I spent a nice weekend with Mom and Jackie at the Henry Bothin Youth Center in Fairfax, California. It’s about twenty minutes outside San Rafael. I camped here many times as a child and worked there as a camp counselor at many Girl Scout weekend events and even an entire summer back in 1997. This weekend’s event was a 1960s psychadellic themed Mom & Me weekend coordinated by the Coyote Hill Girl Scout Association. Coyote Hills encompasses all of the Girl Scout troops in Newark and Fremont. Mom, Jackie and I have all volunteered to work this annual event a few times over the past twelve years. For the past eleven years, Mom was the cook. This was the first year all of us were attending as campers since Jackie and I were in elementary school.
Camp Bothin is a very nostalgic place for me as it was the first place I ever attended Girl Scout camp. It was my first trip away from home for more than an overnight. I learned how to make a candle, I learned how to make a friendship bracelet, I learned how to tie-dye, I learned how to make a dream catcher, I learned countless new songs, and I made new friends. For the first time I met women who were from England, Australia, Scotland, and Germany. When I was this young camper, counselors went to great lengths to make camp feel like a magical place where fairies lived in the trees and roamed around the camp at night serenading us to sleep and blowing kisses to all of us. We’d fall asleep to the sounds of those enchanting songs echoing through the hallways and wake up in the morning with sparkly star stickers on our faces… proof that the fairies had kissed us in our sleep. A long hike through the trees would end at a trickling waterfall that was decorated with twinkling dream catchers and tea lights among the moss and ferns. To a young, and quite gullible ten year old, this was such a magical place that I still feel that energy when I visit this camp as a adult. When I was ninteen and working there as the arts and crafts director for the summer, I befriended two other girls my age who had experienced camp like I had. So, we spent many long nights creating those effects for the girls at camp. We told the fairy stories at campfire that we had heard as little girls. We found hallways and corridors with the best accousics for serenading girls to sleep without being seen. We stayed up all night roaming camp placing hundreds of miniature dream catchers that we had made in the trees and along popular hiking trails. I think we even had many of the other counselors fooled. Needless to say, this musty and drafty place holds a special place in my heart and I hope that it still has that magic if my own daughter wants to attend one day.
This camp has actually scarred me physically too… when I was ten years old I attended a Mom & Me weekend and took a header off of the top bunk onto the hardwood floor. I was half asleep and forgot I was on thet op bunk when I tried to get up to use the bathroom. My busted lip was the talk of camp for the whole weeeknd and I’m pretty sure I’m was a catalyst for them adding safety railings to the top bunks. I have a v-shaped scar on my lower lip and minor TMJ in my jaw as aresult. And I went back! I can even tell you which bunk it was.
Friday night we arrived and got our belongings settled in our room. We slept downstairs in Stone House, rumored to be haunted, although I’ve never heard or seen anything to suggest it. I neglected to take any photos of Stone House, but I know that Jackie did. Perhaps she’ll post them in her own blog. After we got settled, we walked down to the dining hall to pickup our t-shirts, mingle with other campers, drink hot cocoa, and a try few arts and crafts.
There were a few crafts set up for us to try, and we settled on some sort of weaving thing with yarn. It was very simple to do and resulted in a nicely woven piece of rope… or when done with bright colors, a headband.
Here I am standing in front of a painting I did in 1997 for a weekend adult training event. The woman who directed the event wanted a Winnie the Pooh theme and had me paint a backdrop of Pooh’s bedroom. I painted it on thick brown paper and I had no idea that it had been saved and nailed to the wall in the dining hall. It’s beginning to fall apart from abuse, but it’s still looking alright.
Saturday morning we were up bright and early for breakfast. Breakfast was a yummy french toast-ish casserole thing that resembled a very firm bread pudding. It was delicious with strawberry syrup poured over the top. Plus points for the new cook.
Breakfast with many campers wearing their event t-shirt. Not the most flattering color on everyone.
After breakfast girls lined up to make a bag of gorp to snack on all day. There were peanuts, M&Ms, goldfish crackers, chocolate chips and raisins, flavors more favorable to the 3rd, 4th and 5th graders and their likes. Why wasn’t there any granola?!?
Saturday morning and afternoon consisted of, what I call in the Girl Scout world, a wide game. All 164 of us were divided into four groups. We all were assigned to one of four activities. After a certain amount of time, we moved on to the next activity and the other groups did the same. All of the crafts we did were part of the 1960s theme. Our first activity of the morning was to découpage a vase with tissue paper and to create a flower out of tissue paper and a pipe cleaner.
Second we decorated a ceramic jewelry box with paint. Jackie decorated a star shaped box, Mom’s was round with star shapes.
Mine wasshaped like a t-shirt. Of course, I painted it like it was tie-dyed to fit the theme! Only after I was done did I realize I should have done a spiral tie-dye… that would have rocked!
