When your week, your year, your day, your break, your general well being has just gotten to be on the shy side of pessimistic, there is one good remedy. No matter what happens at camp, how the campers did not want to work together, the rain caused multiple rainy day adjustments, it just wasn’t your week, you always know it will all be better again. At campfire. That storied tradition of the last night at camp. Most campfires have the same basic layout: big fire, songs, reflection, Taps. Different camps add their own finishing touches to make it “their” campfire. While Keyauwee Program Center has a basic format that varies from year to year some parts remain consistent. The story of Princess No Name is read aloud while a group of older girls acts out the story line. It is always interesting if we get that one lone male staff member. They always seem to get roped into playing Nighthawk for the entire summer. I still love this story but Mr. Moss told it the best.
Girls wait in anticipation to hear the names of the Keeper of the Ashes. Only at camp would you be excited to get a can full of cooled fire ash and charcoal to kick around your room for a year to bring back and pour on next year’s final campfire. It’s a Girl Scout thing, If you’re really serious about it, you keep up with where your ashes have been (FYI – mine go back all the way to the National Roundup, Colorado USA in 1959).
The Starfish Award goes to those that make a difference. The story is read and you would think the girls had won an Oscar or Academy Award when walk up to receive their certificate. Staff envy the honor as well.
Campfire songs are many and varied. Each unit is assigned a song. Being a music educator, I know how tricky it is to get student aged personnel to learn a song in 2 months. It was amazing we got it done in one week. The reality is the unit staff does most of the singing while someone holds up a huge piece of poster board with the words written in marker. The girls really only learn the chorus so they lip sync through the verses then the sudden dynamic change lets you know their hearts are all in with the chorus of the song. It is the chorus that usually has all the meaning anyway. The verses just give you background information. A job well done is met with a thunderous response of magic fingers. My husband was dumbfounded the first time he saw magic fingers. His whole face just wrinkled up and you could see the huge question mark from a question that he really did not know how to ask. Then the staff join around the fire and sing “On the Loose”. You may not even know the person beside you but you all feel connected. Even when I return for Alumni Night, it does not matter. You are all part of camp family now. The night ends with Taps, individual units dismiss back to their unit and unit staff have to deal with the gush of tears as girls realize they may never see each other again. You understand if you have been there. If you have ever just sat around a campfire to decompress, you have an idea of why it’s a big deal for Girl Scouts. If you have never experience it, you need to.
Of all the campfires I have organized, the most special was taught to me be a great Girl Scout. Hank Harris taught me most of what I know about camping, outdoor skills, flag ceremonies, and how to be a Scout. He will be missed but his legacy will live on. Because he taught me how to make a magic campfire. Yes, you heard that correctly. I have seen it. I have been there. It really does exist. A campfire that lights itself on the wishes of campers. Staff have to wish as well, but magic campfires really love girl wishes. Over the years, I have seen many ingenious methods of lighting the campfire. Flaming arrow shot from a bow. Flaming arrow or ball of fire zooming through the trees on a zip line. Lighting by torch. But here lately the fire is already going by the time the first campers arrive in that long line of silence lead by the torch bearer. That solemn walk through camp on the last night to give you time to reflect, remember, and resist the temptation to flee into the woods to stay at camp forever. Now imagine walking into the amphitheater in almost darkness. Everyone takes her seat and the campfire leader gets up to speak. Something along the lines of “Tonight we gather for our final campfire. A time to enjoy. A time to remember. A time to reflect. A time to create memories. A time to wish. Our campfire is special. It only lights on the wishes of campers. So close your eyes. Every one of you, think of that one most special wish. Think about it hard. (Dramatic pause) Envision the wish. (More dramatic pause.) Be the wish. (Not too much dramatic pause, we still have the penultimate pause to come.) Now open your eyes, keep wishing real hard, stare right into the fire.” Now is the most dramatic pause of them all. The entire camp is focused on the cold stack of wood that you know deep in your mind that it will never light by itself on the wishes of campers alone. Then you see that tiny flicker. It canot be possible. Is that flicker a flame? The closest person is ten feet away from the fire. Nobody lit a match to it. Nobody lit it while we had our eyes closed because you know there is one person in the audience that did not close their eyes just to make sure we were not trying to fool anybody. And out of that long dramatic pause, the magic fire really does work. That flicker ignites the tender. The tender ignites the kindling. The kindling ignites the fuel. If you lay your fire correctly, not one finger will come anywhere close to the magic fire to make it come alive that night. The girls are ecstatic. You can hear the ohh’s and ahh’s. The low murmurings of speculation on how it actually worked. Then everyone realizes it was a feat indeed. An inspirational feat that only happens at Girl Scout camp. All the magic fingers go up in a fury of movement. The tears start rolling. Hugs for everyone. The poster boards are held up and the singing is the best you have ever hear. Princess No Name finds her true love. “On the Loose” never sounded so dear and near to your heart. Taps really does feel like the end of something wonderful. A memory is planted that will grow forever. Thank you Hank!
About the Author
Tina RB “Dakota” Barber is a fourteen-year veteran of Keyauwee Program Center and Camp Douglas Long. She served as Unit Assistant, Unit Leader, CIT Director, program specialist, and day camp director. She was trained to facilitate pretty much everything at camp except lifeguard, holding certifications in Challenge course, High ROPES, climbing wall, Fundamentals of Canoeing, Small Craft, Archery, camping skills, and outdoor skills.. She has been a member of Girl Scouts since she joined Brownies in 1976. From 1998-2011 she was a council trainer/Adult Learning Facilitator but is currently on hiatus since her daughter was born. Now she is the troop Camp Mom and assistant leader for her daughters Daisy troop. Summer 2018 will be her daughter’s first summer camp experience. Outside of Scouting, she has been a band director Guilford County Schools for 18 years. She holds a B.S. Ed from Western Carolina University and a M. M. from the University of North Carolina Greensboro. She is a member of Girl Scouts, Boy Scouts, National Association for Music Education, North Carolina Music Educators Association, Central District Bandmasters Association, Professional Educators of North Carolina, PTA, and The Society of Research in Music Education. She is currently a board member for the Gibsonville Museum and Historical Society and was active in the Save Gibsonville School project. She resides in Gibsonville NC with her husband and two children in a 113-year-old house that is in perpetual states of renovation. Life is hectic right now but she would not have it any other way.