"Lights out, St. George’s!" The final bell of the final full day of camp rings, signaling that now, after a long day of games and songs and laughter, it is time to go to sleep. My campers and I gather around our candle, and by the glow of its flame and the string of Christmas lights hanging from the rafters we have our last feeling check. After everyone has had their turn, we climb in our bunks and I read to them until every camper seems to have fallen asleep. Now, after this long day on the mountain, I am granted the restful, rejuvenating sleep that I so cherish as a counselor.
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.
If we were just a hundred yards further down the winding path from camp to the upper ball field, we would be guided by the light of the millions of stars shining down on the mountain, a sight one cannot truly understand or imagine unless they have experienced it firsthand. We, however, nestled into the side of the mountain in the woods, do not have the blessing of this natural light, and find our path only faintly illuminated by floodlights outside of each cabin. In the distance, beyond the latrines - which to a first session camper’s short legs seem an eternity away - is the light on the front porch of the director’s cabin. The floodlights outside cabins 1 through 10 are there to help give the campers a sense of security and to light their way through the dark of night on their way to relieve themselves, but to me the director’s light is a symbol, a beacon telling the staff that the guidance we sometimes need is waiting inside, vigilant and ready to help any member of staff at any time, because sometimes camp counselors need a camp counselor too.
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
Taylor Trobaugh is a second-year St. George's Camp counselor. He's a rising sophomore at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond and a member of Grace and Holy Trinity's campus ministry.
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.