. You took me right into the canoe and to the camp site. I could even hear the pounding of the horses' hooves. Thank you for such vivid descriptions.

    As to October 1969, I was starting my first of two years at graduate school in Minneapolis, Minnesota. This was hard for me because I felt so inadequate. So I'm glad to learn that for you that month brought the feeling that you were equal to the next phase of your life.


  8. That is a great experience and a nice memmory.

  9. What a wonderful memory! I love canoeing and camping, although I haven't done it for ages. Sigh.