After a week of empty nest bliss, Skye and I picked up our waterlogged, mosquito bitten boys at Camp Rustic. In the closing ceremony, the camp director referred to the non-stop rain as “liquid sunshine”. Judging by the sectioned off puddles in the parking area, there was abundant sunshine.
We found our boys in the crowd. Vincent looked very woodsy, borderline militia, in a camouflage handkerchief he tied around his head to keep his curls out of his eyes. Wearing shorts that exposed a giant scab on his right knee, and carrying a walking stick, he appeared out of the woods first, in great spirits. Following behind the line of camp-weary kids was James’ group that camped under the stars for part of the week. I spotted a bedraggled boy in a hoodie, his head tucked under the hood, his hands burrowed into the pockets, trying to get warm still from a cold, damp night’s sleep. I identified him as mine, only because I recognized the friend with whom he was talking.
Without any time spent lingering about the grounds taking group pictures, we scooped all that we dropped off the week before — wet, muddy, and much worse for wear — and drove home. I couldn’t wait to get the boys in the car and hear the stories, especially from James, who had a bad experience the last time he went to camp, after which he swore he’d never do camp again.
He is not much of an outdoorsman and has his fingers and toes on the spectrum, although you wouldn’t know it after this week. A very self-reliant, confident, outgoing boy, albeit half eaten, climbed into his seat in the minivan and told story after story of what sounded like hell. But good hell, if there is such a thing.
“Band-aid told me you got eaten by mosquitos, James.” Band-aid is the nickname of the camp nurse. All the camp staff go by a nickname…Band-aid, Snack Pack, Arctos, Chip. Band-aid doled out James’ daily dose of allergy medicine and noted the increasing number of mosquito bites from one day to the next. “Can I see your arms?” I asked.
James pulled off his hoodie reluctantly, warning me that his arms “looked uber gross”. He was right.
ME: “It looks like chickenpox. Did you wear your bug stuff?”
JAMES: “One night. But I still got eaten, right through my hoodie.”
Vincent, 9, and James, 13, launched into camp stories. Some they told together filling in details for Skye and me, if the other left something out that was important or just plain funny.
ME: “Now’s a good time to ask what supplies you wished you had.”
JAMES: (without hesitation) “A waterproof sleeping bag!”
SKYE: “I don’t think they make those, do they? I’ve never heard of a waterproof sleeping bag?”
JAMES: “If it exists, I will pay moneez.” I bet he would. His sleeping bag was soaked, muddy, smelly, and even after a week, we have not let that feral thing back in the house. It has been sequestered in the garage, awaiting a trip to a laundry mat with an oversized washer.
ME: “Did you stay out overnight two nights in a row, James?”
ME: “Under the stars?”
JAMES: “Stars? No, under horrible, horrible, destructive sheets of rain. There’s a difference.”
VINCENT: “We had a brief party when we saw a spot of blue in the sky.”
JAMES: “It said on the radio 77% chance of precipitation. RJ said ‘What kind of precipitation?’ And Tocos said ‘Snow.’ And Dimitri said, ‘Dang. We really need some more rain.’…It was a lot of fun when we all got woken up and RJ started cussing at Mother Nature…walking around the fire cussing. We were all just so tired so it was really funny.”
ME: “What was he saying?”
JAMES: “Stuff nobody should ever repeat.”
ME: “How long did he do that?”
JAMES: “About an hour.”
ME: “Was he upset or was he just trying to be funny?”
JAMES: “He was ticked off.”
ME: “He looked exhausted.”
VINCENT: “When we were on our hipsey, which is a one-day thing, not a two-day? I felt this drop of water on my forehead when I was sleeping.”
JAMES: “They ran into our cabin. We were out in the woods that night.”
VINCENT: “We got soaked.”
I can’t help but compare the completely different after-camp stories between the first camp James went to, mentioned here, where his belongings were stolen, and Camp Rustic, where the only thing that was taken from him was a pint of blood by mosquito thieves.
ME: “Anybody steal anything?”
JAMES: “No. I didn’t lose anything.”
ME: “Did you wish you had better bug spray or a citronella candle?” I’m still focused on the list of supplies to make next year’s camp experience more comfortable.
JAMES: “A citronella candle would go out. Sheets and sheets of rain!! We were putting umbrellas over the fire!”
ME: “Who brought an umbrella?”
ME: “Why’d he bring an umbrella?”
JAMES: “BECAUSE IT WAS GOING TO RAIN!”
There wasn’t a single complaint. There were only stories of comrades vs the elements. James was with a group of teens, varying in age from 13 to, judging by the full beards, and guitars and coolness factor, 20-something.
James’ favorite camper was one of the oldest teenagers, a counselor in training, named Teddy.
JAMES: “When Teddy found a walking stick you could see his awesomeness spread far and wide. He’s walking straight forward, juggling a stick without looking at it and singing, ‘Is it cold out in space, David Bowie? Does the cold make your nipples grow, David Bowie? Do you use your nipples as telescopic interstellar radio transmitters to send DATA BACK TO EARTH?’”
The first night home I found James lying on his back in his bed, listening to Space Oddity on his iPhone. I loved that song when I was his age.
Ground Control to Major Tom: I think we found the right camp.