Disclaimer: The names of the campers were changed in this account. Quotations are only as accurate as my hasty scribblings in the dimly lit cabin would allow, and some narrative license was taken, as the entirety of the feeling check was almost an hour long.
A few minutes after the lights out bell, when Brigid had wrangled the last few girls from the latrine and into their PJs, I was excitedly beckoned in for Cabin Hairspray's "feeling check" by a gaggle of giggling girls. Brigid quickly got them sitting quietly on the floor around a white pillar candle, which Brigid lit as the girls introduced themselves. This is a MAD II cabin, so the girls ranged in age from 12 to 14. Caitlin said, "I'm Brigid!" then Suzy said, "I'm Caitlin," and everyone quickly caught on and gave me the name of someone else in the cabin, concluding in some mischievous giggles. Brigid suggested that it might be helpful to tell me their actual names, and the girls went around again, though Caitlin took a more circuitous route to her name. "I'm Brigid, no I'm Virginia, no I'm Trish! Okay, I'm Caitlin." Maggie turned to me and earnestly confirmed that Caitlin's name was in fact Caitlin.
Brigid introduced Simba to me, the squeaky-toy lion they passed around during feeling check to denote whose turn it was to speak. Maggie told me with relish that Cullen, the program director, was scared of squeaky toys, which allowed the cabin to ward him off from their feeling checks. Elizabeth asked me what the silly question for the evening was going to be, as this was traditionally a guest's responsibility. Previous silly questions provided by guests of the week's feeling checks were quickly rattled off. "If you were an asteroid floating through space, what material would you be made of?" There was another concerning living in a black submarine with several layers of detail that I didn't quite catch. Though the girls were respectful of the Simba-holding speaker, sometimes the exigency of explaining something important to their guest overcame decorum as details burst out from around the circle.
I suppose if I were a more scrupulous writer, I would avoid providing something so crucial to the evening as the silly question, but instead I offered, "I'm not sure if this is too dark for the silly question, but if for some reason you had to lose an important body part, what would it be, and why?" Caitlin asked if wolves were allowed to be involved, and I confirmed this seemed appropriate to the spirit of the question.
Emily asked Brigid if we will also be doing "highs and lows," and Brigid confirmed that yes, we would do highs and lows, as well as our "God moment" for the day. The agenda set, everyone joined hands, and Brigid read this night prayer from the New Zealand Prayer Book:
Lord it is night.
The night is for stillness. Let us be still in the presence of God.
It is night for a long day. What has been done has been done, what has not been done, let it be.
The night is dark. Let our fears of the darkness of the world and of our own lives rest in you.
The night is dark. Let our fears of the darkness of the world and of our own lives rest in you.
The night is quiet. Let the quietness of your peace enfold us, all dear to us, and all who have no peace.
The night heralds the dawn. Let us look expectantly to a new day, new joys, new possibilities, in your name we pray. Amen.
The girls were quiet for a moment, until Elizabeth pointed to Simba sitting by the candle, and said, "Simba looks angry!" to which there was much agreement and explanation that it had something to do with the candlelight. Lila asked to go first, and Brigid handed Simba across the circle to Lila.
"My high for the day was Seven Springs, because until this year, I had never made it past ankle level, and this year I got in all the way to my neck. My low for the day was all the standing during rehearsal, but it was cool to get to rehearse the show in a different space. Today I saw God at Seven Springs, because it was so quiet and peaceful, and I could really feel Him watching over us. If I had to lose a limb... Can I lose part of a limb, or does it have to be like the whole arm?" I clarified that the only requirement was that it had to be an important body part, not necessarily an entire limb. "Well, I guess I would lose my entire right arm, because if it was just part of the arm it would look weird, and it wouldn't be able to do that much anyway." Several girls asked if Lila was left handed, which she is, and we discovered a number of the other girls in Hairspray were also left handed.
Lila passes Simba to Elizabeth, who asked if she should say her name, but I reassured her that I remembered her name from the introduction, and then the rest of the girls needed to know if I also remembered their names, which I fortunately was able to prove that I did. Elizabeth continued, "Well my high for the day was Seven Springs, because it's so pretty out there." While Elizabeth talked, Brigid silently enforced the Simba rule with gentle looks to girls about to interrupt, or an occasional stop-sign hand. "I saw God when Connor stopped us to read passages on the hike. I guess I would lose a nose because there are still so many things you can do without a nose. Plus, I think I could really rock the Voldemort look."
