The first time I saw the sign pointing one direction towards private staff housing and another towards Eagle Lake Camp, I felt like a subtle barrier had been thrown up between that place and the rest of the property. It was before I knew anything about camp; at first I just assumed that it was somebody’s house, separate from camp operations. It seemed like the sort of outlet one should tiptoe past in order not to disturb the residents. After we joined the Navigators camp staff ourselves, I learned that that’s where we’d be housed during the summers, and I became grateful for the subtle separation. And now that I do indeed live here three months a year, turning left at the sign that points right down towards camp, that separation has slowly diminished.
The distinction on the sign is important though: it directs the camp staff and camper families in the right direction; away from the private housing of people who live here full time without working here. Towards the business center of camp. Towards the beach and the blob, the cabins and the check-in tables. Away from the two and three year olds who are just trying to nap on a Sunday afternoon, and their mamas who need a few hours of quiet.
There is a similar distinction between the life we live at camp and the live we live away from camp. I never expected quite this level of separation between my off-season community and rhythms, and the changes we make “up the mountain”. Yet they exist. Our first summer, I expected to visit friends in the city rather frequently; if I came down every week to get our mail and we came down on the weekends, surely we’d have plenty of time to join the bar-b-ques, the Bible studies, drink coffee on our back patios of a Saturday morning together? But by the end of the summer, I had only seen one friend with any regularity, and that was because she planned to move across the country at the end of the summer.
Then August came, the tenth and final week of camp rolled around on a Sunday morning and rolled past on a Friday. Campers left, and then counselors, and then program coaches, and then we did. And I realized suddenly that the old wooden sign directing the summer staff in one direction and the families in another had never really kept us apart. The girls I’d discipled over the summer took pieces of my heart back to school all across the country and even straight up into Canada. Some of my friendships would be renewed the next summer and some would not and I realized as we moved back into the range of backyard cookouts and enthusiastic greetings at Sunday School drop-offs that I missed the summer piece of my life as much as I’d missed the winter piece through camp season.
I didn’t know how to reconcile these fragments at first. How could I maintain lasting friendships with people if I was going to be gone all summer? And how could I create real bonds at camp if I was only going to say goodbye – maybe forever – after ten weeks? And yet just like the private driveway up to staff housing that loops back around to form a circle with the road, there are unexpected connections through the pieces of my year that begin to thread them together.
Camp is an undeniable part of our lives and unless my husband wanted to change jobs, there’s no way simply wouldn’t move to camp for a quarter of every year. Yet our friends “down the mountain” have taken an interest in our camp life; they offer to come up for Chapel on Sundays and ask how they can pray for us through the summer. They ask about Grant’s role and my role and they flex their tight schedules to meet me for coffee when I do, finally, come down to collect our mail.
At camp, right when I wonder if I can keep my heart open for another season of loving hard and saying goodbye, I am met by people who have answered this same question with a warm and thorough yes. People I never expected to meet take time to learn my name and greet my toddler with high-fives. Counselors I thought I barely knew are giving me hugs, winning over love I didn’t know I had left to give. I find myself looking up strange combinations of names and numbers that make up Instagram usernames so that I can follow this one to Alaska and that one to Wisconsin through their long winters until I maybe see them in the spring.
Camp will always be seven miles from home as the crow flies and remain an hour’s drive on a good day. There will never be a complete reconciliation between these two halves of life. But the way I treat the distance matters. It makes a difference that I remain open to the love these separate communities have to give – to me and to each other. Perhaps they will always seem farther apart than they truly are, but it will always be up to me to see past the dividing ridges, to recognize how close and even intersecting these two sides of the same mountain are.