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Sunday, August 4, 2013

Feels Like Home

Leslie and I had a leisurely morning in  Bismark, stopping by the local mall for an extension cord (be prepared, always have one on a Summer Road Trip) and saw some interesting sites (prior post here).

The drive across the remainder of North Dakota was beautiful as we expected.  Similar to eastern Montana, the run across North Dakota alternates between rolling hills and pool table flat. The state has about 2% unemployment with the
Not an unusual site driving across the Northern Plains
a lake, river, creek or marsh land.
oil and gas extraction, and where that isn't going on the land is filled with agriculture production.  From what I could tell ranching, wheat, corn, alfalfa dominate the farmland.

What would surprise most, as it did me with my preconceived notions of the Northern Plain States before driving them for three years now, is the abundance of lakes, streams, marshes.

We cleared Fargo a little after 2:00 and entered Minnesota.  Almost immediately the rolling fields along the roadside were replaced by towering trees.  Pines, aspens and varieties I won't pretend to know.  We were in the land of 10,000 lakes (which Blaire told us later was false and that Minnesota has 15,000 lakes.  Fire the guy who counted for the license plates, he was off by 50%).

Word of caution when driving in Minnesota, especially driving east from North Dakota--go the speed limit.  This is our third year making the drive from the border eastward and we see more highway patrol on the two and a half hour drive than the rest of our trip combined (exception being 395 through California, but most Californians already know about that state money maker road).

Finally about 4:30 we reached our destination for part one of Summer Road Trip III: Camp Birchwood on the north shore of Steamboat Lake.  Not too long after our arrival Jenna came by our cabin as we were unloading to say hello and get/give hugs with some friends.  We saw Blaire later in the dining hall, with perfect teenage angst, she semi-ignored us while being happy to see us--anyone who has or has had girls over the age of twelve know this talent, those with younger girls will have an "ah-ha moment" when their sweet little girl hits the age range.

Driving into Birchwood always feels like driving home.  It has been part of our family's heritage for three generations.  My Dad physically helped build many of the structures and my brother, sister and I have spent parts of many summers there.  Bucolic could describe the setting, fun the environment of the camp.  With 120 girl campers in residence there is a precision to getting them fed, to activities and ensuring camp stays clean and safe.  Throughout the day peels of laughter, cheers and encouragement is heard from every corner of the grounds and water front.

For Leslie and I we take our place on chairs on the lakeside deck ("Yeah Lakeside Deck" is the cheer the girls give in unison whenever the words are said) to relax, watch the sail boats and interact with those coming and going to the mess hall and between cabins.  It is a great place to hang out and the idea of having a nice
Words are inadequate
cocktail or glass of wine in hand as the sun slips lower, clouds wander across the sky and the breeze swirls.

No alcohol is needed however to enjoy the moment and the view.  A great spot to contemplate, meditate and conversate. As the pictures shows, words are somewhat inadequate to convey the scene.

Looking east from the deck
While the pictures show the lake at the end of the day, during the day the lake side is full of activity with girls swimming, playing on the "Mountain" slide that is two stories high, kayaking, windsurfing, tubing, water skiing, and sailing.  Four periods a day, every day there are girls and their counselors taking full advantage of the activities available.

As the sun sets boats from across the lake start to appear as the fisherman troll for the walleye, bass and northern pike that are found in the waters.

Friday night a production of "Wicked" was presented by several of the campers, including our Jenna who had a fun role utilizing her innate sarcasm.  Over the
Jenna (left) delivering on cue
course of the evening and the next day it came out that I have seen "Wicked" twice, once on Broadway and again at the Pantages in Los Angeles.  Slept through most of both.  Jenna was glad her crew's performance managed to keep me awake through the show.

Saturday before end of session starts with the traditional donuts on the Lakeside Deck (all together, "yeah Lakeside Deck") as the cabins come down one
Jenna (Oklahoma sweatshirt (naturally) third from right)
and cabin mates enjoying Saturday breakfast.
at a time to sign a paddle that will hang in their cabin and then eat donuts, eggs, potatoes and fruit on the deck.  While the donuts are a treat, they are really not that special as the food at Birchwood is really very good--and consistently good. They bake a lot of their own breads and goodies and for putting out three meals a day for anywhere from 150 to 200 campers and staff daily there is rarely a complaint, in fact our girls always comment on how good the food is at camp.

Saturday Leslie and I lounged in the deck chairs in the morning watching the sail boats and other water activities.  After lunch the girls had to get their bags packed and brought to a central area so they could be loaded for travel early the next morning.  Want a logistical problem to solve?  One hundred twenty girls leaving on one morning, about six or seven will be picked up by parents, the rest leave by bus.  Some of them will be dropped off at a school parking lot in Minneapolis (about three hours away) to be picked up by their parents.  The rest are flying all around the world on several different airlines.  How do you manage two bags per girl, five or six airlines, departure times from 11:00 a.m. to 6:00 a.m. the following morning?

