Growing up, I had the great good fortune to spend part of six summers at a girls’ camp in northern Minnesota. This was made possible by the fact that I was an only child, and therefore was afforded more opportunities like this than children blessed with siblings. But mostly it was because my family believed in the salutary effects of separate vacations. (That’s actually more than you need to know to appreciate the following story.)
Camp Lake Hubert, like nearly all Minnesota camps, was a waterfront camp, where absolutely nothing happened until each camper had passed the required swimming test necessary for virtually every activity. Since I could barely dog paddle across the shallow end of a pool, it makes utterly no sense that I absolutely LOVED camp. Over the years I did manage to become modestly proficient in a few land-based activities, but what really resonated with me was the close companionship of other girls coupled with the huge role that singing played in those friendships.
We sang grace before meals, we sang after every meal, we sang while trekking between scheduled activities, we sang taps, we sang vespers before bed. Each cabin had it’s own identity song. And we proudly stood up in turn when our boastful state song was sung in the dining hall. We sang while paddling canoes, we sang when sailing, we sang on overnight camping trips.
Music had always been a large part of my life, so this was not only something that I enjoyed, but could actually do. In fact, after I went through counselor-training and became a counselor, I was placed in charge of leading dining hall singing. [I must interject here that this was a completely unnecessary post, as singing was always a spontaneous activity where somebody just started singing and everybody else joined in.] Nevertheless I appreciated the “honor”, and actually brought a little order to the proceedings after a time.
It was at camp that I learned how to do the Yellow Brick Road dance step, hooking arms with my fellow campers while moving between activity venues. This guilty pleasure was enhanced by the rumor that somebody had actually broken her leg while attempting the iconic steps. It was at camp that I sneaked out of the cabin after lights out to go snipe hunting. It was at camp that I learned how to blow smoke rings, to play bridge, to walk just slightly faster when spotting a skunk on the path - but not enough to scare the critter. I learned that if you throw a bushel of oranges out of a canoe they will float, and chasing after them is great fun. I learned that you can swamp a canoe in the lake and it will still float. You know: really valuable things that you will remember sixty years later, but never find a use for during the intervening years.
I also learned - belatedly - that one of my favorite camp songs was written by my uncle (not the music. He was a poet, not a composer) but he never made a dime off it because the words were merely “borrowed”. In fact, he found out while sitting in a movie theatre, and heard Bing Crosby croon a song which had eerily familiar lyrics.
I had to find out for myself, years later, when researching my one and only published book, “The Annotated Bibliography of the Works of Badger Clark”.
It is still my favorite camp song.