I close my eyes.
Immediately, I am at camp again. On the banks of the Ottawa River on a wooded, 40- hectare haven. Living with five other girls my age --- early teens --- in a bell tent. Girl Guide members, we have bonded during the school year. Now we live together for a few weeks each summer at Camp Woolsey.* Away from parents, home, and related responsibilities. Pure bliss.
This particular year, in a lucky twist of fate, we five have landed positions on Woolsey’s waterfront staff. Our jobs bring prestige, privilege. Meaning we don’t have to peel mountains of potatoes or wash dishes in the Mess Hall. Such duties are relegated to mere campers.
Lessons in life
However, no matter inclement weather or cold grey river water or black flies, our job is to teach swimming, canoeing, and water safety to campers. All day. Every day.
Gunwale bobbing** on canoes was our popular time-off pastime. Today, this game we played astride the gunwales/sides of a canoe, is outlawed. Too dangerous. Liability insurance is now necessary.
And yet, gunwale bobbing gave us the opportunity to take chances, to learn how to balance, to fall into the water and get up again. Valuable life lessons.
In the evening, after campfire songs like Land of the Silver Birch, Fire’s Burning, and Taps (Day is Done, Gone the Sun...)***, we were expected to tumble into our tents and sleeping bags, (flash)lights out, and sleep.
Except we waterfront girls never followed protocol. After leaders finished their ‘bedcheck’, we crept out of our tent and raced onto the path immediately behind our site. Circulating rumours of a boys’ camp not far away had piqued our interest.
We decided to raid it.
Unfortunately, traipsing along a woodland path in the dark proved difficult. Especially when unidentifiable bush noises alerted suspicious leaders that not all was normal. Also, our no flashlight rule to avoid detection was a liability.
Despite our precautions, our deviously responsible leaders came looking. We dove into nearby shrubbery to escape discovery. When we thought it safe --- once they paraded past our hiding spot --- we ran for cover back into our tent. All this action in darkness.
The next morning, we awoke to terrible rashes covering our bodies. Rashes that itched and oozed with scratchy sores. Seems, in our haste to hide, we had chosen a patch of poison ivy.
To this day, I swear we saw smirks on our leaders’ faces.
Of course, we must retaliate. Anonymously. We hope.
There were no modern bathroom facilities at camp. But there were those old-fashioned outhouses (with carved half-moons in the door of a small wooden latrine) set apart, due to unsavoury odours, from the campsite. One was designated for campers. The other outhouse, placed farther away and delicately surrounded by greenery, belonged to camp leaders.
Cleaning these latrines and throwing lye crystals on the odious contents plopped below the hole were tantamount to hell.
While some kept vigilant watch, the rest of us took on the smelly job of exacting our revenge. We opened the leaders’ latrine door, lifted the toilet seat, secured saran wrap across the ‘hole’, replaced the toilet seat, left the little wooden building and immediately hid in the surrounding shrubbery, ignoring the swarms of eternal buzzing insects.
Didn’t take long before a leader needed to answer the call of nature. She ambled along the path to the executive latrine.
Stifling giggles, we watched her step inside. Lock the door.
We heard her screams. Immediately fled the scene. Tried hard to silence loud snickers.
But all this innocent tomfoolery was yesterday.
Now I must return to today and the current sad state of our besieged world. Besides, it’s almost time for dinner. What can I possible prepare that isn’t too expensive and that all three kids and their father will eat?
** A trick called "gunwale bobbing" or "gunwaling" allows a canoe to be propelled without a paddle. The canoeist stands on the gunwales, near the bow or the stern, and squats up and down to make the canoe rock backward and forward. This propulsion method is inefficient and unstable; additionally, standing on the gunwales can be dangerous. However, this can be turned into a game where two people stand one on each end, and attempt to cause the other to lose balance and fall into the water, while remaining standing themselves.