It is quite an amazing sight; three hundred and twelve boys, ages ranging from 8-17 sitting in utter silence. The sounds of a large crackling fire, and the sounds of a larger mountain range of woods are clearly audible. Maybe this is a common occurrence, after all there are dozens of summer camps scattered along these mountains, but to me, first as a camper, and now a counselor, this place is special.
Every Sunday the entirety of camp gathers in this particular spot. Skits are performed and songs are sung, though applause never follows a performance. Perhaps the crowd may sing along, or make a noise that ties into a skit, but clapping is discouraged. I remember thinking this was strange when I was younger, after all when a group of people deliver a stage worthy show, it feels only natural to clap.
But when friends and peers deliver a worthy show, and then walk off to the sounds of crickets, it’s more then just entertaining, it’s powerful.
There are lessons, or themes if you will, tied into every campfire. Last week’s overriding theme was stewardship, it focused on the importance of maintaining the environment in which we live, from the environment here at camp, to the environment that surrounds us in our day to day life. The skits will back up whatever particular theme each campfire involves. The skits are usually, if not always, absolutely hilarious, but behind the jokes the message is clearly communicated. The songs will similarly relate to the theme, for example say the theme is friendship, we might sing the white stripes song “Lets be Friends”.
The music at camp is sung and played by a small group of camp counselors, who so always happen to be extremely talented. The band usually consists of an ever changing eight- to ten people, who stand in front of the massive semi-circle of benches, and consistently sing with a visible passion; it is clear that ever member of the band shares a love for campfire, and for camp in a general sense. And while some members come and go, some are regulars, and are certainly worth a mentioning; Mike Nuckles is one of these regulars. He’s been here for seven years, and is more or less famous in camp as a tennis counselor, cleaning guru, and simply overall good guy. He’s been here since my first year as a camper seven years ago. Now, it’s a little weird finding myself asking him for advice on being a counselor myself. Before camp began, I asked him what his biggest piece of advice would be. He told me that as a counselor, it can’t be about you, it’s about the kids, it’s about making their experience special, by really having your heart in it. Every time I’m sitting there in that semi-circle watching knuckles sing with the band, I can see, and hear, exactly what he means.
While I’m only going to take the time to mention one other campfire musician, all that perform are equally important. But regardless, I’d also like to mention a man named Nathan Newquest: A single father of two charming young boys, a fourteen year veteran to Falling Creek, and a host to numerous camp positions in the past. As a counselor, it’s become apparent to me that Nathan is simply part of the glue that holds this place together. He’s held an array of vital, hectic positions in his time here, yet despite this he can usually, if not always be found in front of the musicians with a guitar in his hand, and smile on his face. That smile is probably the brightest most contagious smile I’ve had the pleasure of seeing, I don’t think camp would be quite the same without it.
So far, the specific people I’ve mentioned are veterans at camp, but one of the great things about the ever-changing staff is that new, wonderful personalities are constantly surfacing in our community. One of these recently surfaced, wonderful personalities is that of Sam Downy. He’s an Acting Major attending NYU and has taken on the monumental task of composing campfire skits this year. For the most part, my favorite skits are the classics, the skits saved and repeated every year; This year my inclinations haven’t been as one sided, Sam has written a few truly amazing skits, I wouldn’t be surprised to see some next year. Additionally, he has taken on the role of narrator in many cases, and when the booming low voice of this large young man introduces a story, everyone knows it’s truly worth listening too.
All of these different aspects of campfire, all of the different views of people described above, are from my own perspective. I would not dare to speak for everybody who comes to this place every summer. Every single person sees this magical thing that we call campfire from a different light, and from a different spot in the semi circle. But I’d be willing to speak for everybody in saying that this amazing thing is in some way special, different from their normal busy routine. At its simplest level, campfire is chance for all involved to sit with friends, watch some people do some silly things, and listen to the music of the woods, and the people who live there.
- Kevin Slafsky