A-Camp May 2013 Recamp #1: Over The Mountain and Into The Woods We Go

Welcome to the first of four fantastic recaps of our experience at A-Camp 3.0, which took place 2.5 hours outside of Los Angeles at Alpine Meadows Camp atop a mountain in Angelus Oaks, California, from May 23rd-27th, 2013. These recamps serve to ease our collective separation anxiety, enable us to wax nostalgic over times gone by and provide prospective campers with a brilliant glimpse into the A-Camp Experience.

A-Camp May 2013

A-Camp was the genesis of an idea Riese had at 3AM in July 2010: the concept was to take the spirit of the website into three glorious dimensions and create an affordable vacation for queers for whom other lesbian-marketed vacations aren’t a perfect fit.  In April 2012, we did it for the first time— along with 160 campers and 35 staff members, we rented out a summer camp in its off-season and enjoyed a transformative weekend of fun, friendship, panels, workshops, classes, sports, entertainment, events and so forth. It was probably the most awesome experience of our life and we knew from there it would only get bigger and better — and it did, in September 2012!

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Which brings us to May 2013, when our largest-ever group of campers arrived on the mountain, and were greeted by dedicated counselors and treated to four days of kickass programming. Swagger 101! Comedy Improv! Yoga! DIY Body Scrubs! Hop-Hop Dance! Kink Panel! Know Your Whiskey Tasting! Recess Games! Drag King Workshop! Femme Luncheon! Lilith Fair! Julie Goldman & Brandy Howard! DeAnne Smith! Somer Bingham! The cast of Unicorn Plan-It! Calendar Girls! Team Autostraddle! Most importantly: EACH OTHER! And So. Much. More.

A-Camp May 20131

In the past, these recamps have been exhaustive recollections of every minute of A-Camp, but this time we’re tightening it up a bit. See, A-Camp is whatever you want it to be — and it’s something different for everybody. You all have your own stories in your hearts and brains and cameras and in the notebook paper pieces in your back pockets and this is our story of what goes on behind-the-scenes and also in the front of our brains to make this whole she-bang come together with relative grace. Are you ready? I don’t think you’re ready. (Also, we miss you!)


 

A-Camp May 2013 Recamp #1: Pre-Camp & Day One

 

Monday, May 20th

The night before traveling to Los Angeles, a lengthy reply-all takes place as everybody panics and also worries about Gabby having bronchitis. 

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Tuesday, May 21st: Pre-Pre-Camp

The day before Pre-Camp, the A-Camp staff makes its way to the campsite in Angelus Oaks, a mere 2.5 hours outside of Los Angeles. This involves locals driving in vehicles and foreigners traversing land and/or sea via air and landing at the Los Angeles Airport to be retrieved by an overpriced shuttle and taken up the mountain as a family or, for those arriving later in the day, via rented automobile. It is a joyous time of reunions and introductions.

photo by cee webster

LAX Space Station (photo by cee webster)

Riese Bernard, Editor-in-Chief & Runaways Counselor: Marni and I drove down to Los Angeles on Monday and stayed at Alex’s, and then drove to Angelus Oaks the next morning while Alex and Mary fought the epic battle of Boxes-Of-Hoodies vs. Car. As per ushe, I’d had to compact all five feet and ten inches of my body into a overhead-bin-friendly size in order to fit all our camp supplies into our economy-sized rental car, which included three bags where my legs would normally have rested. But once we began the mountainous ascent, my fixed-muscular-position-induced fibromyalgic pains faded and were replaced by this nervous anticipatory feeling of being back at Alpine Meadows! It’s so weird how much it feels like home. And I knew that in 24 hours it wouldn’t even seem like a big deal that all my best friends were a pebble’s throw away and in 48 hours there’d be 147 brand-new faces and 112 familiar faces right there with us!

Marni, Contributor & A-Camp Co-Director: Altitude aside, I feel so lucky that we’ve found Alpine to host A-Camp. Katie, the site’s Group Coordinator and erstwhile “lunch lady” has been nothing short of amazing in accommodating all of our weirdo requests (can we use your photocopier to make flyers for our afterparty at “Klub Deer”?), and the kitchen staff (who had only been recently installed on-site a week before we arrived) were champions in meeting our group’s exhaustive dietary needs. Even the housekeeping staff and groundskeepers ask me for camp t-shirts and tell me how excited they are to have us and how much they want us to come back. And for a group like ours – weirdo queers of all stripes – that kind of warm, welcoming, enthusiastic acceptance is really something.