Suzy took Simba, and began, "You know that humming feeling when you get out of cold water and your whole body is vibrating and pulsing? I think that's when I felt God today. My high for the day just happened." Suzy made a reference in a silly voice I couldn't quite understand, but it killed the cabin, and I was able to gather it was had something to do with the Improv Comedy night they had as their evening program. "Before tonight, I didn't think I was any good at improv, but I guess I really am! My low for the day was that sometimes there are times during the day when I get lonely, and it doesn't matter how many people come up to me to hug me or ask me how I am doing, I just feel lonely for a little while, and today that was during lunch." Elizabeth puts her arm around Suzy's shoulder. "If I were to lose a body part, it would be my left ear, because I'm pretty sure I could deal with that."
Caitlin takes Simba with a flourish and says in her poshest British accent, "Sapphire's the name." The girls giggle, but Suzie asks that she talk in her normal voice, because it might be hard for me to understand her when she talks like that, and Maggie adds it would be hard to take her seriously talking like that. Caitlin continues, "My low for the day, well I can't remember a low, because I like to stay pretty positive, so I don't think I have a low. You know what, my low was Connor ringing the bell to wake us up this morning and obnoxiously screaming! My high was, well I was originally sad that we weren't going to the pool today, but then the whole water wars thing at camp was pretty fun. It was boys versus girls for a while, but that's a different story, and then I got to pay back Connor for waking us up early by dumping a bucket of water on him! I saw God when Aleana or Leanna or, I don't remember her name, but she brought us over to see a moth, and I usually do not like bugs at all and want to kill them, but I saw God because this moth was so beautiful and it had these giant wings."
Maggie interjected, "And it didn't die!"
Caitlin continued, "If I had to lose a body part, I would lose my whole body, and I would turn into a wolf!"
Lila asked, "How many people saw that coming?" Everyone raised their hands.
Caitlin added, "I would be the grey wolf from the Golden Compass! Raar!"
Maggie said, "Come visit me if you turn into a wolf!" Elizabeth wondered what her mom would say if a wolf was at the door, and everyone giggled and joked about a wolf politely knocking and waiting while their mother went to get them for the wolf waiting outside.
Brigid took Simba, and began, "My low was after rest period." Trish, sitting next to Brigid gave Brigid a look that everyone giggled at.
"Yeah, I feel you Trish," Elizabeth said.
Brigid reminded, "We all know that after I wake up, I may look a little annoyed, but that's just me waking up, and I still love you all."
Trish asked, "A little annoyed?"
"Anyways, after a shower, I felt great again," Brigid said over Trish's continued giggling. "My high of the day was Improv Night."
Suzie says to Trish, "I loved your impression of Brigid in the morning!"
"Yeah, Trish probably sees me the most in the morning, because we're both going for the showers first," Brigid conceded. "I got to see God during chaplain's time today, listening to all the things you guys said. I was really inspired by some of your comments. If I had to lose a body part, it would be my ear, so I could make the joke, 'I'm holey,' like Ron Weasely. I think you also have to consider the way you lose the body part, so I would definitely lose it in a lion attack. This lion wouldn't be like the lions from the other nights in the friendly lion colony that I will live in some day, but will be mean, like Scar. Also, I guess it won't be a very serious lion attack, because it will only take my ear."
Lila informs us that in the Hercules movie, Hercules wears Scar while getting his portrait done, and Brigid passes Simba to Trish. Trish begins, "What's a tree killer called, again?" Brigid guesses lumberjack, which is correct and sends Trish into uncontrollable fits of giggling. "I think I was thinking about that because Cullen was wearing that shirt, like a lumberjack." Trish giggles some more, "In case you don't know, I get this from my older sister. Okay, anyways, my high for the day was when I asked Brigid if McSarah could come to feeling check, and Brigid told me that she wasn't sure because not everyone in the cabin knows McSarah. Then, not five minutes later, David Churchman came over and asked if he could come to our feeling check, and you said, 'Yes,' so I went over to tell McSarah, and she stormed over pretending to be all angry, like this," Trish grimaces, "and it was hilarious." Caitlin needs clarification at this point about whether my name is "Churchmen," or "Churchman," and I tell her it's like a super-hero, ChurchMAN. Several of the girls marvel that I am working at the perfect place with a name like Churchman.
Trish, picks up where she left off. "Another high for the day was water wars. I could not believe that Cullen knew how many sisters I have, because most only know about my older two, so he got to dump a bucket of water on me. My low for the day was I kept rolling my ankle. The first time was because Lila saw a bug." Maggie wasn't sure what rolling an ankle meant, so she showed us what she thought it meant and Trish confirmed this was correct, "Yeah, I've sprained this one a couple of times."
