There is a tug on my toe. As I slowly rouse, the first thing I see is the moths and other insects floating lethargically around the floodlight outside of my cabin. The second thing I see is a pair of tiny eyes staring back at me from the foot of my bunk.
“Taylor, I need to go to the bathroom,” whispers Jack, an 8-year-old first-time camper. Even to adults, the back path from Cabin 1 to the boys’ latrines can be a terrifying experience at night, and that fear can be plainly read on my camper’s sleepy face. I look at my watch. It’s 4:07. I climb down from my bunk, strap on my sandals, grab my flashlight, and head out the door with Jack trailing close behind.
The mountain is a completely different place on a summer’s night, almost unrecognizable from its usual daytime vibrancy. The bustle of campers is gone, and with it go the sounds of bells and laughter and 20-year-old Backstreet Boys songs that never seem to go out of style at camp. The mountain is silent. Even the crickets seem to be sleeping. It’s a haunting silence, yet peaceful. To so many campers who come from cities and suburbs, this kind of silence is unimaginable in their everyday lives, where they are surrounded by the sounds of the urban world. It is a calm and stillness that I believe is a big part of what makes Shrine Mont truly a place apart.
As we walk into the worn, beaten, more-often-than-not leaking and broken latrines, it’s like walking into the St. G’s Hall of Fame. We’re surrounded by the signatures of the greats, the counselors of yesteryear that I remember fondly from my time as a camper. Names like Burt, Wingenbach, Cowherd, Reed, and some guy named Mark Tanner who I think played with our favorite band Hoss once or twice. Not only them, but the names of their counselors, and those counselors’ counselors can be found inscribed in the old wooden walls of the building. Hundreds of signatures spanning the lifetime of camp everywhere you look. In recent years, signing the walls became taboo as space became limited, and it recalls a memory of when I was 15: Upon asking him what I had to do to be allowed to sign the walls, former camp director Joe Wingenbach responded, “Taylor, if you come back as a counselor in a couple years and work here for four summers, you can sign wherever you want, and I’ll hand you the pen.” Well Joe, two summers down, two to go. I’ll see you in 2016.
Jack and I make our way back to the cabin, climb into our bunks, and fall asleep, awaiting the first bell of the very last day of the session, soon after which the St. George’s staff and I will send our campers back off into the Valley of the World, hopefully taking with them the love, laughter, and light they found here.
By Taylor Trobaugh