The pack wakes up well rested in the cabin’s common sleeping area. Some of the kids have never been away from home overnight, or went to bed without a tuck in from mom, or dad. Now after a good night’s sleep we’re gearing up for the first full day of our most excellent Camp Harris adventure.
After fueling up on a solid camp breakfast of bologna, scrambled eggs and toast, we’re ready to roll. Almost the entire pack is present for the weekend getaway. Altogether there are 16 Cubs – boys and girls aged 8 to 10 and a handful of adult scouters caring for them. A mild February morning awaits and the kids need no encouragement to explore the outdoors.
We set out hiking a trail that leads down to the water. Looking around, we see that camp buildings are the only visible structures on our side of the lake. There are no roads, sidewalks, cars, no power lines. The path, partially concealed by snow, is slick in places. For some it’s easier to walk on either side of it.
Enthusiastic hoots and hollers ring into the sky as we cross an open field on a gently descending gradient. Closer to the shoreline stands of trees border the path and ice is thicker on the ground. Skates might prove to be a better footwear choice on some of the terrain. Rabbits have passed this way before us, their prints clearly stamped in the snow.
We arrive at the top of a small hill sheer with ice. In the near distance, the path continues skirting the shoreline. There is a brief discussion on whether we should head back. After assessing the risk, we position one scouter at the base of the hill. Some of the cubs opt for the full throttle slide down while others choose to walk gingerly through the trees.
Down at the bottom, there is hill on one side of us and the lake on the other. We can’t push much further along the path as kids are losing their footing tumbling and scrambling on uneven ice. We see a nice clearing overlooking the water and climb over, under and through an entanglement of natural debris to reach it.
After traversing this organic obstacle course, we sit as a group, rest a little and briefly experiment with being still and quiet. There is a nanosecond of silence. Then we’re off on the reverse journey. Up and over the dead wood with a little tricky balancing. The ice hill looms. A direct assault is not feasible. It’s through the trees and into the open where the path levels out.
Just before we reach the closest camp cabin we stop to play. A few grizzled and grey trees with scarred trunks and broken branches beckon enticingly. They look like skeletal remains bereft of a once greener glory. Before you can say ‘Mowgli’, a half-dozen cubs seize the day launching an impromptu demo of climbing prowess.
There is a rare moment of gender balance. Three girls and three boys are enjoying each other’s company while scrabbling around a tree looking for the best perch. From their lofty heights they become lookouts with a bird’s eye view of rolling fields, hiking trails and the open, cloudless sky.
On the second day of our Camp Harris adventure, the cubs break out into their lairs for some shelter building. Provided with lengths of rope and a tarp, the cubs are left for the most part to their own devices.
The three lairs charge off in different directions to scout the perfect location. The most pressing requirement is to find suitable trees and bushes that can be used as a windbreak and double as anchors to tie off the tarps and give form to the shelters.
It’s a great way to wind up our Camp Harris outing. A light drizzle provides an opportunity to test the structures to see if they provide a refuge from the elements. There is plenty of discussion within the lairs on how to complete the task, on what might work best. It’s a real team effort with everyone pitching in.
Despite the sometimes inclement weather, the outdoors are the default of choice for the kids over the course of the weekend. There are campfires, songs and toasted marshmallows – thanks Pete for keeping the flame – and games of stealth and strategy pitting cubs against the adults.
As the kids pack up and get ready for their parents a happy exhaustion permeates the air. There is a glow on their faces, a spring in their step. They have tasted adventure, trekked the woods with friends and shared the camaraderie of discovery and wonder.
Editor’s note – Fifty years ago I spent a weekend on a similar adventure at Camp Samac in Oshawa, Ontario. We learned to make fires one fall afternoon, walked in the woods and threw twigs down the chutes of a huge hydro dam. My papa was the Akela for the pack and I have many happy memories from those days that still burn bright.
For more outdoor and play adventures visit the PlayGroundology blog (playgroundology.wordpress.com) – advocating for a wider range of play opportunities for kids in public spaces.