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An unexpected glimpse of my childhood arrived in my inbox this past week. The camp I attended as a young girl had revamped their website and sent me a link, so I poked around it for a few minutes until I came to a video. I blithely clicked PLAY and for the next 30 minutes I was transported several decades back in time to a place that started my love affair with the great outdoors and in many ways transformed the arc of my life.

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The camp was founded over 70 years ago and most of the cabins and other facilities had seen little updating by my day, or since. (This is a good thing.) Green Cove is a traditional girls’ camp (the brother camp is nearby), a place where old-fashioned activities continue to be practiced in much the same ways they always have, perhaps with slightly better equipment. There are no team sports here, no competitions, no electronics, and no fancy anythings. The cabins and dining hall smell delightfully of mildew, and the furnishings are of the woodsy, rustic variety.

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Here we learned (and the girls still learn) to rock climb, build a fire, sail and kayak and canoe, and ride mountain bikes and horses. We handled carabiners, tent pegs, awls, pitons, booms, paddles, and reins. We got filthy almost every day, and we didn’t care if our wet hair stuck to our faces, our t-shirts got permanently stained, and our shoes and bathing suits never dried out over the course of a month or more. We ate hungrily at every family-style meal, and we burned off all of it and more every day in the lake and on the trails.

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We launched arrows and fired rifles, cast fishing lines and hoisted backpacks, carved wood, wove textiles, and enameled copper. We were trusted around sharp tools and hot fires, wobbly river rocks and skittish horses. We were given the confidence to lead the way on a steep ledge, the skill to clean a mare’s hoof, the faith to lean back into a rappel, the nerves to flip a kayak.

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In our free time, we swept high out over the lake on a giant swing and dropped into the cold, muddy water, played capture the flag until we were winded, lay back in the grass to count wooly white animals in the sky, wrote long letters home from our bunks, and napped, deeply. At night, we gathered around campfires, sang songs, played ping pong, opened mail from home, talked for hours in our cabins, and slept more soundly on a lumpy cot than we ever would again in a five-star bed.

Camp life was idyllic, but for me, the highlights of my months in the mountains were the wilderness trips. Starting at young ages, girls could start spending from 1 to 6 or more days out in nature, learning to live as one with the earth. I loved that Green Cove’s raison d’être was to encourage girls to seek outdoor adventures and to develop the skills needed to continually pursue challenges in the woods and mountains and, ultimately, life. I went into camp a very shy girl, a girl who played it safe. I emerged with the ammunition to get through my teenage and young adult years with some semblance of confidence, and I started down a path of world discovery, ideally on foot out in nature, that I still eagerly pursue today.

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I’m sure a few of my fellow campers no longer want to trek for weeks on end, go without showers for days at a time, or sleep on a flimsy mat under a sleeping bag on a buggy night. For me, it’s still heaven, and I still chase those interludes when iPhones and email, work deadlines and house projects fade into gray, and nothing lies before me each morning but a chance to put one foot in front of the other under a green canopy or on a rocky path. Camp changed my whole relationship with the world outside my door; I fell in love with it, and I never fell out.

Submitted as part of the Weekly Photo Challenge: Transmogrify

Photo Note: Not a single one of these photos is from camp! Those days were captured on a tiny, crummy old film camera, and I don’t even know where the prints might be.