Stanford Sierra Camp runs Saturday to Saturday, and is filled from start to finish with lots of fun experiences. (I wrote about camp last year here, here, and here.) I promised that I would write more about camp, so I’m going to write five stories here. I’m picking my stories by picking the photos to accompany them. These are my five favorite photos from camp, and five resultant stories:
Every Wednesday evening is the conclusion of Beach Day – a campfire complete with camp songs and s’mores. Let’s be honest here, most of my favorite songs ever are the songs we sing at the campfire every year, and I love love love the opportunity to sit on the beach, stare out over the lake, and watch the sun set to the tune of Puff the Magic Dragon and Wagon Wheel. And we obviously always finish with I’m Leaving on a Jet Plane.
I took this photo at the end of campfire, of a marshmallow my dad had roasted, with the lake and sunset in the background. The s’more that came out of that marshmallow was fabulous, by the way.
All the SSC counselors are Stanford undergrad students, which means that I am exactly the right age to be a counselor. Combine that with the reality that a) I’ve been going to camp for years and years and know my way around and b) I like kids, and you can understand why kids think I’m a counselor and consequently ask me all sorts of questions. Over the course of the week, I got asked where to put dirty glasses between meals, whether or not the fountain was open, where specific kids’ groups met, etc. etc. It also meant that they didn’t question if I wanted to take pictures of them, because they just assumed I was one of the staff photographers. (Oops?)
When I was growing up, my hair was all over the place. Lots of fly-aways, lots of tangles. Lots of all the things we try to limit as we get a bit older. And being at camp is no different; for the first couple days of camp I tried to keep the fly-aways, well, away. And then I just gave up. My brother tried to tease me about it by saying “You look like a counselor!” I had the camp-y hair, the casual shorts and t-shirt so common around camp, and the dark tan of a few days/weeks in the sun. But the thing is, camp hair, and being compared to a counselor, is maybe the best thing that you could ever call me.
This girl was on the ski dock with a bunch of her friends, fishing for crawdads, as is traditional at Camp. I love the parallel between her frizzies and the fraying rope.
Camp is a bit outside the city, which means that there are birds, squirrels, and the occasional bear. Honestly, there isn’t actually that much wildlife, but the wildlife we do get to see is wonderful. And the trees are amazing, and the stars are soooo bright, and generally, nature is beautiful. That’s it, I guess. Ducks!
There are a lot of floating docks around camp, and this duck was chilling out on one just behind my family’s cabin at the edge of camp. I’m not sure what it was looking at, but I kinda wish I knew…
At its heart, Stanford Sierra Camp is a family camp. As kids grow up, they tend to abandon their families at home, but somehow they come back at SSC. We sleep in a little cabin together, we eat dinner together (sometimes), we eat breakfast together (often), we do crafts together, go sailing together, go hiking together, throw eggs at each other…
These guys were waiting for Mom before they walked back from Beach Day, which thoroughly exhausted the youngest. She was nearly asleep, until her big sister gave her a kiss on the top of her head; then her eyes popped open and looked right at me.
A week 4 tradition, The Plunge is a little bit like a Polar Bear Swim, if you know what that is… Long story short, everyone wakes up and heads down to the lake at 7:30 Friday morning. 200+ people jump into the lake at once (more or less) and then yell out “Oooh! That’s cold” before racing out of the lake as fast as physically possible. This year, we beat our record once again (last year was 222, this year was 234). But my favorite part of The Plunge was a more personal moment. I jumped in, and was freezing cold, ready to hop out. But I looked up onto the dock, and a little girl – maybe 9? – was standing there, too scared to jump in herself. So I stayed there, treading water, and held my arms up to her, much like you would to a little kid climbing out of a tree. I told her I’d be there and help her get out of the water, and her dad would be up on the dock to help her too. And she jumped! Right in front of me, and she was holding on before her head had even come back up out of the water. It was just a little thing, and I don’t even know her name. But her dad found me later and thanked me for helping his daughter conquer her fear of the water – apparently that was the only time she jumped in the lake all week. Although I don’t blame her; it’s pretty cold!
If you head to the lake early enough in the morning (before The Plunge, of course), the lake is actually pretty smooth. This is when guests go rowing, and when staph go water skiing. (Yes, the Stanford-educated staphers fail to spell their own title correctly. Also, the people who make our meals work in the Chicken. Don’t ask.) But this is when I get some cool photos of the lake, like this one of the ladder to get back onto the boat dock.
This morning, I was listening to NPR (surprising, right?!), and a Forum panel about kindness was airing. It was a result, at least partially, of the new viral video of George Saunders’ Commencement Speech at Syracuse University, where he highlights his biggest regret in life: not being kind to the new girl in seventh grade.
And then a friend sent me a video about the Palo Alto High School Principal speaking out against the seniors that streaked across campus yesterday (the first day of school). I figured it would be good for a laugh, and it was.
But more than that, it made me think again about that Forum panel. Because I do my best to define my life by kindness and happiness, not anger or disappointment. Luckily, I haven’t had very many huge disappointments, so its not that difficult. But at the same time, there are also only a handful of situations, people, events, whatever that I remember super distinctly. But Kristen Sze is one of them.
We all have those places, people, objects, whatever. We have these mental pictures of them, and as time goes by, our memories change. Places get fancier, objects get more valuable, and people get prettier. Or the opposite. Psychology and neurology tells us this is inevitable – our memories consist merely of neural pathways, and those change over time.
Sometimes, though, it doesn’t matter how much our memories change, because they will never live up to reality. This statement has always and will always be true for me when it comes to Stanford Sierra Camp. There’s something about SSC for me that is perfect. The lake isn’t perfect – its actually effing freezing most years. The people aren’t always perfect – I’ve gotten into my fair share of spats with my annual best-friend-for-the-week. But camp itself is perfect in every single way.
For starters, it looks like this:
So… everyone has a bucket list, and if you don’t, we’ll wait while you go write yours. I certainly have one, with everything from travelling to jumping out of planes to reading and watching Shakespeare on it. But a bucket list isn’t much fun unless you work on checking things off of it, so that’s what I did.
Stanford Sierra Camp has a serious obsession with eggs. I’m not just talking hard-boiled, poached, and scrambled here. Although the omelette bar on Tuesdays and Fridays is pretty fantastic – totally worth the 45 min wait. And they do crazy stuff like… sushi omelettes: