Where I'll Find You
Sundays at Red Arrow Camp
Written by Anthony Burgan
In the early morning hours, at the time your body has taught itself to wake up, you float up into the day, like a sky lantern that has just begun its smooth ascent. At first, you prepare for the bell to ring; you run through your mental list of morning tasks — first, putting on your socks so the cold morning floor doesn’t chill your feet — you brace yourself, perhaps with a healthy glee, to rise up and meet the day. But then you check your watch and see that the bell should have rung already, and that is when you remember: it is Sunday. You sink back into your sheets, pulling them over your body again, blocking out that morning chill that you have become accustomed to. You are too excited to sleep; instead, you listen: small drops of dew slip down from low hanging leaves, a few tired footsteps scrape across the basketball court toward The 8, pots and pans echo out from the kitchen, reaching to the end of the quad like a slow wave. There is something about that moment on Sunday mornings, that profound calm.
You have welcomed the idea of getting out of bed by the time the bell rings. The counselors, with a fierce excitement, spring out of bed and yell out a resounding, “Dip time!” The cabin feels like it’s vibrating with that special Sunday morning tempo as you slip on your robe and flip-flops. You run with your counselors over to the program office, racing the other cabins to weigh and measure before heading into the icy morning waters of Trout Lake. Even so, as you plunge under the surface after flying off the end of the slide, you swear you can feel the faint hum from the heaters your counselors installed during pre-camp. The Bronners slides off your hair briskly under the water, and when your counselors tell you it’s time to head in, you do one final dolphin dive before running to the warm embrace of your soft robe.
Breakfast is donut holes, and you try to keep a nice variety in your selection: an even number of plain, frosted, and sugar-cinnamon. The aromas of Sunday morning are distinctly different, and the atmosphere of breakfast conversations carries something new with it, but it’s something you can’t quite identify. Is it the fact that the counselors are all dressed in their Staff shirts, or that you yourself are dressed and ready for choir? Or perhaps it is the fact that you just ate enough donut holes to anesthetize a hodag? Or, most likely, it is the peace in it, the knowledge of the content yet insightful conversations that will fill the quad after cabin cleanup, it is the visitors of summers past that will come to get a brief glimpse of their favorite place in the world, it is in many games of Kan-Jam, and how that one time, just once, you slotted it perfectly. Boy was that something.
In cabin cleanup, your counselors have the most perfect taste in music (of course), and you feel a small bite of pride at how nice and straight your bunk looks. You chuckle to yourself, thinking that perhaps a We Are Clean is on the horizon. Your counselors, in their infinite wisdom, think so too.
You jog into the quad after final sweep and yell, “next available,” as you sit down by one of the ping-pong tables. You have a new spin-serve in your arsenal that you’re just dying to try out. Around you, throughout the quad, on nearby benches, on the Cedars porch, you can feel the faint energy of the signature Sunday morning activities. Frisbees clatter again Kan-Jam cans, someone has challenged a counselor in an intense game of connect-four, and some other campers are trying out a new card game they got in the mail the day before. As the Counselor Circles “parabolate,” you can see that sly, Sunday morning smile on their faces as they proudly watch the campers.
You know you’re outmatched by the person you’re about to be up against in ping-pong, and when it finally gets down to the end of a game and it’s your sucker’s serve, your opponent calls out, “three,” before you; you give that sly Sunday morning smile you saw earlier because you know you only need one serve, and it glides so deceptively over the net -- the cleverness of your new spin serve surprises even you. You still lose but that’s okay, because all is right with the world on Sunday morning.
Some have said that Chapel is like nothing else we do at Red Arrow: there is a reverence, yes, a reverence that extends throughout many things at camp, but there is also a vulnerability. Earlier in the week, as you were picking up a ping-pong paddle, you overheard a conversation between some of the Senior Staff on the Cedars porch. One of them said that speaking at Chapel is like peeling back a banana: you reveal, more than anywhere else at camp, something deeply personal about yourself, something which the Red Arrow family -- campers, staff, and alumni alike -- will take in and consider. If you listen closely enough, and if you do it just right, you’ll discover something deeply authentic in you, too; deep down in there, right there in the center, is a little snug spot where you find Red Arrow snuggling up against your heart. Sometimes you unconsciously bring your hand up to touch your chest, and maybe the speaker does too.
In this Chapel service, there comes a moment right in the middle where you happen to glance among the visitors, and in that glance you catch that fleeting, unconscious vulnerability. As you stand on the stage and sing about melting lemon drops, as your voice-box strains for the final notes, you see the Sunday morning tears swell up in an alumni’s eyes, and you become aware, even if only for a moment, of how special and precious your time is at this place. You watch as the tear slides down their face; they don’t bother wiping it off.
As you rise for the RAC Benediction, you start thinking about that rainbow and what lies on the other side, about that place in your life when the clouds all seem so far behind you, where you can float as high as you want above those chimney tops. You nod to yourself -- there certainly is no place like home. If Red Arrow -- in all of its beautiful sunshine, with its singing loons and the wind whispering through the trees -- is at the other end of that rainbow, then that is where I’ll find you.