Sounds like Tamakwa which can be a real earful

By Robert Sarner, The South Tea Echo, Fall 2003

Arriving at camp for a new summer entails a major change of scenery. For both campers and staff, it's an all-consuming reality switch. After 10 months in the city, the early days of camp are an assault on the senses of the best kind.

Much of this is easily visualized as seen in the photos in the South Tea Echo and on the Tamakwa website. Yet, as evocative as these pictures are, there's a lot more to Tamakwa than beautiful images, if you stop and listen.

Every year, Tamakwa and Algonquin Park join together to provide a distinctive soundtrack for the summer. Trouble is if you're not at camp to get an earful, it's hard to fully appreciate. Letters sent home rarely capture the sounds of camp. The closest you'll get is on the website with its trademark loon call when you log on, (not to mention a few surprise links in the version of this article on the website). But there's so much more where that comes from.

If Tamakwa is a veritable aural smorgasbord, not all of its sounds are created equal. Some are a lot more obvious, or rather louder, than others. Some are more soothing and frequent. Many come from nature, others man-made. Together, they all add up to the Tamakwa sound.

Every morning at 8 o'clock, the first thing heard by all Tamakwans is that of Sheri ringing the huge iron bell 100 times to wake everyone up. Often the loud "kaw, kaw, kaw" of squawking ravens provides a wake-up call of sorts. Next, we hear the inevitable shuffling out of bed, various bodily functions, toilet flushes, hand washing, teeth brushing and then the slow collective trudge to Main Camp for breakfast. Empty stomachs growl as campers assemble outside the Dining Hall, waiting for the clarion call from the porch of "Come-and-get-it!"

Of all three meals, breakfast is the most subdued but 450 campers and staff eating together is never a quiet endeavor, even if they're still half-asleep. The usual roar of the place plummets several decibels when Hartsy and Craig make announcements with their voices reverberating through the Dining Hall thanks to the P.A. system. Solace for the ears then comes in the form of a musical interlude, better known at Tamakwa as "Meditation". Hartsy says this is his favorite time of the day.

Then it's over to Main Camp where Tamakwans stand quietly to the piano sounds of the US and Canadian national anthems as the Stars and Stripes and the Maple Leaf ascend the flagpole. The day is now officially underway.

All camp activities generate their own distinctive sounds. On the waterfront, from the swim dock to the canoe area, endless splashing and diving mix with the grating sounds of paddles scraping canoe gunnels, air horns starting sail races, and the swim director's whistle followed by the cry "Buddy Call!"

On land, a wide array of noises pervades the air: the sound of roller blades thundering on the SportCourt playing surface, the frequent thump-thump of basketballs dribbled on the Plat-Forum, the pounding of the tetherball, the clicking of shuffleboard disks, the baseball connecting with the metal bat, and the whoosh of tennis balls just clearing the net on the half court.

All the while, many others contribute to the collage of sounds in the background. Guy and his team can be heard working away in the kitchen preparing the next meal, someone invariably is playing the piano in Beaver Lodge, voices from the office spill out the front door, the motor of Stringer's boat puttputts through the water, the pointer whirs as it approaches the shore, musical tunes from drama rehearsals emanate from the Rec Hall, the tractor noisily makes the rounds to collect garbage, the tires of Vic and Ken's golf carts roll on the pathways, gongs of the bell signal the next period, pottery wheels spin, power tools hum in the woodshop, the Zip Line zips, Vic's bugle resonates at flag-lowering, Tamakwans holler "How-How" in approval or raise their voices in unison at

Dave Bale's instigation at the Slope bellowing "Woof-Woof" to see how many times it will echo across South Tea Lake, Tamakwans sway singing Taps at the end of the evening, and above the buzzing crowd Dave proclaims "Goodnight everybody!"

At lunch and dinner, the Dining Hall becomes a source of earsplitting noise. A cacophony of moving cutlery, plates, cups, and food trays combines with the voices of screaming campers and staff, many of whom are competing for which cabin can cheer the loudest. Most of the chanting culminates into a roof-raising rendition of any one of

Tamakwa's time-honored camp songs.

The clang of the old boxing ring bell (now situated in the Dining Hall) is supposed to bring the room to order, but the only thing that really brings the chaos to an abrupt and absolute the booming, caustic voice (no microphone needed) of Marilyn. Like camp's version of E.F. Hutton, when Marilyn speaks, the forest (even the moose and the mice) stops to listen.

At the end of each meal, just before the stampede out of the Dining Hall, there's the distinctive boom, boom, boom when benches are lifted and overturned on the tables.

And, of course, throughout the day and night, the most timeless sounds are those of nature: The leaves of the trees rustling in the wind, the sing-song chorus of all kinds of birds chirping, chipmunks nattering, mosquitoes buzzing, bullfrogs croaking, mice scurrying along cabin floors, the water lapping on the rocks and logs on the shoreline, the pitter-patter of rain on the roofs, the call of the loon, and thunder cracking the sky.

Tamakwa is also defined by what's not heard at camp, by the welcome reprieve from city sounds endured the rest of year: sirens, cell phones garbage trucks, TV, honking and screeching of cars, pesky teachers, screaming parents, sonorous microwave ovens, washing machines and dryers, irritating disc jockeys and sports announcers, obnoxious politicians, the general urban din and other assorted noise pollution.

Sometimes, during a particularly calm moment sitting by the lake, the tranquility is almost intoxicating. Yet, when it comes right down to it, the best sound of the summer is that of the joy and exuberance of 300 children having the time of their lives, making the noise that comes from pure, unadulterated fun at camp. Sounds like Tamakwa.

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