Last night’s camp fire was the first indication that our summer at Camp Takajo is coming to an end. For those who have been here for many summers, this event represents the end of something special. It is a warning that there are only a few days left. There’s little time left to be with your friends and a reminder to soak up every remaining moment before we go our separate ways. Our little guys are eager to reconnect with family, but our oldest boys wish there was more time left in their camping careers. If you were here to witness the body language, you would see our oldest boys arm-in-arm and seemingly connected at the hip, as they sense time is slipping away.
This afternoon, I invited our 48 Okees down to my house for lunch. When these boys were Warriors, they would be identified by a particular bunk or small group with which they spent most of their time. But as the years have passed, this group has become one family. They respect each other for their strengths and embrace one another for their weaknesses. This develops over time, when trust and respect replace personal needs and impulsivity.
After lunch, swimming in the lake, and the annual picture in the hot tub, I brought the boys into my house, so we could sit together and reflect upon their years at camp. I welcomed the boys’ questions and provided full transparency in my answers. The questions were heartfelt and sincere. The boys wanted to know about what would happen when Hank and Jane Fortin no longer return to run Warrior Camp, what plans I have for capital improvements, and as the owner of Camp Takajo, what was the most difficult decision I’ve had to make.
The boys listened intently to my responses, and I believe this open and frank conversation gave them a greater perspective for all the hard work and thought that goes into making the Takajo experience so special. We spoke about the love and devotion of the administrative staff, all of whom have played a critical role in the growth and development of these young men. For the past 29 years, I have said goodbye to a graduating group of campers. While each group is unique and special, these boys will forever hold a special place in my heart. This is the first summer that I experienced what it feels like to have a son graduate from camp.
For the past ten summers, I have had the comfort and security of knowing that my oldest boy would be under my watchful eye in camp, where he would experience a wide variety of activities while developing self-confidence and an inner strength that would help him persevere through life’s challenges and adversities. I will no longer have the luxury of knowing where my son will spend his summers. While intellectually I realize there is a great big world, filled with wonderful opportunities, there is something sad about realizing this phase of life for my son and me is over.
The Seniors left my house as one united group and went back to their quad, where they split back into their Olympic teams. For the next two hours, they competed fiercely against each other during the Whacked-Up Relay. The competition was fun, yet intense, as many of these boys competing in this relay knew this was their last in camp. Yet, when the final piece of pie was swallowed, and one team was declared the winner, the entire age group became one, embraced each other and celebrated. The fact that these boys recognized that this experience was more important than the result is a sign of maturity. I would like to believe that Takajo played a small part in teaching these boys this valuable lesson.
In the evening, we hosted our final banquet in the dining room. Campers and counselors were dressed in their nicest attire and celebrated this phenomenal summer. We heard speeches from some of our youngest Warriors and oldest Seniors, as well as perspectives from some first-year counselors and a Takajo legend, who is here for his final summer. There was a common theme that ran through these speeches.
No matter what you feel you will take away from the camp experience, you cannot possibly fathom the enormous growth that takes place when you spend your summer away from home. As Warren played Tattoo, the entire camp stood in silence, and I reflected on an earlier blog post describing Warrior Group Leader Hank Fortin honoring this bugle call, while a bunk of Juniors ignored it. It warmed my heart to see that through the continuity of this reflective bugle call, our campers have learned to appreciate what camp represents.