Tuesday, July 29, 2008

I've been everywhere, man...

So, in answer to the rather obvious question, "Where have you been?," see above.

Okay, not strictly true. In fact, I've only been to North Carolina and back to Tennessee. And back to North Carolina. And back to Tennessee. And back to North Carolina. And back to Tennessee. And then an unexpected side trip to Alabama. And back to Tennessee. And then across Tennessee. And then to North Carolina, again. And then back home to Tennessee.

So it only feels as if I've been everywhere. (Whew, I'm tired.)

Now, as to why North Carolina, my parents have a summer cottage in the lovely Appalachian mountains just south of the Blue Ridge, and my son was attending summer camp for the first time at Camp Ridgecrest for Boys outside of Asheville, North Carolina. So the back and forth was in part to drop him off and pick him up (yes, we like having him back), and also to see my aunt and uncle who came down from Manhattan to visit my parents at their mountain cottage.
The last back, though, was just for me. My son went to camp, and I did too.

Turns out this year marks the 80th anniversary of the founding of Camp Ridgecrest, which I also attended as a boy. If there is a Paradise on Earth for boys, it is Camp Ridgecrest. There are mountain trails to hike. Mountain streams to catch crayfish in (after which you boil them over your camp fire). A mountain lake to swim in, splash in, jump in, slide in, zip-line in, and blob in. (What's a blob? It's a giant air-pillow floating in a lake. You jump on it from a tower, crawl to the end, and wait for the next kid— the bigger he is, the better— to jump on the other end. UP in the air you go with a yell, and down— SPLASH— into the lake. (Which, by the way is fed by mountain streams; brrrrr!!!)
At Ridgecrest there are campouts. Bonfires. Water balloon fights. Sock wars.

Wait, you ask. What's a "sock war?"

It's basically a humongous game of Capture the Flag, played all over camp. With socks.
Well, not socks that are worn, but socks that are thrown. The socks are filled with soft dirt or sawdust, and they are the weapons used by the two armies in this massive fight. Some of the troops tuck their socks into tight little balls, so as to make more accurate missiles. Others use long tube socks, whipping them through the air like flails for "whack-I-got-you" close combat action. If you're hit by a sock, you're temporarily out of the fight, and have to report to a neutral zone, where judges record you as a score for the other team. Naturally, capturing the enemy flag and bringing it to the neutral zone also scores points for your team. The high scoring army wins the war (which lasts about two hours).

And yes, during the Reunion weekend, I joined the war. There I am, forty-three year old dad, running around with kids and young men ages 6-26, yelling my head off and throwing socks. I ran down narrow forest paths. I dodged through rhododendron thickets. I slid through mud. I wound up with two long scratches on my leg and one across my wrist from whipping branches. I got hit in the head twice (head shots don't count as outs), and elsewhere about five times. By the end I was hot, thirsty, and exhausted. In short, it was one of the best days I've had all year. And I still don't know if my team won or not!

To borrow a saying from the Marines: You can take the boy out of the camp, but you'll never take the camp out of the boy.

--- Howard Shirley, aka Camp Ridgecrest Son of Chief "Talented Peacock"*

*My "Indian" name from the Camp Ridgecrest Indian Council Ring, given to me by the brave, stalwart, noble and very mischievous Little Chiefs of Camp Ridgecrest in 1982.