...Its Not Just for Kids!
Story & Photos by Connie Darago
Girl Scout Camp Bay Breeze is a family tradition. Mothers bring daughters. Daughters bring mothers. Soon, granddaughters will be camping.
Whill they get on the right buses? Has the grass in the field been cut? Will it rain? Has the well been chlorinated? Will the leaders show up?
Sunday night I was hyper edgy. I tossed and turned. Questions circled my mind like a vulture honing in on a meal.
Can I handle 200 girls, the heat and a primitive camp with outdoor latrines? Please, lord, no snakes.
Suddenly it dawned on me. I wasnt going to summer camp as a unit leader, as I had for nine years, nor as camp director, a job Id held for an additional six. This year, I was going to camp for fun.
Hi Ho, Hi Ho, Its Off to Camp I Go
A brilliant yellow sun peeked over the treetops as I drove south on the Route 4 corridor toward Camp Bay Breeze in Lusby. My backpack - filled with writers tools and two cameras, a small cooler with drinks and a large sipping cup - sat neatly beside me in the seat. A brimmed hat covered with swaps and a button proclaiming my camp alias rode on the headrest.
Once inside the gate of Camp Bay Breeze, I would become Mayapple, my alias for 17 years. Every adult at Bay Breeze chooses a camp name, and it sticks, often reaching beyond the camp. In the local Safeway or Ben Franklin, I had waved to many young campers as they called Mayapple.
As I meandered down the rut-filled, dusty gravel road, a wild hen turkey crossed my path. A few minutes later, a groundhog scampered by.
By 9am, one fear had fallen by the wayside. Three school buses had indeed unloaded 175 campers. Another two dozen came along with parent-leaders. Two hundred chatty kids were raring to go.
But another fear lurked behind closed doors. At the pit-toilet, a black snake had taken refuge, waiting patiently for birds to hatch in a nearby tree. The camp directors first job had been sealing that latrine with yellow do-not-enter tape. Nobody dared cross that line.
The temperature line was not so formidable: Campers raced from the cool 75 degrees of the shady tree canopy into the open field, sweltering at a sunny 90 degrees, for opening ceremonies. As the traditional horseshoe formed and the flag raised for the pledge of allegiance, excitement built. As the Bay Breeze song rang out, excitement took voice: All right! cheered every girl at the words And drift back to old Bay Breeze, the greatest camp I know
Like so many spirits of anticipation, soap bubbles floated on a gentle wind that appeared as if it had been summoned.
Back When a Breeze Spelled Relief
Through the 1950s, 60s and early 70s, thousands of girls from the hot climes of the District of Columbia, Virginia and Maryland escaped to Bay Breeze Camp for a week during the hot, hazy days of summer. Back then, Bay Breeze was a Girl Scout Resident Camp, owned by the Girl Scout Council of the Nations Capital. In its glory days, the 88-acre camp boasted six cliff-side cabins, a 125-seat dining hall, 25 wooden platform tents with canvas removable sides and running water at each of its seven sites.
In 1974, new resident camps complete with indoor plumbing and swimming pools - stole the luster from Bay Breeze. Abandoned, the old camp was sold to the state of Maryland.
Department of Natural Resources stripped down the camp. After two years of renovation, only one cabin remained. A well, located a hefty walk from the sites, became the only source of water. Open pit-toilets were repaired and recycled. Annexed to Calvert Cliffs State Park, the camp was opened to the nations youth groups.
Soon, local Girl Scout leaders returned summer camp to Bay Breeze. Now, 25 years later, a second generation of girls is returning to enjoy the pristine, primitive camp with its four hiking trails, working beaver dam, two fossil-hunting beaches and lots of history.
Mothers and Daughters
Camp director Kathy Wood, a marine biologist at Chesapeake Biological Laboratories in Solomons, came to Bay Breeze as a child over 40 years ago. We had a summer cottage at Calvert Beach, says Wood, whos used vacation time for 13 years to come to camp. When we came down for the summers, my favorite thing was going to camp at Bay Breeze.
She returned when her daughter Abby was camp age. Thats when Wood became Sea Robin.
Sea Robins daughter Abby, Hedgehog, is a second-generation Bay Breeze camper. Together mom and daughter came to summer camp for 11 years. Like others, Mayapple included, Sea Robin continued to direct camp after her daughter went away to school.
It gets into your blood, says Wood.
It needs to, for directing a summer day camp is not a breeze.
It takes 30 to 40 adults to run a weeks camp at Bay Breeze. With over 63 percent of moms now working, finding those adults is tricky. But little girls who want to go to camp can be persuasive.
Marine biologist Elizabeth Connell, a.k.a. Meadowlark, nearly didnt run her beach science center this year. Back in May, she found herself in the hospital and missed three weeks work. I wasnt sure I could afford to take more time off, said the single mom of two campers. But I promised my girls and Sea Robin Id help, so I made it work.
