I’m in Grand Lake, CO this week, inside of Rocky Mountain National Park, for the Lighthouse Writer’s annual retreat. As I lie in my top bunk last night, parallels to my younger days as a camper at Dunkirk Conference Center flooded my mind and kept me awake, reminiscing. I mean, I slept on the top bunk and all – highly coveted in the old run down, red-roofed cabins at DCC, reserved only for the first to arrive in musty rooms of Amy D.’s Cabin 10. It’d been about 15 years since I last attempted the gymnastics and courage required for such a feat as the top bunk, and it wasn’t as fun as I remembered. I was up most of the night, paranoid about tumbling off the edge and whacking my head on the chair below. Or worse, waking my roommate!
Meals are served in the community kitchen, and each of us must sign up for a clean up and set up shift, just like camp “hoppers”. Only there’s coffee (not strong enough, but 3 or 4 cups should do the trick) instead of “bug juice” (so named for it’s saccharin-sweet property with the perfect combination of sugar and red stickiness to attract every bug in the camp) and the food is actually edible. Good, even. Very un-DCC-like, with it’s rubber eggs unidentifiable meat surprise.
There’s even a chapel with an outdoor area overlooking the majestic lake. Much calmer than Lake Erie, but not as blue. Still, the mountains and evergreens surrounding us more than make up for it.
But unlike my glory days at the DCC, everyone at the Shadowcliff Lodge in Grand Lake is asleep by ten. I don’t have to sneak out my window with my bunkbed ladder if I want to go outside at night. Which I don’t, honestly, because there are bear alerts warning us to lock our cars and be alert after dark, but still. There won’t be any communal sneak-out with our sleeping bags to sleep under the big oak tree by the lake. No laying in the grass searching for satellites and shooting stars. No permission slips for smokers, sneaking in alcohol, making out with your “camp” boyfriend behind the dining hall (a relationship destined to suffer a firey death at the end of the camp week when you realize that a 2-town difference means everything when you’re 15). No crying because you’re just happy and sad and overwhelmed with the beauty of life and all that lays on the path ahead. No value pack No-Doze to pop at regular intervals so not to miss any important memories-in-the-making. No hug chains or craft time or forced rest hour. No karaoke, Dooleyaoke, “RISE AND SHINE AND…” No snack bar, no pool that everyone wanted to swim in when we were kids but were too cool after age 13. No Vespers on the beach. And no campfires, because it’s wildfire season and all outdoor fires are banned in Grand Lake this week.
So I guess it’s not so much like camp after all, but just enough to make me look back and smile on those formative years summering in Dunkirk. Much love to all you former campers (“Monday meat loaf, Tuesday chicken, all you lucky campers, we wish the same to you!”)!