I went to summer camp for adults, we played capture the flag. And did some serious stuff too.
Going to camp is weird. I never went as a kid but as an adult it’s like lets throw all these strangers together and make them do stuff that will probably be super awkward at first. But once you’re past that point it gets really rad. This camp was extra awesome because it was put on by the David Suzuki Foundation for young adult environmental stewards in the Howe Sound region. BC’s southernmost fjord has been having a comeback after years of industrial damage but it is once again facing many proposed industry projects. I went in feeling like I’d probably be the least relatable but little did I know everyone was feeling the same way. They’d chosen a very diverse 50 of us. I don’t know how they did it or if it was absolute fluke but it was an incredible group dynamic.
The Squamish Nation welcomed us to Cha7elknech (Gambier Island), their traditional and unceeded territory. They taught us songs and dance, breaking the ice for everyone. Chief Ian Campbell sat us down the first evening to chat about the history of the area and the current challenges the Squamish Nation are facing. We learned about the island through it’s legend and we all shared why we cared about the environment. One camper expressed it perfectly when she said she loves and wants to protect her friends and family because she knows them, just like how she has grown to feel about nature as she has gotten to know it.
Throughout the week we had paddle ‘board’ meetings, insightful discussions on self care, compassion, wildlife, community building, indigenous plants and many other themed workshops- plus fun activities to get us moving and lighten the vibe. It was very full on. A few members of the Squamish Nation took us out on the canoes one afternoon to share more about the area with us. One of the canoe guides explained that everywhere he went when he took something from nature he gave something back, so if he was out bark collecting he would leave a strand of hair behind. It is in his belief that at the end of his life his spirit will re-visit each place he has left a piece of himself. Well, crap I thought my spirit would be awfully busy with the amount of hair I have. But seriously, it was an incredible look into the amount of mindfulness and respect we should all carry with us.
We slept under the stars almost every night, dragging our sleeping bags to into a clearing overlooking the ocean. We watched the meteor shower, found constellations and of told plenty of stories. We’d wake-up in our different ways, practicing yoga, welcoming the morning or just barely finding the way to coffee. It was a simple existence- focused on community, respect, fun and having the least environmental impact possible.
On our last night we were challenged by a camp facilitator to a solo out in the woods with only our sleeping bags. Being comfortable sleeping outside I wasn’t anxious about it, but I did give a thought to the local cougar population. What I should’ve been concerned about was much, much smaller. He then lead us all to spots he felt was right for us, dropping me off in a thick forested spot under a big cedar. We’d learned that the cedar boughs were like the welcoming arms so I tried to make myself comfortable. I remembered him mentioning a path so I went exploring and found a nice big mossy rock in between and above two small inlets. I made my sleeping area as a seal came to say hello. It was peaceful and lovely and I was quite content to just be. Until, the mosquitos descended and began dive bombing my face. Sacrificing my view, I zipped myself into my sleeping bag as best I could trying to cover every inch of skin. Turns out I hadn’t achieved that goal and could only open one eye when I woke up.
I may have looked like pumpkin head and startled a few people in the morning but I felt refreshed and so grateful for the whole experience.
We all gathered in a circle to decompress from our solos and share our experience and thoughts not only about the overnight but our time at the camp as a whole. I’ve never been amongst such an open, accepting and supportive 50 people at once in my life and doubt I’ll have a moment pass as such again. We broke the circle and went into our ceremony with the Squamish Nation with our hands clasped as a family the elders bestoed our regalia on us. We were told we had completed the self-work that was necessary before the real stewardship could begin, they welcomed us as family and thanked us for our participation. We made a quick departure from the island as a storm was rolling in, our water taxis making for the mainland together. We said teary goodbyes knowing we would see eachother again soon but knowing that it’d never quite be the same.
Just last weekend we reunited on the same island 6 months later. Due to the usual life commitments there were fewer of us, but not in spirit. We recapped our last 6 months of volunteer work and reconnected over the passion that had brought us together. The consensus was similar, we may never have camp back but will carry it with us in all that we do. I’m am so appreciative to have been apart of something so incredible and honoured to stand amongst the other stewards of Howe Sound.