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Stef, Contributor & Bombshells Counselor: Katrina and I didn’t fly together, but we did go to the airport together, and in the process we were chased up the subway stairs by a very scary and very aggressive crackhead. Suffice to say, by the time we disembarked from our respective redeye flights, we were a little bit fried.

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Rachel, Senior Editor & Slayers Counselor:  I was able to recognize Taylor immediately because she was the only person in LAX wearing Google Glass to drink lemonade in an airport bar. Kristen and Whitney were there too, and Kristen had thankfully brought several full-size bags of ketchup chips. God bless Canada.

"we all came from the far corners of the internet to play with our phones" (stef)

“we all came from the far corners of the internet to play with our phones” (stef)

Stef: I want to talk about Ali, and the fact that Ali flew in a goddamn bowtie. She stepped off the plane looking like a million bucks. Like, I thought I was ahead of the game because I followed Lizz’s article about how to feel less disgusting after flying, but Ali took this to another level entirely. I was about to learn a lot of amazing things about Ali this trip, like the fact that she rises with the dawn each morning, beaming widely, looking fresh as a daisy and ready to greet the day, while I communicate exclusively in dinosaur noises before my morning coffee. I am obsessed with everyone on Autostraddle staff and every single camper, but currently I am obsessed with Ali the most.

Riese: Also Ali got stopped by airport security because they thought her binder was a bulletproof vest, which is horrible/hilarious.

photo by vanessa friedman

carrie wheels katrina through the airport (photo by vanessa)

Carmen, Contributing Editor and Inferno Counselor: Geneva and I were coming from Los Angeles and expected to be on time, but a mixture of overpacking, last-minute camp cabin decoration shopping, and general inabilities to coordinate our time well led us to show up at LAX fifteen minutes later than our peers with a Quesadilla Maker (a gift for Brittani Nichols, of course) and a 12-pack of beer in tow using one of those Smarte Cartes (why the e’s?) to cling to our sanities and lives.

Lizz, Contributing Editor and Starjammers Counselor: I know it sounds lame to say “I had so much fun hanging out with everyone in the airport,” but it was just so good to see the staff. We were all exhausted and giddy that we ended up just shooting the shit for hours instead of doing typical airport things like listening to music or reading.

Stef: Because I was wearing a goddamn captain’s hat, somehow I ended up in charge of collecting all the staff members and putting them on a shuttle, and in this process I was able to shed the negativity that had literally chased me here and start getting pumped about what we were about to do. It was so exciting to slowly amass a giant group of Autostraddle staff, both returning counselors who I already knew I loved working with and the newer writers, who were all amazing in their own right.

Mey, Contributor & Slayers Counselor: I was totally starstruck… these are some of the people who helped to shape my queer identity. This is the website that I lurked on seemingly forever in order to get advice and find like-minded people when I was too scared to come out or couldn’t find queer lady friends in my hometown. And now I was sitting on a bus with them? Now I was getting hugs from them? This was too much.Meeting all these people and becoming a part of their community filled me with so much hope and love and warmth and brightness.

Lizz: Even the long drive up was fun. As we approached the mountain Ali started to get a little nervous about the huge death cliffs. Okay obviously I did too. I tried to tell Ali stories to make her feel better but the only ones I could access in my brain-space were scary ones about me and heights. We got there safely in the end though I suppose.

bitches on the bus (photo by stef)

bitches on the bus (photo by stef)

Mary, Calendar Girl & Little Rascals Counselor: It took Alex about four hours to pack our car before we nabbed Brittani and drove up the mountain. By the time she was done, the vehicle looked like it belonged to a hoarder. Driving on the freeway in downtown LA with no way to check your blindspot? Priceless.

