One weekend instead of going to Nantucket, Meg and I drove up to Vermont for the Aloha 100th reunion. Every summer during college I worked as a counselor at Aloha Hive, so when Meg and Michael were old enough, we sent them both off to camp - Meg at Aloha and Michael at the brother camp, Lanakila. For this reunion weekend though, I got to be a camper. I shared a tent with my college roommate, Harriet, the person who had recommended me for the job at Hive, while Meg and Harriet's daughter, Holly, were in the next tent. They had also been campers and counselors together, as well as friends when we shared a ski house rental for several years. The hillside tent seemed quite familiar, just a lot steeper and a lot darker than it used to be. But keeping the tent flaps up, even through the first night's rainstorm, brought back the magic of camp and how that spirit was undampened by nature at its wettest.
The weekend was full of camp activities but the best part was just talking, talking, talking, with women I knew as a counselor, with others who had been my campers, with counselors and friends of Meg's, and especially with people I hadn't even known before the weekend. With a camp connection to start, an incredible number of other connections followed in the conversations, indicating the breadth of the Aloha family.
As a swimming counselor I never did much hiking so, after a pancake breakfast on Winships hill up above the camp, I wasn't that interested when people gathered for an additional climb up to 'the Bluff'. Somehow though, as the last folks started up, I joined in, walking along with two women who had been at camp with Meg. The trail led up through shady woods that were finally brightened with slices of sunshine after the weekend's rain. As we climbed along and passed some of the others, I became aware of a certain Aloha determination to participate fully regardless of age or physical circumstances. Continuing along, someone asked if anyone was making this climb for the first time, so of course I answered yes. Camp tradition says that the first time climber should be blindfolded just before reaching the top, and then guided up to the bluff where the blindfold would then be removed. Rather than an actual blindfold I opted for simply keeping my eyes closed and started out with my guide holding my elbow. At first, whenever she said, 'Be careful, there's a root', I'd just look down to be sure I avoided it. As we kept going though, I got more into relying on my guide's warning words and feeling the ground with my foot before taking each step, so I just kept my eyes tightly shut. We continued on for some time this way, with her hand on my elbow and me with my eyes shut, until it became very comfortable and almost easy. When we started to slow down I sensed we were close to the top and suddenly remembered to tell my guide that I was deathly afraid of heights. She calmly mentioned it was too late for that, and that I should stand absolutely still. I should not step forward and I should not step backward, just remain motionless and, when I was ready, open my eyes.
I hesitated a bit, planted myself and opened my eyes. There I was, halfway out on a granite ledge that was maybe eight feet long and barely two-feet wide, with a thousand foot drop staight down to where I could see the camp below. Behind me was another drop off, though a less spectacular hundred feet to a pile of rocks. Stretching out in front of me, beyond the camp I could see the whole lake, and beyond that, several of the White Mountains that others back at the edge of the woods were trying to identify by name. Getting out to the middle of that ledge would never have happened if my eyes had been open for the whole climb. On a New York visit, I couldn't even get myself to walk out on the balcony to see the spectacular view of the Empire State Building. It was only with eyes shut that I could possibly have walked out onto that bluff to share this Aloha tradition. So thanks, Anne Downey, for being my guide and making my reunion weekend another step in the continuing series of growth experiences that are part of Aloha.