Rowe Camp Is What Happens When You Are Making Other Plans – Chelsea Rose-Pulitzer
This summer I’m celebrating the 20th anniversary of my first year as a camper at Rowe Camp. That kind of anniversary is often accompanied by nostalgia and “best of” memories, so I thank you in advance for indulging me. There is of course no shortage of stories to recount: like the time we filled hundreds of balloons with helium and tied them to a chair in an attempt to get the co-director’s child to fly (he lived to tell the tale and now, as a young adult, just so happens to work on my camp staff). Or the time we had a lengthy and ornate wedding ceremony between a staff person and a loaf of bread aka The Breading. The summer that always sticks out in my mind, though, is the summer of 2011 when I worked on Junior High Camp staff and which by all accounts should have been a terrible summer.
The first few days of any camp session are critical for helping campers feel comfortable with one another, acclimating campers to new routines and expectations and getting them excited about camp. So naturally, we had planned for the very first breakfast to be themed around jock jams, in which the counselors would be wearing neon colors and dancing around the Rec Hall to the best pump-up bangers as campers spooned cereal into their sleepy mouths. I, wanting to jump start that camp session with energy and excitement and fuelled by a cup and a half of Dean’s Beans Bird Watcher’s Blend, danced hard, jumped high, and promptly heard a distinct pop in my knee resulting in having to make my way around camp on crutches for the remainder of the session.
In the middle of the second week of camp, a time oft accompanied by interpersonal drama as the meeting-people-for-the-first-time pleasantries have worn away and the we-love-each-other-so-much-I-can’t-believe-camp-is-ending magic has yet to begin, I received a phone call from my dad. My grandfather had passed away and the funeral was in a few days. Attending the funeral meant leaving camp and with that, missing one of my favorite activities, a Rowe dance. Rowe dances are special. No one cares about what you look like while you are dancing, just that you are having a good time and are included in the fun. Seeing as this was an incredibly important time to be with my family and there would be no dancing for me anyway, I departed from camp and the community for a few days, something I’d never done before.
In the last week of camp, a staffer borrowed my car while on break so they could visit and enjoy exotic Greenfield, a time-off haven to many a camp staffer. Not an hour before they were supposed to return did I get a call from them on ye olde Rec Hall camp phone. I crammed myself into the stuffy phone booth and plugged one ear against the KP music joyfully blasting in the background only to hear that through no fault of my fellow staffer, my car was dead, had been towed to a nearby auto shop, and could someone please pick them up.
By the end of the session, I was out a knee, a grandfather, and a car. So how could this possibly be one of my favorite sessions? Well, a funny thing happens at Rowe when you are hurting, when you are feeling vulnerable, when you are downright sad. The community shows up.
Having to leave camp for doctor's appointments and attending a funeral meant that I wasn’t able to fulfill some of my duties. The staff showed up. They took on more than their fair share to cover what I had to miss, often stepping up in ways that stretched their own comfort zones. Instead of being loud and using my body to be silly and excited around camp, I had to find a different niche to fill, thus giving someone else the opportunity to step in and try out being the loud person in front of camp. That staff of twenty-two, by the way, has so far yielded seven Rowe Camp directors. Now, I’m not saying that blowing out my knee led to the modern age of camp leadership (but totally will if you want to give me the credit), but that the people who make camp happen are dedicated not just for one summer, but as a legacy of compassion, care, and creativity, just as they had shown me that session.
There was one staff person in particular who not only showed up for me, but made space for me to keep showing up for the campers, and together, we created a space for the campers to show up for each other. We paired up to create this silly on-going workshop in which we created a new nation. Each day the two of us and our cohort of campers would take steps for independence. We wrote a declaration of independence à la a break-up letter (way before Hamilton made it cool), named our mighty new nation Belldoor (two objects we could see in that moment), and sang traditional Belldoorian revolution songs (made-up tunes in which the lyrics had not been agreed upon beforehand, but would somehow come to all of us in the same moment as we tried to sing in unison). One day, everyone got a Belldorian driver’s license by taking a “road test” which involved sitting in a red flyer wagon and tapping a staff person pulling the wagon on the left or right shoulder to get them to turn. Another day we took our campers to nearby Shelburne Falls, pamphlets about Belldoor in hand, and visited a real estate agency where we asked about potential land we could acquire on which to settle our new nation.
It still makes me burst out laughing thinking about all the ridiculous, silly, hilarious experiences created with those campers. That staffer and I still keep in touch… in fact he’s in the next room as I write this… because I married him! While we did not get married in the chapel at Rowe (though we definitely considered it), we did have half of our wedding guest list taken up by people who we had worked with at camp or gone to camp with and you better believe we had one heck of a Rowe-style dance party. That’s the kind of result Rowe yields: lifelong love, friendship, and community.
So now I am in the summer of my 20th anniversary with Rowe about to lead another Junior High Camp session during another really hard time. The COVID-19 pandemic has brought with it many occasions to grieve, one, of course, being that for the first time in Rowe Camp’s almost 100 year history we won’t be able to hold camp in person. Instead of coming together in the beautiful woods of Rowe among the many buildings that have come to feel like a second home to so many, we will be connecting remotely from each of our own homes. For our virtual camps, we will be relying heavily on technology, a drastic change from the cell service-less and wifi-less campus of Rowe. There will be no hugs after chapel or snuggling in the Rug Room. It will be different, it will be unexpected– and we will show up.
While the Rowe campus is an extraordinary, magical vessel, Rowe’s heart is its community. Letting the community in, for me, during the summer of 2011 yielded completely surprising and unpredictable gifts. Faced with another summer that has by no means gone as planned, I can’t wait to see what gifts emerge from the power of our community.
Chelsea Rose-Pulitzer graduated from Hampshire College with a Bachelor’s Degree in education, theater, and arts integration and has put that to use as a teaching artist, paraprofessional, and after-school administrator in a Brooklyn homeless shelter. Having directed other camps in New York City, she is excited to bring what she’s learned back to her home away from home. With everything she takes on, Chelsea promises to be responsible, compassionate, and playful!