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Riese: Robin and Carly got to camp right after we did and we were SUPER-EXCITED about the shuttle showing up with all the humans in it so we hid behind a tree for 20 minutes waiting to leap out from the woods and surprise everybody. It was super-exciting, and then I got to see all the people and also meet Mey and Cara and Kristen for the very first time! And later that night I’d meet Kate for the first time!

Mey: Here were Riese and Laneia, who had given me chances and encouragement to write for Autostraddle and share my feelings and experiences in a way that no one ever had. Here were Kristen and Lizz who wrote things that had helped me shape my identity and grow as a femme. There were Kate and Carmen and Hansen, whose columns I read all the time, and Whitney and Katrina whose articles I love (and everyone else I didn’t mention, it’s not that I don’t love you, I’m just running out of room to gush).

Sophia, Inferno Counselor: I was a hot mess Monday night, I didn’t have my flights in order or anything, I was sending nutty emails out like PRE-CAMP IS TOMORROW?? when my flight left in less than four hours. I missed my first flight out of Dulles, but managed to get on the next flight to LAX leaving seven hours later and arriving in the evening. It turned out to be very fortuitous as Kate missed their flight as well and we got to chill with “I’m in a black suit and know everything about LAX” Konstantin who gave us free snacks and showed us how to be truly indifferent while driving 60 mph up the mountainside.


 

Wednesday, May 22: Pre-Camp

The day before camp, the A-Team prepares for camp: we meet with our panel groups to finalize conversation topics, decorate cabins, prepare gift bags and workshop supplies, rehearse the opening ceremonies, participate in Being a Good Counselor 101, tour the grounds, make pigeonholes, and talk about our feelings.

kristen, photo by vanessa friedman

kristen is cold in the morning photo by vanessa friedman

I. The Cool Clear Light Of Day

Hansen, Contributing Editor & Scissor Sisters Counselor: For some reason, every morning at 6:30am, Kristen and I would wake up without alarms, she’d look over the edge of her bunk to see me staring at her and then we’d quietly creep over to Wolf for coffee. Intern Grace and Crystal were usually there, too. One morning, Intern Grace insisted we watch T is for Twig. Don’t EVER watch T is for Twig.

Riese: This year Robin and Marni were super-serious about everybody completely planning out and being 100% ready for their workshops like a month before camp even began, which made pre-camp oddly… not stressful? Which’s an uncommon feeling amongst employees of Autostraddle.com.

Meredydd, Business Advisor & Golden Girls Counselor: There is always a moment during pre-camp when I look around and can’t believe that I am surrounded by such an amazing, diverse, dedicated bunch of staff. And that everyone is giving their whole selves to make sure camp is as good as it can be. It is inspiring.

staff full of love and hope

staff full of love and hope

Mary: Co-counseling with Grace is my favorite everything. She is seriously one of the best people I know! We just love seeing everyone and learning about our campers. Also we decorated their cabin with baby shower decorations, including “Welcome Baby!” balloons. Grace let me use confetti and I love confetti!

Crystal, Music Editor & Toros Counselor: Carly and I were under the impression that we’d ordered one single inflatable cow to act as cabin mascot for the Toros cabin, so imagine our delight when we tore open the Amazon package and discovered an entire inflatable cow army inside. We’d only been on the mountain for 24 hours and I was genuinely concerned that my A-Camp experience had peaked.

photo by crystal silvester

carly outside the Toros (photo by crystal)

Riese: Prepping for the sex panel = talking to Lizz, Daniela and Ali about sex for an hour. I learned a lot about lube.

Taylor, Contributor & Vipers Counselor: I love everything about pigeonholes, from the fact that they are called pigeonholes to the full range of creepy to heartfelt messages (and objects!) that arrive in them to the ongoing saga of how to make them structurally sound. And making tiny notes for my cabin (VIPers!) during pre-camp gave me a great way to impress everyone with my Artistic Talents, by which I mean showing off a miniature watercolor set that I bought to make it look like I have Artistic Talents.

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the pigeonholes generally look much better than they do in this particular picture

Riese: Vanessa followed Kate around for most of the afternoon making headlines out of their every move – Butch Writes On Her Laptop. Butch Eats Breakfast. Butch Sits On A Bench. Butch Eats An Egg Roll. For sure Kate found this HILARIOUS. (Seriously though, still waiting for Butch Bleeds, inspired by the altitude-inspired nosebleeds.) No but really we don’t know how else to express love besides this manner of joviality.


