Today’s blog post comes to us from Jesse Webb. He and Ryan Farrell created the amazing mural that now graces the wall of the upper bathhouse in koogee row. It was a project that, after they came to us with the idea, we all thought, “Why didn’t we think of this sooner?” It turned out beautifully and we are so grateful for all their hard work. Jesse wrote a post about the mural, to be able to better explain the meaning behind it. Thanks, Jesse!
I found myself wandering through Koogee Row on a cold morning in early June. Dew washed the soles of my slippers as birdcalls drew my eyes upward. There in the middle of the row, I saw the westward facing broad side of the upper-bathhouse staring right back at me. The large square of Koogee-brown looked, at first, the same as it had for all of the ten years that I had made this walk, but then I saw something else in it. I saw the possibility of more…more color, more meaning, more of anything really. For the first time it occurred to me that campers needn’t just see a large, brown wall as they greeted each morning with a smile (or realistically with a yawn). My cousin had been working in Starkville, Mississippi all year on a mural project that I had been observing on Facebook from my cramped dorm room at Ole Miss. I watched as every mural she and her organization had put up brought new dimension and life to the small, agricultural college town. Her incredible work on my mind as I gazed at the upper-bathhouse wall, I knew what needed to be done.
A few conversations with Amy and Blaine later and my cousin’s mural project had travelled a hundred miles northward to North Pelican Lake and Camp Deerhorn. Having no artistic background since the fifth grade, I quickly enlisted Ryan Farrell, a visual arts major at the University of Denver and the 2011 Chippewa Leader, to help me design and paint a mural on the upper-bathhouse wall. We took our time brainstorming and sketching myriad ideas during the first Father-Son camp session, thinking it would take no time to actually put the final product on the wall. By the end of the session, we had finally come up with an image that would not only beautify Koogee Row, but also give campers an ideal to look up to.
For those readers who don’t know, every year at the end of the summer, an incredible ceremony takes place called the Water Campfire. A rite of passage of sorts, the Water Campfire celebrates the camp careers of the four team leaders, sixteen year-olds who have embraced the Deerhorn spirit and what’s more, have lived it. The Water Campfire is the culmination of what it means to be raised, in part, at Deerhorn; the four half-canoes symbolize what it means to be a Deerhorn man. What better image could there be for campers to wake up to every morning, tooth-brush in hand and a gleam of possibility in their eyes.
From this central image, the rest of the design took place. In the center, a fire whose smoke billows upward into the image of a great stag and a lone canoe-paddler -the man who, having come through Deerhorn, is more than prepared to travel onward on his own. To either side of the fire, the half canoes beckon campers to be leaders, in and out of camp. And finally, to the far left, a totem pole stands whose story is that of the Deerhorn Camper. Some campers come to Deerhorn for many years and some for few. Some come from Chicago and some from around the world. Some play sports and others prefer to pick daisies. But all of these campers follow the same path at Deerhorn, as represented in the totem pole.
The novel camper is the bear. “Courageous and introspective”, the bear dares to travel far from home to find in himself the man who he will be come. An old native American tale recalls Mooin, the mother bear, who takes under her protection an abandoned child and raises him as her own. So, too, will Deerhorn take in the wandering child and raise him to be not just a man, but a Deerhorn man. Once practiced in the ways of Deerhorn, the camper becomes the stallion. He has found at Deerhorn, freedom – the freedom to work for stars, or relax and simply have fun; the freedom to wander the acreage on a Sunday morning, play a game with fellow campers or simply to ponder aimlessly the questions of life. Particularly, the stallion is free to become the man who he wants to be as he simultaneously develops a love for the land and the lake, for the ‘Great Outdoors’. Having some years under his belt, the stallion becomes less aimless in his direction and begins to understand where his strength lies: in the pack. Now a wolf, the camper discovers a fierce loyalty to Deerhorn and the friends and mentors he’s met along the way. He perseveres through the falls and scrapes and bruises that accompany the games he plays and earns gold stars, true friendships, and the Deerhorn Spirit. This spirit is what moves him to howl at the moon, to dance in the rain, to dive in cold water and bask in the sun.
What else makes a Deerhorn man? What more could we ask from a camper than courage, freedom, loyalty, and spirit? It is not what Deerhorn asks of its camper, but the way the camper steps up that gives him the wings of the Falcon. The oldest campers take what they have learned in their time at Deerhorn and use them not for their own well-being, but for the well-being of the bears, and the stallions, and even the wolves. The Falcon is a leader, fiercely passionate and adventurous. He looks at the end of his Deerhorn career not as an ending, but a new beginning.
I have seen countless young men reach the top of the totem pole here at Deerhorn, and know many more who are still climbing. This image that Ryan and I have erected in Koogee Row will stand for years to come as the goal for campers to reach. We have no doubt that after their years at Deerhorn, your camper will embody the falcon. Whether or not he finds himself in front of the half-canoes at the end of his Deerhorn career, he will certainly be a man who you, and all of us here, will be proud of.