On Camping Trip

From the journal of a faculty member:

And then the first car turns up the driveway and the first kid climbs out, lugging a bag half their size and twice their weight and already forgetting something, probably the sleeping bag, so that a parent has to bang open the Volvo’s tailgate and fish it out and hand it over, slippery and overlarge and already escaping from its carrying case, not unlike the parental heart as the kid joins two, three, four other kids–maybe they met three days ago at their first preseason, maybe this preseason was their last and they’ve been in and out of each others’ business for (can it be?) six years–swirling and eddying up the School steps. And you watch the parents drive away and you hear the voices rise and you remember: oh yes, these people, the ones already scuffing the freshly-varnished floor, the ones making all this noise. These are why.

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You remember again on Camping Trip, a dozen times, none of them the ones you expected. When cross-country does their long run and the newly-minted senior paces you in easy companionship all the way to Wolfboro. When the impromptu dance line forms in the dining hall, right in front of the milk dispenser because where else would you get down? When the moons and loons and pristine night give way to bobbling headlamps and the howls of stubbed-toe teenagers, goofy with exhaustion now but quiet and steady when you pull them aside and say Hey, can you help me out? Can you soothe this homesick child, clean up this cabin, plan this class? You hand them new weights –a sketchbook, a notebook, a section, a team–and stand back as they lift, stretch, drop something, pick it up, move off into the trees. Should you warn them about the poison ivy? No, they’ve seen it. Keep your mouth shut: they’ll be fine. They’ll be fine, and in the evening a freshman will sing “I can’t help falling in love with you,” beneath the Rec Hall’s drooping Christmas lights and the whole school will sing back, almost under their breath, at once casting a spell and trying not to break it.

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You’ll remember when you say, “Stay together and close to the shore,” then watch, resigned, as the canoes string out and paddle like mad for the middle of the lake. Can you yell loud enough to make them hear, or more to the point, to command their attention? The barometer’s falling. There are thunderheads. The canoes make headlong for the spot where the sun still dances and the inlet broadens to the lake. They’ll never see you semaphoring, never hear your voice. You launch your canoe and paddle toward them, waving as you go. 

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