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Way Up In Naples, Maine

August 25, 2017

I did a whole lot of traveling this summer. I was lucky enough to drive a truck from San Antonio to San Francisco, making extended stops in Marfa, Tucson, Saguaro NP, Joshua Tree NP, and Los Angeles along the way. I went to Arkansas for the wedding of a very close family member, and experienced Boston and Quebec City for the first time. But, the best trip I made was to Naples, Maine, which is where I would be living and working for the entire summer.


Ok, rewind for a second. Way back in March, I received an email from some summer camp in Maine. The email came signed by a Shannon R (who would later become my boss and close friend) who worked at a place called Camp Skylemar. See, Shannon is in charge of the multimedia and photography at this camp, and she was attempting to recruit a photography staff equivalent of the A-Team (she did). I didn't think much of it at first, because this internship at a National Park in Alaska had a tight hold of my attention at the time. Fortunately, that internship was discontinued. So, after all of my other options fell through, all I had was this summer camp job. I never saw myself working at a summer camp, but I know that the best things come from the most unexpected places, and oh man did that turn out to be true.


Yep, I took the job.


When I arrived at Camp in June, I knew right away that I made the right decision. I was immediately struck by the beauty of the place. There was an amazing view of some nearby mountains, the entire camp was surrounded by giant pines, and camp rested on the most crystal clear pond I had ever seen. Yet, what struck harder was how caring the staff was. People from all over the country, from diverse backgrounds and different spiritual beliefs, all cared about these new faces around them. The first week of camp was all about how to correctly perform our new jobs in order to care for the staff members around us, but more importantly for the boys that would be arriving in just a few days. And when the boys did arrive, oh man. 230 boys from ages 7-15 came pouring off of those yellow buses on the first day and transitioned into camp life seamlessly. They came from all over. There were even a few from overseas that would grow to be some of my favorite kids. And before I knew it, I became one of those college kids that was spending their summer at camp.

The day-to-day schedule was arranged much like a school schedule. But, instead of first period being Algebra and second being Biology, it was Archery followed by Basketball or Baseball. Skylemar has every kind of sport you could think of. Football, Lacrosse, Soccer, Waterskiing, Ropes Course, Sailing, Tennis, Kayaking, Hockey, Volleyball, Swimming, Fitness, Wakeboarding and more. There were the more obscure sports like Spikeball, Ping Pong, Can-Jam, Futsal, GaGa, Handball, Ultimate Frisbee and more! Along with all of the sports, there was Hilltop (arts & crafts), Theatre, Yellowhorn (fun science experiments), Woodshop, Sky Deck (cooking), Sky Pines (outdoor recreation), and my favorite – Chocolate Factory. Well actually I take that back, my favorite was the photography class that the photo staff got to teach. The best part about Skylemar is that the boys get to do everything! The schedule was arranged to where not one single day is similar to another. After the day was over, there would be a different evening activity every single night. One night it could be a movie night, and the next night it would be Sade's Palace (casino night)! Capture the flag, and then a talent show. Carnival night, then a bonfire. One night, the entire camp was even so lucky to take a trip into the city to watch the Portland Sea Dogs play some ball!


And what did I do?


I covered all of these activities, every single day. You would think that it would become repetitive and boring, but it never was. Everyday was different and presented me with a different opportunity to tell a story through my photographs. After a long day of shooting, the A-Team (otherwise known as the Flash mob or Photo Phriends) would sit in the office and get our photos done for the blog post that would be published late that night. Sometimes we would be done early at 9 P.M. and sometimes we would leave at 2 A.M. By the end of the summer, I had edited and tagged metadata for over 4,200 photos. Collectively, we finished with over 20,000 photos. If I did not have the A-Team in the office with me, along with our mascot and office resident Theodore the Chipmunk, this job would have been very, very different. I really owe everything to Shannon, Yonne, and Izzy because they made my summer what it turned out to be – the best.


What I enjoyed capturing the most this summer was the dynamic between counselor and camper. Teacher and student. Friend and friend. Brothers. On day one it was fun to photograph returning campers as they saw their counselors and friends for the first time in nearly a year, but it was interesting to photograph new campers meeting their new counselors and new bunkmates for the first time. It was interesting because I got to document the bond between counselor and camper throughout the summer. As the summer progressed, the counselors and campers would both become more and more comfortable with one another. You can see it in their eyes.

Now enjoy some cute photos, damn it.


Wait, It's August?


Where did the time go? I only had two more weeks left and it seems like I had just arrived. There was only one good thing about August showing up – Color War. The idea of Color War is something that is so difficult to explain if you can’t experience it in person, but I will do my best. When I arrived at camp, I was told by returning staff and campers over and over again, “Just you wait. It isn’t like anything you have ever experienced.” I thought, “It can’t be that crazy.” I was so wrong. Color War was two teams of boys, with elected leaders, leaving it all on the fields, courts, pond and stage for five days straight in order to win ”fame, glory, and points for their team." The competitions included events like kayak races on Trickey Pond, a Ping Pong tournament in the Rec Hall, Song & Cheers contest on the stage, Archery contests in the woods, physical Lacrosse battles, and the most intense – bocce ball. Witnessing the attitude of the campers shift as soon as Color War began was shocking. They gave it all in every competition, no more dragging because your bunk stayed up late the night before. The boys played like it was the last Color War they would get to participate in, which for some was their reality. Amidst everything, the most important competition didn’t start until the last hour of Color War.


Tugs.


In Color War, your team can always make a comeback. It’s never over until one team walks away from tug of war victorious. The gray team was determined to come back. They were not saying much, but you could see it written all over their faces. They fought as hard as they could, pulled as hard as they could, but ultimately the red team came out on top. Red won Color War 2017. The grey team collapsed to the ground in defeat, and the red team jumped towards the sky with overwhelming joy. Tears of sadness were on some faces and tears of joy were on others. Yet, before you even knew it, the teams were no longer in existence. Grey and red were hugging and laughing with each other immediately, and the intensity of the last five days was gone in an instant. The day ended with a ceremonial bonfire down on Trickey Pond, where the camp was greeted by a beautiful sunset and the loons’ call over the lake. As I sat on the dock and and let the emotion of all of it sink in, I quickly realized it was coming to an end.

The buses pulled up that morning, and no one was ready for it. Campers were running around the lawn signing each other's banquet books and saying their goodbyes. We spent all morning on the front lawn of camp. Talking, playing, laughing, and crying as boys started to pile on those yellow buses to head back home. They left in waves, and it became harder every single time. It seemed like yesterday that these boys were getting off of those yellow buses. The last moments with the campers were sad but very special, because in those moments I realized just how much everyone cares at Camp Skylemar. Care is woven into every single aspect of camp. Whether it is Shep's healthy obsession with safety procedures, the Care Crew making sure all campers have clean feet, the video guys making sure every single face was in Retrospect, Nick trying his absolute hardest to get everyone up on waterskis, Lily making sure everyone's dietary needs are taken care of at every meal, H making sure our computers work, Kaitlin making sure everyone is safe down at the pond, Norma making sure everyone had everything they would ever need at camp... The list could go on and on. Bottom line is, Skylemar would not Skylemar without these caring people, that's what Camp is all about. I mean after all...


It's Cool to Care.


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