The easy bags are for those being picked up at the school and the kids flying to St. Louis (about twenty-thirty girls). They get their own two piles and loaded into their buses.  What about the other 200 bags?  Every girl is given a number depending on their airline and departure time.  Then the bags are loaded in reverse order into a big U-Haul truck so the last two bags are for the girl with number one.  The U-haul leaves for the airport at 5:00 a.m. Sunday and heads to the airlines and checks in all the bags, last in - first out.  Amazingly it works session after session, year after year.  Several hundred bags. Multiple flights and airlines.  No lost bags.

After assisting with the sorting and loading of luggage, Leslie and I hung out.  I wandered over to the archery range where Blaire was shooting in the afternoon. I
Teenage ennui on the archery range
Blaire showing good form
before she lets loos
didn't hang around long, the teenager was reluctant to acknowledge my presence in front of her friends (one camper asked in front of the invisible dad, "do you like having your parents here?"  "It is so weird.").  I watched her loose a few arrows, impressed with her form and scoring--she moved up through two levels in her two
weeks at camp showing some proficiency and improvement.  After watching another round of girls shoot I wandered back to our cabin where we cleaned up and did some reading prior to dinner and the main events.

The last Saturday at the end of the combined two and four week session has two major events.  First is the banquet that is put on by senior campers--girls in high school who must apply to be admitted to the senior program.  These girls are held to a different standard than the rest of the campers, not quite campers but also not counselors. They are in what amounts to a leadership training and development program.  For the last dinner of the session they host a dinner with
Sign and part of display at banquet
a theme and decorate the dining hall and plan the menu around the theme.  This year two senior girls planned and coordinated the whole banquet with the theme of "Dream."  As different counselors came forward after the meal to hand out the top awards for their disciplines (example one girl in riflery won awards for scoring scores from a standing position---it looks easy on television but stand with a ten pound rifle that is maybe twenty years old shooting a small .22 caliber bullet at a target a little bigger than a half-dollar fifty feet down range that is blowing in the wind).  All the girls dress up for the banquet and it is a great celebration of achievement and camaraderie as screams of congratulations peel through the dining hall as awardees are announced.

After the banquet there is a large campfire.  Awards are handed out to girls who earned them, proud to see Jenna get a sailing award she was working on.  Campfire songs are sung and as the evening winds down the songs become more maudlin and the sounds of sniffles and sobs spread as the girls get ready to
say good-bye to their friends they have lived with for the past four or two weeks. One tradition is the senior girls capping off the evening with small speeches about what Birchwood means to them, many of them have been attending for more than five years, one sixteen year old has been every summer since she was eight. The common themes are their appreciation to be at camp, away from the pressures and expectations from others and themselves "in the real world," the strong friendships they have developed and will continue to nurture until next summer--or if they are not coming back will stay in touch through the years, and the personal growth they have achieved through the years at camp.  As much as I know the benefits my daughters get from attending Birchwood every summer, that knowledge is strongly reinforced witnessing the statements from these girls jumping off into womanhood with tools, confidence and wisdom gained through their experiences at Birchwood.  Someday each of my girls will stand in front of one hundred or so other campers, most younger then they will be, and offer their words of advice, wisdom and appreciation.  When they do they will be proud of what they have accomplished and the path to those accomplishments.

The campfire broke up pretty late, around 11:00, and Leslie and I headed off to our little cabin.  As we fell asleep we could faintly hear the songs and the laughter fade as the exhausted campers and staff fell asleep.  Sleep for long was not on the schedule as the bell rang at 6:10 to call the "hoppers" (girls from each cabin who help set up the tables for their cabin mates and then clear the tables after the meal) to the dining hall for the last meal.  Then the exodus begins with the camp congregating around saying good-bye to the first girls to leave on the 7:00 bus.

After the bus left we gathered up Blaire and Jenna, said our good-byes and thank yous and climbed into the Honda Odyssey for the second half of the Summer Road Trip III.

With the girls being quite talkative throughout the day we wandered through the
Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox
in Bemidji, Minnesota
woods finding Hwy 2 through Bemidji and headed east to Grand Forks and the North Dakota border and then staying on Hwy 2 across the state.  The big event of the day was early on when Jenna finally got her first phone--for years we have heard "I don't have a tablet or a phone, I'm the only one I know..." but with her going to middle school in the fall we felt it was time.  Plus it keeps her occupied and not once do we hear "are we there yet?"

A perfect day for driving, high clouds keeping down the bright sunshine and glare, helped us reach our destination of Williston, about twenty miles from Montana to the east and thirty miles from Canada to the north.  We
The girls at the Geographical Center
of North America, Rugby, ND
arrived around 5:00 and checked into our hotel--like most in the area it caters to the oil and gas field crowds and the hundreds of thousands of workers in the state who are working far from home. This means a washer and dryer and Leslie ran two loads of the girls stuff so we are somewhat clean smelling for the remaining 2400 miles or so before we get home on Sunday.

A nice fun dinner at a local pizzeria and we are spread throughout the hotel room, writing, reading, "face-timing" (look it up you old timers) and checking emails.  We are the modern family on a road trip.

Tomorrow we drive most the way across Montana to Shelby, just outside Glacier National Park.

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