Feel the Intangible, Revel in the Miracle

A very big thanks to Lindsay Landsberg, for being our guest blogger today. She, her husband, Marc, and her sons, Jack & George, have all been campers at Deerhorn. We are so grateful for her beautiful blog. (Anyone wishing to be a guest blogger can email their submission to amy@deerhorn.com.)

At age 11, my eldest son, Jack, was skeptical about Camp Deerhorn. My husband, having never attended summer camp as a boy, was unsure about sending our son to strangers in northern Wisconsin. We’d heard about Camp Deerhorn from other parents. Father/Son camp in 2007 seemed like a perfect way for father and son to “try on” camp and scrutinize the place closely. It was the start of a life-long love for Deerhorn.

They returned home glowing, talking animatedly of swimming in a lake, jumping on a “Rave,” sleeping in a koogee, dining at long wooden tables, horse rides, and camp fires. My son proudly showed me a log he and his dad had etched in arts and crafts. My son? My husband? Carving things out of wood? My son’s freckles seemed darker, his grin wider, his heart open and overflowing with tales of new friends and older counselors he seemed to worship, particularly legendary “Hootie,” who water-skied on a canoe paddle. My husband felt welcomed by a Deerhorn fraternity of fathers who had all attended themselves as campers, worked as counselors, and now brought their young sons. In a few short days, they laughed louder, played harder, and bonded more in the Rhinelander woods than in months at home.

Jack went on to attend as a camper for several years, going on an unforgettable “Voyager” kayaking trip at 15 and becoming a senior leader at 16. He was an assistant counselor twice, and last summer, he and two best friends from their camping years, ran the sailing program on the waterfront as full counselors. His younger brother, George, is on a similar path, having signed himself up for the “Spike Buck” program as an 8-year old boy (“Mom, can I use your credit card?”) and attending every year ever since. My husband and two sons haven’t missed Father/Son camp for the past 10 years.

There is a magic, a miracle, at Camp Deerhorn that keeps them all coming back:

  • Boys enjoy real boyhood. Summer days are spent outside, running around, swimming for hours, playing endless “Sprout” games, riding mountain bikes, playing tennis, making lanyards. Without computers or phone screens, school, commitment to schedules, they return home smellier, happier, and with lighter spirits. Letters home are brief scribbles, barely more than a tally of mosquito bites because it’s just too much fun to sit down and write to Mom.
  • The woods are magical. A deer steps out onto the path, a raccoon ravages the garbage again, the loons laugh over the lake. Nature is all around. Among trees, in the sunshine my sons seem to grow taller, more confident, more sure of themselves. Real sweat, lake water, and summer thunderstorms seem to cleanse city worries completely.
  • Achievements seem more meaningful. In my sons’ eyes, academic and sports awards have paled in comparison to the honor of “Perfect Warrior” earned at camp, a culmination of bewildering stars earned for skills. Mastery of sailing, riding horses, earning a pizza for a clean koogee, somehow it all adds up to growing confidence across the board.
  • Memories are richer. Every corner of camp is now redolent with memory and stories: Ryan made a golf hole-in-one on the putting green, putting the Apaches over the top; Koogee 14 is where we once stayed for Family Camp, the porch is where Gieg holds “office hours” giving career guidance – there are countless more. At camp there is room for boredom, imagination, and creativity, exemplified by games passed down through decades (rafter ball, koogee ball, Klepton) conceived by generations of boys inventing their own fun.
  • Camp friendships are deeper. Sleeping together in koogees, singing around campfires, competing in camp-wide “Monkey Relays,” the friendships form easily, without pretension, without reservation. The friendships are lasting, bringing us to Deerhorn weddings, ski reunions, 50th birthday celebrations, long after camp. My sons have looked up to the older counselors and Broadbridge men as male role models of character, strength, and heart.
  • An intangible spirit takes hold. At Jack’s leader “Water Campfire,” four canoes made their way with lit torches in the dark across the lake, the whole camp silently, breathlessly, waiting. Each leader gave a speech about their summer, tearfully expressing from the depths of their hearts their love of the place, the Deerhorn values and the deep bonds they’d forged. Sixteen year olds testifying about character and love; we reveled in the miracle and cried tears of pride. The intangible spirit of Deerhorn is in the 1930’s Creed exhorting sons to grow up to be men of character in sweetly dated language: “To be a regular fellow, a pal to other campers, a friend in manner and deed, a booster rather than a knocker…” The spirit is in the cheerful dedication that the next generation of Broadbridges bring to every aspect of camp operations. More, it’s in the hearts of boys cracked wide open with emotion, friendship, and pride of accomplishment.

Deerhorn means the world to our family. When the bus comes home, my sons can barely stand it. They can barely wait to get back to the place where their camp friends are waiting, the sun sparkles on the water, jubilant shouts echo in the trees, and every day is a gift of boyhood.

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