Meadowlark spent her week on the hot, sandy beach seining the murky Bay for plants and animals. Using her findings, she explained how living things depend upon sun, air and light to survive.
Just as in a big family, older girls help keep the camp going. Tenth-grade girls have trained for two years to gain the title of Aides. Now they use their expertise to help new adult leaders with fire building, outdoor cooking and tent pitching. Many of these young Aides have been coming to camp since they were Brownies. Of course, each year brings in a new class of Brownies in grades one to three, while fourth graders Fly Up. By grades five and six, theyve graduated to Juniors, who get to spend an overnight. Seventh and eighth graders stay on as Cadettes.
Theres even room for boys. Volunteer moms bring along their boys aged six to 12, and their Pixies, kiddies up to five years old. Yes, weve had baby campers, one only four weeks old, and diaper detail is part of the job.
Monday We Make Friends
Monday is the busiest day of camp. With campers pumped, supply tents must be set up and rules set down. By mid-day, buddies have been assigned and new friendships kindled. Camp spirit emerges as units form, taking names and making flags and banners.
This year we have the Bay Bug Brownies; Bay Chimes; Colorful Cadettes; Dream Catchers; Fancy Fly-Ups; Honeysuckle Kids; Little Notes; Pasta Painting Picasso Brownies - the years theme, after all, is Fine Arts Frolic - Sand Crabs; and, for the boys, Toad Catchers.
Banners sport music notes, flowers, splash painting, painted pasta bows, ladybugs, crabs and little hand prints.
Once campers know who they are, they tackle the annual ritual of the camp scavenger hunt. Before Thursday, this years list demands 15 items, including a T-shirt from 1996, a yellow bandanna and a swap hat.
Improvising is part of the fun.
The first day of camp is also busy for our first-aider. Nurse Tami Hicks, a.k.a. Burn Knee, is a nine-year Girl Scout who started her own troop in Mechanicsville as soon as her daughter reached the magic age of five. She sets up her makeshift sick-room under a canopy at the edge of the field. Camping chairs, a cot, blanket and mat, lots of Band-Aids and drinking water are her staples. Not to worry. Once campers poured in with Ziploc bags full of medicines, eardrops, eye drops, nose drops, Tylenol, rash cream and inhalers, it looked like a doctors office.
Its amazing how much medicine todays kids take, says Burn Knee, who stays busy the entire week.
Ticks take much of her time. The camps heavy woods, trails with low foliage and the open field all make campers prime targets for ticks. Even though campers are required to wear hats (ticks like to settle in hairy parts of the body) and closed-toe shoes and socks, many are bitten.
Since 1975, when Lyme disease was discovered, Bay Breeze has kept a watchful eye. When a tick is spotted, leaders bring campers to first aid. There the tick is removed, the date and time recorded and the tick preserved with a note to be sent home to inform parents.
Lyme disease strikes more than 15,000 Americans annually, most in the Mid-Atlantic states. The spiral-shaped bacterium is delivered by the tiny deer tick that has been feeding on the white-footed mouse, the white-tailed deer and other mammals and birds. Chronic fatigue, joint pain, headaches and low-grade fever may occur after a bite. A telltale sign of infection is a bulls-eye rash that appears three to 30 days later. The disease can also cause damage to the nervous system, heart and eyes.
So far, Bay Breeze has been lucky. Many a camper has gone home with a preserved tick, but in 25 years, not a camper has come down with Lyme.
Tuesday We Have Fun
Tuesday finds campers settled in and ready for fun. Once the morning flag is raised, the Great Watermelon Hunt begins. From a hat, each unit draws another units name, then makes off with its watermelon. Recovering your watermelon is the goal of this 20-plus-year camp tradition.
After a watermelon is hidden, a list of clues is compiled to guide seekers to their prize. Together the hunters scour the camp following clues until theyre rewarded with a sweet, juicy melon.
Bay Chimes follows clues to the flagpole, boys unit, dumpster, and first aid canopy before finding Mr. Melon sitting in a chair in the directors area. The Bay Chimes giggles with glee as they find the melon. Hes so cute, says one little tow-headed Brownie, take our picture, take our picture.
As an added treat, Juniors and older girls take to a Bay swim. Jellyfish are few, but cow-nose rays, annual visitors along the camps beaches, school, swimming as close as 15 feet. But all bid farewell when the girls go ashore for pizza.
Wednesday We Sleep Over
By Wednesday, Mother Nature has gotten ugly. The heat index climbs over 100 degrees, and the only breeze to be found is in the camps name. Following the Fine Arts Frolic theme, all 200 campers board buses and headed for Annmarie Garden. The open-air sculpture garden is sweltering.