II. Butch Goes On A Solo Hike

starring: Kate

photo by kate severance

photo by kate

Kate, Contributing Editor & Tiger Beat Counselor: I’ve never been to the West Coast before, but I grew up in the Adirondacks and I was a hiker before I was a walker. Living in Philadelphia makes me miss the mountains more than anything, and being in the middle of California mountains? My heart just about jumped out of my chest. Actually, it literally did that too, since binder + high altitude + physical activity = continual lack of proper breath.

I heard about the lookout point and decided I would go find it myself. I need a lot of solo moments to regenerate myself when I’m in an intense situation. Since camp is one intense situation after another and I’d been there since Tuesday, I needed that regeneration by Wednesday. So, I took a hike. By myself. Which we explicitly told you not to do, and which I would explicitly advise you not to do.

I saw a lot of blue-bellied lizards. Y’all have lizards! With blue bellies! And birds I’ve never seen before, and trees I’ve never seen before, and my favorite thing about the very limited travel I’ve had is seeing things I’ve never seen before.

The lookout was stunning. I took a couple very deep breaths and had a moment to myself. And despite the fact that so much of camp was beautiful because there were amazing people around me, the moment in which me, myself, and I processed everything that was happening was so very worth it.

butch sticks her finger in a hot pink sparkly situation (photo by vanessa friedman)

butch sticks her finger in a hot pink sparkly situation (photo by vanessa)


III. Ice Ice Baby

robin and marni practicing the opening night song

robin and marni practicing the opening night song

Brittani, Contributing Editor & Hellcats Counselor: In the weeks leading up to Camp, Stef jokingly tweeted about how many Smirnoff Ices she should bring to Camp. Since it’s been a dream of mine to unironically Ice people, I showed up with a variety pack. They were well worth the space it took up in Alex’s packed car might I add. It didn’t take long for me to ice Carmen which she fully appreciated because she knew it was a sign of affection.

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Carmen: I got pinned to go first. I chugged valiantly on one knee in clashing patterns while Brittani lovingly chanted, “bros icing bros, bros icing bros…”

Brittani: Carrie also found herself iced before I eventually lost interest and decided it was too difficult. There was no way to predict who would walk through what door when, making it impossible to effectively ice anyone. I think Robin got iced the last day of camp with a Smirnoff I left in Julie and Brandy’s room but I missed it. Maybe next time with more people down for the cause, icing will make a comeback three years after its initial popularity.

image via stef

brittani and carmen (photo by stef)

Riese: We capped off the evening with a fire circle in which everybody cried and shared their feelings about what Autostraddle meant to them, and it was intense and beautiful. Also: cold.

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so many feelings

 

IV. Over the River and Through The Woods and Up The Mountain We Go

Crystal: Somer Bingham and DeAnne Smith joining us on the mountain late Wednesday was a definite highlight. I am the biggest fan of both these people, they’re just so funny and talented and chill! They showed up a little after midnight because Somer Bingham experienced a series of travel mishaps that I now feel could’ve only happened to Somer Bingham.

Riese: I’d rented a car in Somer’s name and she realized when she got to LGA that her drivers license was expired, but assured me she could “turn the 3 into an 8″ by the time she landed in LAX.

DeAnne Smith, The Talent: Somer and I drove up the mountain in the dark, late at night, pretty sure we’d be murdered. When we arrived, we were greeted by Marni, who offered to park the car, carry bags, and give me lip balm. That was way better than dying, and only a tiny taste of all the goodness A-Camp and it’s amazing humans had yet to provide.

picture by deanne smith


Next: Our first day of actual camp!

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Riese is the 33-year-old CEO, CFO and Editor-in-Chief of Autostraddle.com as well as an award-winning writer, blogger, fictionist, copywriter, video-maker and aspiring cyber-performance artist who grew up in Michigan, lost her mind in New York City, and now lives in The Bay Area. Her work has appeared in nine books including "The Bigger the Better The Tighter The Sweater: 21 Funny Women on Beauty, Body Image & Other Hazards Of Being Female," magazines including Marie Claire and Curve, and all over the web including Nerve, Bitch, Emily Books and Jezebel. She had a very popular personal blog once upon a time, and then she recapped The L Word, and then she had the idea to make this place, and now here we all are!

