Summer camp led to my love of the outdoors

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Summer camp led to my love of the outdoors

"Give me a red ballon on a long black string, I can whistle and I can sing, with my red ballon on a long black string, I can do almost anything ..." are the words of a memorable and one of the many of my favorite camp songs. Between camp songs, late night shenanigans and every imaginable water activity, the several weeks each year spent at camp nurtured a fondness for the outdoors that would carry over into adulthood.

The lyrics of my favorite girl scout camp songs were often sang in the mess hall where all the campers gathered for a meal. I recall the bold vibrations as our voices rang in the air of the wooden building that bounced the sounds around the room. It never ceased to amaze me that within seconds we were all in harmonious union as we clapped our hands and stomped our feet. Yet it was the reverberations of the thunderous melodies billowing through the night air as we toasted marshmellows on the largest campfire imaginable, this was my favorite time and this is where I first learned of s'mores.

For me summer camp wasn't only about being outdoors it was an escape from the responsibilities of being the first born which meant looking after my younger siblings and I appreciated the fact that I didn't have to attend church either because our family attended varying services several times a week.

It was a place of exploration in the back woods of rural Michigan at Camp Linden and where I got lost in discovering plant life on trails that seemed never ending. I loved swimming in the lake, performing back flips and going past the buoy to find sharks, I was fearless back then and didn't mind getting in trouble. Nights were just as adventurous as the day, as we snuck out of cabins or tents with flashlights in tow. At first it was just about staying up past the prescribe bed time but as I got older, late nights included drinking cans of beer, wine or liquor from a fellow camper who stole it from their parents collection. Spin the bottle would easily result in naked bodies running through the camp, hopefully without getting caught. But my all time favorite was the scary stories about girls our age ending up dead in the woods, why we listened those stories, I'll never know.

Many campers enjoyed letters from home and nothing put a smile quicker on my face than a package from home with some money, practical items like a pair of sandals, raincoat and a short letter written in mother's cursive but signed by my younger siblings. 

Whether it was a few days or several weeks, I often arrived back home at least two shades darker, hair nappier then normal and my bags filled with unidentifiable plants I would share with biology teachers, mounds of sand from shoes and clothes, and empty candy wrappers. 

As I reflect on the past, I can now recognize the privilege and gift of summer camp for a brown girl who came from a single-parent working class family. In fact, we vacationed in the south, my mother's hometown while my classmates ventured off to greener pastures at National Parks or in foreign countries or perhaps, they simple packed up their cars headed toward private family-owned cabins up north.

In the outdoors, I came to understand a special communion as I curiously touched the mostly green surroundings, I experienced the special way nature comforted me, provided me safe sanctuary to speak my truths and when I hugged the trees, I was convinced they hugged me back. In no time, I had fallen in love with the wonders of wooded pastures with lake edges.

Charlotte Young Bowens, Founder of Conscious Gear, outdoor activewear and gear for bigger bodies. Her mission is to increase diversity in the great outdoors and nurture bigger bodies to use outdoor activities for mental and physical healing.