Hey Hey World,
So here I am in Arizona. Whilst the majority of my friends have been sitting exams and finishing the academic year, I’ve been practising wildfire evacuation plans, developing techniques to solve homesickness and building friendships sure to last a lifetime. I have been warmly welcomed into the world of Girl Scouts and accepted into the States as an Alien Permitted to Work. My cultural experiences so far have varied from Walmart trips and midnight Denny’s to flag ceremonies and opening a Wells Fargo bank account. I am now officially camp staff at Willow Springs Program Centre. And, though it may have taken time, I feel settled and at home here.
My first couple of weeks here have been very much a tale of perseverance and inner strength. Training was tough and the homesickness bug hit the majority of the international staff hard. Yet every struggle I’ve had has made me recognise just how strong the support here is, just how many arms are waiting to catch me when I fall. We are not merely a group of summer camp counsellors, we are family now. We eat together, we laugh together, we ride the rapids together (both literally and metaphorically). Just as in Borneo and Cambodia, I am once again part of a tight knit and dependable community and it sure does feel good.
Let me tell you about Camp Willow Springs. Set out over a slope affectionately named “heart-attack hill” the camp is made up of staff buildings, the lodge for meals and a collection of units each with a circle of cabins. The terrain is peppered with rocks ideal for bouldering and a vast number of pine trees. Already I’ve made some truly magical memories here. Just seventeen days in and we’ve already had four campfires. Nothing quite compares to the feeling of unity found whilst circling a campfire to tell stories of years gone by and to sing to the stars. As well as the fire circle, Willow Springs is blessed with a Hammock City. With an evening off yesterday, a small group of us decided to hike to the collection of trees making up Hammock City, an experience that taught us the importance of learning any trail thoroughly before you set of on the walk. Even so, swinging in the breeze amongst immense rocks and towering trees to watch the sun go down and the moon come up is an evening I would recommend for sure. The nights here are beautiful and ideal for sleeping outdoors under the stars. I haven’t quite worked out why stargaze-snoozing is not really a thing across the pond in England but I definitely feel that it should be. My first ever night spent sleeping under the stars was filled with friendship, freedom and so much peace. However the rest of the summer turns out, I know that the memories and friendships I’ve made so far make every stress and worry before leaving for camp worthwhile.
As beautiful as camp may be, it is also rather nice to escape for the odd day to see what other beauties Arizona has to offer. One particular treasure that I discovered on my last trip to the state three years ago is Oak Creek Canyon in Sedona. Famous for its red rocks and theorised spiritual energy, Sedona is a hive of all things outdoor. On our first trip to Oak Creek, we chose to take a hike. Walking between the sunlit walls of the canyon, we wound our way through the trees and criss-crossed the creek. I have always found hiking so simplistically satisfying, the connection with nature with every step you take and the connection with friends as you pour out your life story as you go. For day trip number two to Sedona, we set off for Grasshopper Point, this time to actually go in the Creek and not just walk beside it. Despite the almost numbing temperature of the Creek, we braved the crystal clear water and slippery rocks and headed for the rapids. Even though they were undeniably tame there were moments when each of us was literally swept off our feet into the current and tossed and turned as the flow decided. Every bump and scratch was worth it for the sense of adventure that the water provided us with. I feel at peace with nature once more.
But it’s not all days off and time to explore here at summer camp. Already we’ve had our first programs of the summer, albeit only a half week, but still with it’s fair share of eventfulness. Working with the 7 to 8 year olds my achievements of the week include deep cleaning the bathrooms in an attempt to remove the stench of vomit; saving a child from lighting herself on fire at cookout and even becoming a fairy house architect. But as exhausting as the work may be, it makes me feel alive inside. I’m needed. Even if it takes an hour to wait for all the campers to fall asleep and even then we get a tap at the door to say there’s a spider or if I literally have to drag a collection of four Brownies (the Girl Scout variety, not the chocolate variety) to finish the hike, the job provides such a sense of accomplishment. Summer camp may be a whirl of crazy, hysterical, sleepless fun but it’s still such incredible fun. As week two looms on the horizon and my Panda Express fortune cookie currently predicted that I am “next in line for promotion”, I look forward to a week of more insane camp experiences and instructions on how to use a walkie talkie and lead a unit. I wish you all as much fulfilment in your day jobs as I’m getting in mine.
I’ll keep you posted,
Ladybird (Joanna) x