After weeks of training, planning, and anticipation, Opening Day has finally arrived. Over camp hill came 232 campers from as close as down the road and as far away as China and France. The day could not have been more beautiful and the Canaan Valley could not be more filled with energy and enthusiasm.
Although campers have only been at Merrowvista for a few hours, they have already settled in to a summer full of fun, friends, and new challenges. During staff training, leaders plan carefully for the first two days of camp to make sure each camper feels at home and each village starts the session feeling connected. Today that planning went in to effect.
Campers played name games like “Peek-a-who,” and “high five jamboree.” They passed beach balls covered in icebreaker questions (“what’s your favorite time of day?” and “if you had a super power, what would it be?”) and shared interesting and silly facts about themselves. Returning campers reconnected with staff and eagerly explained camp to their village mates who are new (that’s the Health Center. That’s the Eating lodge. That’s the Biff; Biff means “bathroom in the friendly forest.” Do you want to go play foursquare on the basketball court?).
By the time the dinner bell rang, campers had already relaxed into their summer pace. They stood around their village tables quietly listening to the moment of gratitude, where Lily Ross (Voyageur) shared that she was thankful to be back at Camp, where she “feels comfortable to be herself,” and Wentworth Smith (White Cap), played the chimes.
Villages passed pasta, red sauce, and green beans around their table family style and the eating lodge thrummed with chatter. The meal was only interrupted once by the Voyageurs, who are counting down the clock until they head out on their bike trip (“1 day, 14 hours, 23 minutes, 4 seconds! Nova Scotia!”). Everyone was excited to exchange their leftover food at the end of the meal and see chocolate chip cookies come out of the kitchen for dessert.
During evening activities it was already clear that many villages have formed an identity. At Opening Carnival, every single Pioneer and Trailblazer cabin responded to roll call with a unique cabin cheer. Blueberry cried “Ahoy Matey!” Mahoosic shouted “We stick together!,” Sentinel village had a complex clap and stomp routine, and Lincoln village flexed and kissed both biceps in unison. The whole in-camp program played games like “ninja” and “bob the weasel” before returning to their cabins. Each village—from the youngest pioneer to the most experienced Odyssey hikers—will take time tonight or tomorrow to discuss village norms and expectations in their “recipe for success,” which helps them set intentions for their time together.
Four trails campers are no less busy. In addition to name games and icebreakers, these groups must prepare for their upcoming trips. The Voyageur men have already checked their bikes and grabbed their panniers. Tomorrow they will take these bikes out for a test ride that we call a “shake down.” Odyssey has carefully packed their backpacks with polypropylene layers, sturdy hiking socks, and astounding quantities of oatmeal and granola. Tomorrow they will be the first group to leave camp for their hiking trip on the last 120 miles of the Appalachian Trail.
After dinner, the Four Trails program gathered together at the waterfront for Four Trails Orientation. Together they discussed the Merrowvista philosophy of striving to be their best self and living a balanced life. They reflected on the opportunities that camp will offer to challenge themselves mentally—by persevering through long days on trail and figuring out how to fix a broken bike spoke; physically—by summiting mountains all over New England and living low-impact lives in harmony with nature; spiritually—by reflecting on their values and acting in accordance with their beliefs; and socially—by living in community and extending themselves to new camp friends.
Four Trails Orientation also featured a special ceremony that welcomed Explorers, our youngest out-camping program, to the Four Trails community. In this ceremony, the Adventurers passed on advice and guidance from their experiences on trail. Many of these older campers came to Merrowvista initially because it’s fun, but they return again and again because of the growth they experience and the confidence they discover in themselves.
All of this and it hasn’t even been a full 24 hours.
What a fortunate happenstance that camp begins at the height of summer, when the daylight lasts longest and we have all this time to enjoy golden days like today. There are mountains to summit, rivers to paddle, friendship bracelets to weave, and climbing towers to ascend. There are distance swims to be swum and bicycle tires to be pedaled, and popped, so that we might teach each other to patch them, pump them up, and pedal again. The rising bell rings tomorrow at 7:15 AM and each of us will rise, ready to begin two (or three) weeks of camp.
We invite you to keep track of our adventures as we update this blog every other day throughout the summer. We are filled with light and we are ready to shine.