My parents used to laugh about me placing my clothes out the night before school every day in elementary school. Much like that, I am now collecting and putting aside items months away from the centennial reunion at Camp Pathfinder in Algonquin Park, Ont. I make a checklist in my head preparing for my visit. Tent: check. Sleeping pad: check. Memories to share: check. Excitement about seeing a place and people I love again: check.
I’ve even started dreaming again about camp. The anticipation has really set in. It is still winter in Buffalo – snow is on the ground, and the sun is barely visible during the day – yet my mind and heart are preparing to visit camp again in late August. Call me a planner or, more truthfully, call me crazy about my camp.
I started attending Camp Pathfinder in 1989 at age 11 and continue to return 24 years later after many years as a camper, staff member and now an alumnus. I’ve been there in the summer, fall, winter and spring. I love each season.
In the summer, there is nothing like taking a swim off a rocky campsite after a long day of canoe tripping (paddling and portaging) in the sun. The fall has its colors, especially the view of the brilliant maple stripe seen from Camp Pathfinder Island. The spring renewal in Algonquin is tremendous and is an experience to see the park wake up again. The winter is powerful, yet peaceful in its stillness.
One highlight was working “Fall Crew” one season, where school groups experience guided wilderness expeditions canoeing, hiking and doing ropes course challenges. This opportunity has recently been opened up to Nardin Academy and Maritime Charter School in Buffalo and Wilson Magnet High School in Rochester.
Thanks to the Algonquin Campership Fund and its generous donors, camp can be enjoyed by all children. The fund sets aside scholarships for worthy candidates and for school field trips each season to send them to Pathfinder, an all-boys camp, and Camp Northway for girls, also in Algonquin Park. The Campership Fund has been providing financial assistance for individuals since it was established in 2000.
I project what I’ll do when I return to the beautiful island camp. The 20-foot tower into the lake: I’ve got to jump. The zip-line: maybe (I’m afraid of heights). Canoeing in the morning mist or on a starlit lake: absolutely. Hearing the eerie call of the loon and smell of cedars and pines: guaranteed yes. Reconnecting with friends from all over the world who think Pathfinder and Algonquin Park can’t be beat: for sure.
I hope to see many friends, especially Jack, an alum of camp, who builds gorgeous cedar canvas canoes in Dwight, Ont., outside of Algonquin Park. I hope Eric will be there, former director of canoe tripping, who entrusted me with the care and instruction of six young men as head counselor on a “tour de park” more than 10 years ago. I want to see and thank my two counselor friends for making it the trip of a lifetime paddling down the Petawawa River. It is never too late to thank a friend.
I ask myself, “Why am I dreaming of camp in the middle of a Buffalo winter?” I think because when you love a place, a group of friends and a place in time, you can’t get them out of your heart even on the coldest winter night.