Lake Ely, Girl Scout Camp Archbald
My twelve-year old body gleefully and purposefully propels the canoe across the smooth little lake’s soft surface. Arms pumping, breath heaving, I am freed, alone in my canoe on Lake Ely. My friends surround me in canoes, singled and paired, dotted in spacious concentric circles around the small lake that is the womb of our Girl Scout Camp. Alone and together, this ever-present paradox of camp gives me summer after summer a life I never knew I deserved. We are waterfront-centric at Camp Archbald and proud of it. Swimming lessons, canoeing and boating, we are Red Cross serious and do not mess around with fundamentals. I have earned the right to paddle alone, my J-stroke Red Cross approved and strong enough, with a little weaving and correcting, for my own self to directionally determine my course. I am willing to experiment with this, my newly sanctioned competency, a blessing for a twelve year old girl who stutters, wants to hide, and only wants to kiss girls.
I eye the weeping willow on the other side of the lake and begin pumping my way toward it, this tree a beacon throughout my childhood. Our counselors are scattered among us in their own canoes, too; we are both simultaneously freed and tethered to their care, with space to grow and explore, while being contained in the most loving holding environment I will ever know. The sky is a blue that defies description—I remember it as “coming from the mountains” blue, from the line of a folksong we would spontaneously belt out all summer. The sun is warm enough to caress my shoulders, only to be blown away by the delicious breath of a gentle wind. I am aware of everything and of nothing. Surely I am the lake—the paddle, the canoe, we are all one. I race against the wind, yet I am the wind: I race against myself, but I am with myself in ways that will soon be sadly snatched away by the demon of adolescent self-consciousness. I strain, relax, focus, soften, as minutes pass. The other shore and its magic tree get closer and larger, closer and larger to me.
In a burst of energy, I make it to the other side of the lake, victorious elation alive in my heart.
My canoe slides and glides toward the shore as I ease up paddling. Everything hushes into quiet stillness. I guide myself into and through the extended green arms of the tree—she is big enough to hold me, too, under the branches of her arms. The light changes, the temperature shifts as I enter her universe. The beauty of this altered reality draws tears from my young eyes. I softly paddle my way beneath her and through, the blue sky available to me now through the peak-holes of green leaves, of weeping green arms. I am enchanted, transported, changed. As I lean into the joy of this moment, my heart is filled with an awe so profound that it lives in me today, fifty-five years later.
The memory fades back into the recesses of my heart, where it rests, always available to offer its joyful blessing to me.
Dear Friends, joy is co-created. We need to get out there, to create the circumstances in which the universe meets us with joy. This glorious summer is ticking by us; how do you choose to live into it? What would it look like to lean toward joy? Send on your intentions for savoring the rest of the summer, and/or your most blessed summer memory of joy, from today or decades ago.
Your emails, well, they bring me joy.