A few of these crafts were definitely geared towards younger girls, so we opted out of a few. They “tie-dyed” a handkerchief with a method that involved decorating the fabric with markers and then spraying it with rubbing alcohol to make the ink run. I thought it was kind of lame and that they should have just done regular tie-dye. But it was cold and raining, and tie-dying is easier to do when you can actually feel your hands. We also opted out of the make-your-own-pet-rock activity.
The last activity of the afternoon was making a dream catcher and a macramé friendship bracelet. We arrived late to this activity as they had just run out of the dream catcher materials. Instead we took what we needed for the macrame and went back to our room to relax. Jackie napped while Mom and I read. We listened to the rain and joked about how different things felt when now that we weren’t running the event. It’s kind of good and bad. It was really nice to sit back and be a camper. It was nice to not have to stay up late or wake up early prepping for the next day. For me, some parts made me wonder. Did I sound that unsure of myself when I was trying to give instructions to campers? Did I look that unorganized up there teaching a new song? And, at times, I wished I could step in and lead a song or instruct the program aides (high school aged girls running the event with adult supervision) on how to help wake up the campers early in the morning or how to get the adults to participate.
Saturday evening they had a 1960s dance party after dinner where everyone was encouraged to dress in their best 1960s attire and dance to the Supremes, the Beach Boys, and the Beatles. We even made a quick jump to 1977 as a small group dressed as members of the Village People and danced to Y.M.C.A. It was silly and fun and it looked like everyone had a good time. They had tacked a large tie-dyed sheet to the wall and it acted as a great backdrop for photos. One of the adults was taking pictures of everyone with a nice digital SLR. During the rest of the evening, she was tucked away in a corner printing out all of the posed photos.
Mom was caught sneaking into the kitchen… as this was her first year not working as the cook, she was forbidden from entering the kitchen.
After the girls finally wound down we had our campfire. Since it was still raining, we had to have campfire inside. Jackie and I were tasked with building and lighting the fire, which can be a challenge in the dining hall fireplace as the wind tends to blow down the chimney. Over the years we’ve learned the right combination of open doors to keep a nice fire burning. I was proud to have the fire lit with only one match, thank you very much.
The program aides led a nice campfire with a decent amount of songs and silly skits. This was bittersweet for me, as when I was a program aide (we had a different name, for the actual program aide program didn’t exist yet) I was always in charge of campfire. Lighting the fire, leading the songs that “encourage” the fire… “Rise up oh flame, by thy lights glowing. Show to us beauty, vision and joy…”sung in the round and repeated until the fire is lit. I would lead all kind of songs that had everyone on their feet or tongue twisted and laughing. More importantly, if we sang a song that few people knew, I taught the song. This weekend was seriously lacking in the teaching ofnew songs. They were just sung, and those who knew it sang along. Everyone else was left to wonder… “where can I get the words to that song?” Their alternative was to sing a large amount of repeat-after-me songs. I’m probably being overly critical, (a common Virgo personality trait) but there seemed to be an underlying laziness in the high school girls that I found disappointing. Maintaining enthusiasm for Girl Scouts in high school, isn’t easy, I know. But at camp, there’s no excuse.
Can you tell I miss it?
We ended campfire with some of the old Girl Scout songs that I really love. Ones that very few people still know. Mom’s friend Riki has been a Girl Scout for over forty years, knows all of them and it’s always a pleasure to sing along with her. I wished that the program aides there this weekend knew some of the old songs that sound really beautiful when sung in a round, we could have serenaded the campers after they went to bed.
Sunday morning we had breakfast and played a large game of family feud. Jackie and I snuck away to pack up our belongings. The rain stopped and the sun came out for twenty minutes each once in a while so we could take some photos. There’s a waterfall that is a very short hike from Stone House. I’ve never seen it more than a trickle in years past, but it was in full force this weekend with all the recent rain. It was just dark enough that my camera wanted to use a flash. When I turned it off, I got a very slight burring effect with the water. Pretty cool.
I’d never seen this waterfall more than just a trickle.
Mom and Jackie patiently waiting for me to finish taking pictures.
This is Lyman Hall on the left and attached to it is the Bridge (the upper level with the long balcony, a great place to sleep in the summer) and Staff Row (the lower level). When I was a summer camp counselor my room was the second window from the arched doorway in Staff Row. The stairwell in Lyman Hall has some of the best acoustics in the whole camp for singing. If you tuck yourself into a specific corner of the stairwell no one on the upper floors can see you.
This is Manor House that is technically attached to Lyman Hall via the Bridge and Staff Row. This is the house I stayed in when I busted my lip when I was ten.
We headed home just before noon. Jackie had to work at 3:30, so we couldn’t dawdle. It was only an hour’s drive back to Newark and I watched the beginning of the Super Bowl with Patrick before I headed to the airport.