Life has been pretty busy since I got back from Montana, but there'll be more on that later. First things first, let me tell you about my experiences at Trails End Ranch!
The Medicine Rocks lay not far from the camp, and that place is probably the most enchanting and inspiring place I've ever been.
This summer, I ended up working as the Arts and Crafts Director, of "Craftmaster", as I referred to myself. When I went there, I had expected to be made a counselor for one of the older kids' cabins. But, due to my plantar fasciitis (a condition that makes it extremely painful to walk/stand for long periods of time) I ended up using crutches for the first several days of staff training. I knew I wouldn't be able to handle following a group of kids around those hills for very long, and the camp directors, Jim and Kim, knew it too. So they put me in charge of crafts all summer, which turned out to be the perfect job for me.
In the mornings, I would get up and walk across camp, email my family using what little internet connection there was, then head over to the dining hall for a cup of coffee. I would do my devotions, and sometimes play a few tunes on my pennywhistles. The way the music echoed off the hills was so surreal, I could have gone on for hours.
As Craftmaster, I went to the craft cabin each day and prepared art projects for the kids to try throughout the day. Usually, after breakfast, I'd get a couple groups of Trailblazers, which were the youngest groups of kids we got (third grade and up). With the help of their counselors, I'd set them up with whatever projects they wanted to do, then once their hour was up, I'd clean everything up and get it all ready for the next group.
In the afternoons, if any of the older kids (Explorers or Adventure Teens) had chosen Art as their 'path' for the week, they would come in and I would teach a special art class for them for three hours. We covered all sorts of fun things in that class, from drawing realistic portraits to doing Fresco and creating our own Super Hero characters. Sometimes I would take them all outside and we'd find something from the hills to sketch.
In the slow hours, when I had no kids in the art room, I would set plaster molds (by far our most popular project), or create example crafts for kids to copy. I spent a lot of time wood-burning two large signs for the camp. The signs were to indicate the place where campers were supposed to set their things when we were preparing to go on a special campout under the stars once a week, and required a lot of painstaking detail with a tiny wood-burning pen.
Speaking of campout, I'll talk about that for a minute. Every Wednesday, rain or shine, we would take all the kids out of the main camp area and set up in various forest glens, and spend the night there. No tents, no pre-cooked food (unless it was a dry week when there was a Fire-Ban) just us, our sleeping bags, and the stars.
On these campouts, I became a story-teller. I bought a ratty old blanket I didn't mind getting soiled, and when I spread it out on the ground the kids knew it was time to listen to whatever tales I had for them that week. Whoever was interested would come and squeeze onto whatever room there was on the blanket.
Inevitably, they would ask for scary stories. As it turns out, I know waaaay more scary stories than I thought, and most of it is thanks to the fairy tales I've read. Those old fairy tales are creepy things, man! Bluebeard was a favorite, as was the Taily-Po. The Luck Child went over well. One story I made up on the spot, based on Native American monster tales, and called it The Wendigo's Hunt.
I also did a retelling of Tell-Tale Heart, told as much in the style of the original story as possible, which was a ton of fun. This one kid got so into it, his eyes looked like they were going to pop out of his head. Someone walked up behind him and grabbed his shoulders, and he nearly jumped out of his skin! It was hilarious.
As Craftmaster, I actually spent a lot of time alone, and didn't have nearly as much of an opportunity to minister closely with the children as some of the counselors did. But there were a few kids with whom I formed a close connection.
During the course of the summer, I became extremely lonely. Not because of the amount of time I spent alone in a craft shop, but because I wasn't with my family. But this sense of loneliness is not entirely unfamiliar- I've felt it many times before, and I think it might be God's way of drawing me closer to Him.
Now for some reason, a lot of the kids who chose Art Path were kids who were super homesick or painfully shy. But as it happens, I was a really good person to help kids who were feeling that way. I'm not shy, but I'm a good listener, and I'm usually pretty good about bringing people out of their shell. And with the loneliness I was experiencing, it gave me the perfect starting ground for connecting with the homesick kids.
I was able to lead one girl to Christ this summer. I can't tell her story here (I told her I wouldn't), but it was something that I will never forget. I pray for her still, and I hope that if I ever meet her again I will be able to see how much she had grown in the faith.
Over the course of the summer, I met and got to know a ton of really cool new friends. My fellow staff members were awesome, and came from all kinds of different backgrounds. The mix of personalities is not something you'd find many other places, but we all got along and it was great to get to know so many people in my age group. We had adventures and misadventures, conversations that could be both hilarious and touching, and a whole lot of "you-had-to-be-there" moments. I'll probably reference them in future posts, so be prepared for the occasional Camp Story here and there. :)
Overall, the summer was a fantastic experience, and I hope I can go back someday.