Despite the heat, 19 youngsters from the Port Tobacco Players of La Plata are on tap to perform their own musical, The Power of Music. Songs like Making Friends and Let the Sun Shine In seem written just for us. Willie the Whistling Giraffe braves the 90-plus-degree weather in full spotted costume.
As the buses roar back to camp, older campers spending the night go to work. Tents are pitched along the edge of fields. Smoke bellows from open fires and the smell of hamburgers, stew and tacos fills the air.
Straight from the box oven comes barbecued chicken, freshly cooked crab dip and brownies. Not too shabby for a deep-woods meal.
The night proves uneventful. No lightning, no snakes. Only Aides are allowed to raid. The panties and bras that fly from the flag pole Thursday morning have even the crankiest camper, sleep deprived from staying up all night, giggling.
Thursday We Swap
At least for adults, Thursday is rough. Two full days at camp, no running water, no shower and bug bites out the wazoo take their toll on old-timers. But you forge onward, for Thursday is swap day.
Swaps, or so the story goes, came from two Indian girls of a Pacific Northwest tribe who plucked feathers of a magic bird and distributed the multicolored plumage to the colorless birds living in the forest. From that time on, birds have had brightly colored feathers.
Indian families held potlatches, the forerunner of swap ceremonies, to commemorate births, coming of age, marriages and deaths. Families were summoned to the swap, which included speeches, dances, games, races and refreshments. The gift giving became quite elaborate. Carved boxes, canoes, dishes, jewelry, pottery, mats and baskets were exchanged. The more you gave away, the more you hoped to get back.
In Girl Scouting, swaps are a gift of friendship. Each girl makes 10 swaps to exchange with other campers and to be worn upon their camp hats. You might see a hat decorated with net jellyfish, tiny rolls of toilet paper, friendship beads and tiny cardboard tents. A seasoned camper may sport a bedroll, latrine, latrine brush and a mini fly swat complete with flies.
Time to swap, yells Sea Robin, and a sea of campers intertwines, trading their wares. Toads, toads calls a boy from the far side. Pasta, pasta comes from the center. Swaps with feathers are always chosen first. Perhaps the Indian tale has merit.
Today, too, the scavenger hunt ends. As units tally their finds, its obvious many have shared ideas. Small hand-drawn paper T-shirts with Bay Breeze 1996 are abundant. Yellow bandannas have been made from felt and designed with black magic markers. Swap hats, on the other hand, are the real thing, but theyre closely watched by their owners lest they be swapped by mistake. One way or another, all units check in perfect 15s.
Friday We Say Farewell
Friday, could it be?
As units prepare to say good-bye, tents are dropped and taken into the field to be swept and folded. Trash is cleared from each unit and carried to the dumpster. Banners and flags rest on bare picnic tables. Only the all-camp show remains.
I cant believe the week went by so fast, says mother Charron Corthell, a.k.a. C-Turtle, who promised to return next year. I worked with a Fly Up unit, and it was just wonderful.
Mom Marcie Lake, a.k.a. Too Tall, who had four children at camp, thinks it was wonderful as well. I have two daughters in Brownies, a son in Toad Catchers and a toddler in Pixie, explains Too Tall. I was in camp when I was a child. I have the greatest memories. I want my children to have memories, too. Im sure Ill be back for many years to come.
Hearing leaders volunteer for next year is sweet music to the ears of Robin Musser, a.k.a. Robin, and Sharon Cook,
Build Your Own Oven and Bake
Summertime outdoor cooking yields some scrumptious meals. The only things missing, perhaps, are hot bread, a brimming blackberry cobbler or chewy black-walnut fudge brownies fresh from the oven.
Dont you wish you could have these baked treats without making your kitchen hot and messy?
You can with a cardboard box oven. Its simple to make, travels well, needs no maintenance and uses no electricity.
To make a cardboard oven, youll need a heavy cardboard box with an attached lid (liquor boxes are best), heavy-duty aluminum foil, duct tape, a small rack (anything that fits inside the box will do), a couple of empty food cans with labels removed, an aluminum or tin pie pan and charcoal.
Cover the box with several layers of aluminum foil inside and out. Be sure no cardboard shows. Duct tape all outside seams and corners. For sturdiness, extra tape should be added to the bottom and to the lid where it bends. Make sure your lid fits snugly. If needed, you can prop something against the lid to help form a seal when cooking.
In the pie pan, place one charcoal briquette for each 50 degrees your recipe calls for. Ignite. Center the pie pan on the bottom of the prepared box. Place the cans on either side of the pan; put the rack on top; pop in your favorite treat and bake. Most recipes will follow true to oven directions. Add additional briquettes for prolonged cooking.