Based on the impact Camp Wahi made, I have a difficult time believing I only went there for a one-week session long ago. The week made a serious impression and continues to enrich my life.
I now know that Camp Wahi was only 31 miles from my house, but to the 8-year-old me, the Girl Scout camp was a whole other world.
My troop and I sang all the camp songs loud and proud. I learned every word to every song. Some of the lyrics, I eventually realized, were a bit dodgy, but at the time I thought they were hysterical. I sang the camp songs on a continuous loop for years. A month or so into third grade, the school music teacher asked me to refrain from singing one particular, racy verse of “G.I. Beans and G.I. Gravy” to the rest of the elementary school.
It was, of course, too late.
But the primary camp song we sang was the camp’s namesake song. I don’t remember the full tune or lyrics, but I do remember one particular phrase — “the land of rolling hills and high mountains.” Those familiar with the geography of Central Mississippi will wonder along with me at the willing suspension of disbelief required to sing about the high mountains of Rankin County, Mississippi, but that was the kind of wholehearted approach to song, camp and each other that my fellow Girls Scouts and I had in the summer of 1972.
Even though I can still lead rousing renditions of “Bear Hunt” and “G.I. Beans and G.I. Gravy,” my biggest take-away from Camp Wahi was learning how to canoe. The camp, as all camps should, had a lake and an instructor who, no doubt, had been extensively trained to teach 8-year-old Girl Scouts in basic water safety, how to hold a paddle and use said paddle as a rudder to guide canoes.
I’ve wished for years that I could tell that camp counselor thank you. Regardless of the training (or lack thereof) that she received, she was a great teacher. Her lessons have stuck with me for more than four decades. Ever since that summer, I have known how to guide a canoe successfully through the narrowest of passages — and I can’t think of a moment paddling down a river, through a swamp or across a lake that I didn’t love.
Canoeing, for me, is the perfect antidote to the hustle and bustle of the pace the rest of the world runs year-round, which seems ratcheted up a notch during the holidays. In South Louisiana home, beautiful places to canoe abound:
• In the Vermilion (rent canoes at Vermilionville — click here for more information: bayouvermiliondistrict.org
• Palmetto Island State Park (has reasonably priced canoes to rent according to their website, but I have not personally rented from there — though I expect to change that soon! Here’s the link for more information: palmettoisland.wordpress.com
• Through Pack & Paddle with their various guided paddle trips to trails, rivers and lakes (more information here: packpaddle.com
• The Atchafalaya Basin
• Lake Martin
Canoeing is not tricky. You can Google a simple video on how to steer a canoe — which is simple but required knowledge to enjoying the experience.
When pressed, from my home near the center of Lafayette, I can make a Lake Martin canoe trip happen, door-to-door, in 90 minutes. That 90 minutes is a perfect reset. I try to go canoeing at least once a month. It clears my head. I come home ready to face the world with a better perspective and a gentler heart. Plus, canoeing can take one places that could never be seen by any other means of travel, and canoeing in general offers so many lessons about the broader world.
As Katharine Hepburn said, “As one goes through life, one learns that if you don’t paddle your own canoe, you don’t move.”
Maybe it’s just being outside or operating at a different pace or using a different set of muscles? Whatever it is, I encourage you to find those things that help calm your mind and spirit — and do them regularly.
A reset is good at any time of the year, but they are especially helpful if holidays serve to stress you more than make you jolly.