Reflections on the sense of timelessness at camp

By Robert Sarner, The South Tea Echo, Fall 2009

Everyone has a favourite spot at Tamakwa. I have about 20 of them – such is the awe-inspiring beauty of the site. But if I had to choose one place at camp that never fails to captivate me, it’s the deck next to the Eye-Full Tower just off main camp.

Of course, it’s not the deck itself but the vantage it offers. Its perspective of South Tea Lake below is second to none. To be there on a beautiful day, looking out at the water is to know paradise. This past summer, I sat there on a late July afternoon, transfixed as I took in the panoramic view. The combination of boundless water, trees and sky evoked nature at its best. Savouring this tableau before me, I was mesmerized.

What struck me, beyond the majesty of the place, was its timeless quality. I was amazed at how little of modern life could be felt of seen in this setting. No unsightly hydro wires, no man-made behemoths, no billboards, no powerful motorboats, no recent cottages, no hints of technology. I asked myself if this was essentially what Lou Handler saw when he stood at this same spot during Tamakwa’s first summer in 1937. I asked myself what, if anything, had changed about this view during the intervening 71 years.

To be sure, much of what I was looking at and experiencing seemed timeless: the three small islands – Treasure, Jerry’s and Adventure – in a row slightly to the left; countless trees surrounding South Tea; the rhythmic sound of waves lapping up against the shoreline; puffy cumulous clouds moving against the big open sky; the infinity of whitecaps on the lake; the soft wind blowing through the pine trees.

If not for the distant, barely discernable movement of cars on Highway 60 at the end of the lake, I imagined that this was pretty much what someone standing at this spot hundreds, maybe thousands, of years ago would have seen.

As I continued looking out, I discovered a few more traces of contemporary life from elsewhere, but nothing too jarring – a bright orange buoy near the middle of the lake; windsurfers negotiating the waves on their boards; staff in a small motor boat and the pointer attending to their duties; the fishing barge moving ever so slowly through the water. In the overall scheme of things, against the bigger picture at hand, these were but minor distractions.

Later that day, I asked several veteran Tamakwans if they felt this view had changed over the years. The only difference one said was that the trees were now taller and thicker, which was most noticeable at the far end of the lake where their growth has helped block some of the view of cars on Highway 60.

All this led me to wonder what else at Tamakwa has a similar timeless quality. What else was impervious to the outside world? The more I thought about this the more I felt reassured by the realization that many aspects of camp have remained constant. The sound of rain on cabin rooftops; campers complaining about the food; the battle with mosquitoes; the excitement over Colour War; the creativity involved in making plaques and other end-of-summer mementos to hang in the Dining Hall; the erratic Algonquin weather; the pursuit of the perfect shrek; the attraction of sitting around a campfire at night; the Shabbat services on the Slope; David Stringer’s telling of ‘Peach Pie’; the smell of sleeping bags after long trips; Esta’s desk in the main office; camp’s venerable beaver logo; the leaning Tuck Shop; the magical ways of Wakonda; and the collective joy of children having fun and discovering new things far removed from their normal urban reality.

Unlike in most places, where change is constant and little stays the same for long, camp is full of things that are basically as they always were. Or, at least, it feels that way.

I suppose the best part of any great camp is the mix of the timeless and the contemporary, the unchanged and the new. Without that right combination, camp is not really camp.

Fortunately, at Tamakwa, those at the helm have always understood this, staying true to the camp’s heritage, traditions and values of Unca Lou.

May it continue that way forever, just like that timeless – and priceless – view of South Tea Lake from the deck next to the Eye-Full Tower.


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