Riese has written 1763 articles for us.

123 Comments

  1. Thumb up 4

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    I’M SORRY WE MISSED THE PHOTO INFERNOS YOU ALL ARE SO BEAUTIFUL YOU DESERVE TO BE STAMPED IN TIME AT A CAMP.

    Also the bear why did people keep going outside to look at it? It made a lot of scary noises and was huuuge! I thought it wasn’t a cub-I thought the bear Carmen saw at 2.0 was a cub? If that was a cub a grown bear must be giant!

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    “Vanessa followed Kate around for most of the afternoon making headlines out of their every move”
    this has been my favorite private game for the last month
    also i had a dream that I brought Kate to my grandparents’ house for Thanksgiving?

    i miss everyone

  3. Thumb up 13

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    I was actually quite nervous coming back to camp. My thoughts went along the lines of: what if the staffers that I really love from last camp don’t remember me? Maybe all the magical memories from last camp were only amazing for me? What if they see me and are like, oh god not that girl again.But then I was like that’s not possible and besides, I had canned champagne and orange bandana bowties. So. . .yeah, acamp was just as fabulous my second time around. Probably more fabulous because Klub Deer happened every night and at one point I flashed a pic of my cat to gain entry. I like places that use cat pics as currency.

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    En plus, I would like to say that Gabby sounded so sick yet so authoritative during the Tug of War. I was quite afraid that she would completely lose her voice over the course of Camp, but she was a total CHAMPION and appeared to be a fearless leader throughout.

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    “Welcome to our cultish ’90s-themed grrrlzine faux-slumber-party, we command you to have some fucking fun.”

    This needs to be on a T-Shirt.

    ALSO I LOVE YOU RIESE AND LANEIA AND ALL THE RUNAWAYS AND ALL THE BLACKHEARTS AND EVERYBODY REALLY.

  6. Thumb up 5

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    Yeah so I opted to use my lunch break to read this, which led to me cry-laughing in the lunchroom LIKE A BOSS

    Like as soon as I saw that first picture of the Tiger Beats (Tiger WHAT?) I choked up and started flapping my hands like someone had set them on fire.

    I LOVE YOU ALL.

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    Anna’s duckface definitely made me laugh for one straight minute. Correction: one queermo minute. I was so into this post that I almost overbooked my pasta. Also I wish cat pics on phones really was a form of currency cause my student loans would def be paid off already. I miss A-Camp so so much.

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    I was wandering by at the time of the bear episode. I saw Marni and a group and they pointed my way and and said, “there’s (so and so).” Marni called the name about 4-6 times and I dumbly kept thinking she was calling to somebody exactly 1ft past me. She finally had to scream “Camper!” before it sunk into my thick skull they were talking to me. I looked over and saw that bear in the garbage 10-15 ft away. It was huge, but it had an extraordinary brown-black coat. I don’t know if I’m too urban but it was kind of mesmerizing.

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    I am randomly and inexplicably Facebook friends with somebody who went to this, so there have been a bunch of A-Camp photos coming across my feed over the last couple of days. So thank you, o random cute Blackheart whom I don’t recall ever having met before, for allowing me to vicariously experience some of the magic of A-Camp via unintentional Facebook stalking.

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    Wish I wasn’t on the wrong side of the planet for this. There is some sort of lesbian camp situation in Ireland but its all very tents and no showering and I don’t even want to talk about what I’ve heard about the toilet situation. Basically, not the place that I see myself rocking up to,cocktail shaker in one hand,pulling my pink wheelie suitcase along with the other.

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    i just….i can’t. i can’t even human right now. getting to camp is one of my favorite parts because i am just SO EXCITED and once i finally get there i feel like i might die. i was definitely one of the people that launched myself half out of a car window to hug gabby when i saw her. also we got there early and sat in the lodge and drank beers while watching everyone roll into camp and that was kind of amazing. also stef is the funniest person ever, jesus christ. also also i look kind of really good with a mustache.