Suzie was confused, because she thought you needed a cast when you sprained an ankle, so Brigid said, "Sometimes you need a cast for a serious sprain, but not always. Trish, when did you see God today?"
"I saw God... I saw God... Did you just hear a cat or something?" Brigid admitted it was just some weird stomach noises from her. "I saw God... saw God... Come back to me on that question. If I could lose a limb, it would be a tooth. No, I'm just kidding. Okay, I saw God when David knew I was Tamara's little sister, and I would lose my right ankle!"
"Because you sprain it all the time?" asked Suzie.
"Yeah, I'm not sure I would be able to walk without being able to bend my foot, but I think I could."
"So you're not going to take off from the ankle down, but you're just taking the ankle out from between your leg and foot?" Brigid asked, and the girls speculated about whether it should just be a gap of air there or if the foot would be connected directly to the leg.
"So I was walking in the forest," Trish said, "when the world's worst lumberjack came out, and cut it like swwwffft."
"Did it hurt?"
"Of course it hurt!" Next it was my turn, and Trish grabbed my notebook to take notes of my feeling check. Trish wrote:
"Low - bugs
High - 1st 24 hrs at Shrine Mont
Saw God - water sports - funny pics #FUNNY PICS Cullen got splashed A LOT [doodled picture of Cullen]
Body part - lose the feet... learn to walk on peg legs."
After my feeling check, I gave Simba to Maggie, and she began, "Just in case you didn't know, when I made a comment on what Caitlin said, it was about yesterday when we found a dead moth, so we had a moth burial. I sang a couple songs. That explains my comment about how today's moth didn't die."
"We built a memorial," Suzie said.
"Until the boys destroyed it," Caitlin added.
"My high was when we were splashing Cullen. He totally cheated at the question game, though, because he did not get his question right, and I still got splashed. My third high was the pie, which tasted like heaven."
"The pie tasted like Kevin? Like Kevin, with a K?" Caitlin asked.
There was much giggling and speculating about what a Kevin might taste like before Maggie could continue, "My low was not swimming in Seven Springs, but I did put my feet in just for Caitlin. Now is it limbs or parts?"
"Did you say, 'arms or butts?'" Caitlin interrupted.
"You could lose the crack in your butt!" Trish giggled out.
"I guess I would lose my right foot, and get it replaced with a realistic looking foot, and I could paint the toenails."
"Like in Star Wars?" Elizabeth asked.
"Not like in Star Wars! When do they paint toenails in Star Wars? Now, I was in an ocean in Texas, and..."
"Now, I have flown over Texas," Suzie put in, "and I hate to tell you, but there is no ocean in Texas." There was some discussion, and giggling, and we resolved on the story being set in the Gulf of Mexico. In the middle of our discussion, the counselor from next door came over to let us know that their feeling check was over, so we should start quieting down as that cabin tries to get to sleep, which the girls did, but also giggled about how this was two nights in a row they had to be quieted down.
Maggie resumed, "A giant spiky starfish came out of the ocean and wrapped around my foot, and..."
"It hugged your foot off!" Suzy exclaimed.
"Let her finish, please" said Brigid.
"...so the giant spiny starfish hands squeezed off my foot."
"Okay, ladies, I'm going to close with a prayer, and after I'm done, I'm going to squeeze a hand, and you will say one thing you're thankful for today," said Brigid. Trish asked to go last, which Brigid said was okay. "Thank you God for campers willing to take new risks today, whether it was at Seven Springs, rehearsal, or improv shows. Thank you for the community in this cabin, and keep us safe as we finish camp." Brigid was silent for a moment, and squeezed Caitlin's hand.
"Can you come back to me?"
"No, I still can't think of anything."
The girls all leaned in to blow out the candle in the middle of our circle, and began climbing into their bunks. Brigid took out The Phantom Tollbooth and began to read.
By David Churchman
David Churchman first went to camp at Shrine Mont in 1993, the day after his 8th birthday, and he's been back just about every summer ever since. As a camper, he attended Soccer Camp (now St. Sebastian's), Explorers, and MAD camp, and then went on to work at all of those camps.
He is working to end guitar hegemony at camp, and plays the accordion wherever a camp will let him.
Off the mountain, David resides in San Antonio and works as a middle school math teacher.
Spreading the good news of Shrine Mont Camps into the Valley of the World.
The View from the Mountain is written by a rotating cast of staff writers and contributors.