By Tim Howlett – former Camper and Staff (mid-1990s to early 2000s)
My years at Camp Big Canoe as a camper and staff member have left me with many dear friends and treasured memories. Given how much the Big Canoe experience is based on the wondrous community of people, it is perhaps odd that the memory I’ve chosen to share is a moment of solitude: my Outdoor Skills vigil.
Amidst all the zaniness – and one of the most magical things about Big Canoe is the way it brings out the best and wildest creativity in everyone (from an hour spent dancing around a sombrero during “Individual Interests”, to invented and re-invented songs and skits, to the most outlandish and elaborate plots for Special Day) – amidst all of that, Camp Big Canoe was also a refuge. A place to get away from the city and from normal life. A place to reconnect (or connect for the first time) with nature.
I recall clearly the silent walk along the trail beside Hart Lake to begin our vigils. Now and then our single file line would quietly come to a stop and our counsellors would lead one member of our group off to a selected spot in the woods where they would spend the night.
We’d spent a number of days talking about, and preparing for the experience as a group. But eventually, each of us was alone in the woods with just a bottle of water, a journal, and a few matches in a ziplock bag.
After foraging for wood, I dug a small pit, started a fire, and, with a large fallen tree as a backrest, settled in for the night. As I sat carefully tending the fire and listening to the darkened forest, a small wood toad suddenly rustled the leaves beside me. My initial startle turned to wonder when it leapt up to perch on my knee. Maybe it is just that I was so still that I seemed no different than a stump, but I felt it was a welcoming of my presence in its woods.
We sat still together, keeping vigil, watching the fire in silence.
Most of my memories of Big Canoe are big and boisterous and filled with laughter. But I am grateful that camp was also – amid the glorious chaos – a place for peaceful reflection. And a reminder that we are all a part of nature, and that we all belong.