Broken, according to Ruth the gardener, is the state of many who first come here. ‘Camp heals people,’ she mused, alarming me. You’ve known me longer than any other friend – I don’t need fixing do I? Oh, the heels of my feet resemble dried mangos and the Dimple has a gammy knee but I think we’re in good shape emotionally. As Ruth, who’s mad as a celery stick talked of nowhere to go when camp finished – she’s been working summers here for twenty years – I realized she’s lonely and a bit broken in the city.
A few staff broke under pressure this season. One of the maintenance crew was found splatter painting a bathroom at 4am after a bottle of Jack. Pollock graffiti he called it. He loves camp because it usually keeps him ON the wagon for four months. The Dimple admits he was broken when he first came here in the nineties – in his heart – thanks to another Gemini. I think that’s why this place is so special, it fixed him real good.
Then there’s the broken children attending camp. In summary, 2010 saw one suicide attempt, two dislodged bullets, one serious restraint, one complaint of sexual assault (between twelve year old girls), two daughters held back because their mother’s been turning tricks at home, six bullying issues and umpteen fights. On the plus, hundreds of children were just a little less broken after ten day sessions of delight amongst the trees. Naively, I said to the (permanent) Other Mother one day at the river ‘Why do camp kids react so strongly to our toddlers swimming nude. Wouldn’t their siblings run around naked in their back yards?’ She replied, in the kindest of tones, ‘They don’t have back yards in the city.’ A couple of eight year old girls were seriously play acting what they were going to be when they grew up: Crips or Bloods. There’s no, you be the doctor, and I’ll be the nurse. It’s you wear red and shoot in this direction, and I’ll wear blue and attack you from behind. The other reason the teens react so strongly to toddler nudity, the Camp Director told me, was fear of molestation.
I feel naïve and lucky and sad hearing such stories. We grew up in safe, happy Hawkes Bay where the only potential danger was getting toes stuck in hot tar on a sunny day. My children enjoy similar bliss. They play outside all day, chasing lizards, making leaf piles, poking in holes, throwing stones in the river and picking wild blackberries. There’s no traffic or perverts. Thank you for encouraging me to come here. Amongst my rants, I’m grateful. Now that camp’s over for another year, we’ve got the Dimple around more too. Hoorah. My only trepidation is that if this place – like many trippy nature spots – attracts broken people, then our challenges are yet to come.