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    1. Hellcats! I was really worried what my face looked like in that picture because I was so tired that I’d lost the ability to control my facial expressions. I’m glad “I’m so excited! I’m so scared!” won.

    2.Kaylah and I were at the airport for a very long time (over 10 hours and we crashed there after an adventure to weho for the pre-party). We saw Michael Jackson’s dad!He flys Southwest, and also the feeling of all the girls showing up was magic and better than sleep.K was in the bathroom charging her phone and applying makeup when I spotted Rachel (Vanessa’s Ray) talking on the phone and I just knew it was going to be a great weekend.

    3. Timbits! and that poor older Asian woman who just needed a seat and ended up next to the lezzie pile was hilarious.

    4.Shuttle 1 bus driver and the boobies comment. I just can’t.

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    My favorite memory of the first day of camp is trying to cross the wilds of California with my giant polka dotted suitcase in high heels, until a handsome young butch came to my rescue.

    Also seeing Aimee even before I knew her and giving the high femme nod.

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    By the end of day 2 I wondered if Stef and Cara knew what they were getting into with the Bombshells aka Autostraddle’s Official Twerk Team.
    Did we make it to the photobooth? I don’t know.
    Did we win any rainbow wars points? I don’t know.
    Did we get to twerk? Yes. That’s all that matters.

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    “Across the room I saw DeAnne Smith looking at me like ‘This is the craziest, most amazing thing I’ve ever witnessed, what even is this.'”

    That definitely happened. The whole time, I was so blown away by the amazing space that all the Autostraddle staff and campers created. IS THAT SUPER SINCERE AND SENTIMENTAL? Yes, it is.

    …And also Katie was hot. BAM. (Phew, back on smart-ass track…)

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    Reading this is the closest I will get to being magically transported back to Mt. Feelings 3.0 to do it all over again, bar getting ahold of time travel via TARDIS or DeLorean, etc., so I will re-read forever and patiently await the next installment. That is to say that these recamps are the best thing ever and I love everyone.

    I am so happy that camp is a thing that Riese came up with at 3am and that it is a place we can all go and feel safe and have feelings.

    Also the cabin photos are everything. B<3s forever.

  17. Thumb up 3

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    A memory just occurred to me while looking through this recamp:
    We were just driving onto the campgrounds when we saw a flash of orange. Suddenly we realized, that flash of oragne was Marni! And Gabby’s there, too! Then in that memory there’s a snippet of my own high-pitched noises of happiness. I was home.

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    This first recamp is making extra sad I got there so late on the frist day. But thank goodness I still got to have really giddy reunions involving squeeling and so much hugging and I made it time for cabin photos (Rascals, we’re so cute!!!) and the campfire.

    I got reeeeeally really excited about the part of your world staff intro song, a-camp and the little mermaid are two of my most favorite things, and the two merging together was something I never knew I needed in my life until that very moment, and it was perfect and magical.

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    i’m sorry i was out of town when this went up and now i have to share my feels here!! capitalized and everything. fucking love you.

    There’s a place between the staff cabins and Wolf lodge, when you don’t have to look down at your feet anymore to make sure you don’t trip on a root, so you look up, and there’s the tree stump where Stef once sat cross-legged and played guitar, and where another time Meredith and Katie helped me sort the embroidery floss for friendship bracelets. And there’s the porch where Katrina gave 72 haircuts (give or take) and where the pigeonholes will somehow, by the grace of whatever’s holy, be affixed to the wall (only to fall down again but hey, they’ll fix it). And there just in front of the door, where it’s clear and you can see up that hill, that’s where 500 campers have been welcomed home.

    That fucking moment, when you first look up from the tree roots and see everything that’s happened there before — that’s my favorite.

    And cabin initiation will always be one of the best times at camp, because you know that by the end of this ridiculous weekend that hasn’t even started yet, these strangers will have carved self-shaped spaces into each other’s hearts.

    And I’m sad I missed the opening night dinner announcement/welcome thing, but I could hear the cheering from Wolf and started crying on the inside.

    AND I JUST MISS YOU ALL AND WANT YOU BACK.

    there.

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