My two daughters were Girl Scouts and went to summer day camp at Twin Canyons in Lafayette, two towns over. In order to get them a slot, I volunteered to work the entire week. I did it for eleven years and enjoyed getting to meet every camper there (about 200 each year).
I chose the nature unit so that I wouldn’t have to cook over a campfire. It was a good move. I worked with two other volunteers. I’d taught public school for ten years, so it was a no-brainer for me. We saw each camper twice a week. The first time a unit came, we did everything (in those eleven years) from planting our own redwood seedlings to dissecting owl pellets (spit-up) or panning for gold. We learned/taught about the Native Americans that lived there and even studied a dinosaur named Sue. On the second visit from each unit, we went hiking.
The Nature unit was in the center of camp, so we heard lots of singing as the various units passed by on their way to Crafts, swimming, or closing ceremonies at the logs (seats built into a hillside with tree trunks). One day, I was coming back from my lunch break when I saw the boys’ unit (sons of working parents) walking on a fallen log near my nature unit. The two leaders were 300 feet away, having a conversation on another log.
“Look at that big black snake!” a seven-year-old boy said to his camp mates.
I was right there, and his leaders weren’t paying attention.
“Where?” I asked.
“There!” he said, pointing to the base of the log the boys were walking on.
I looked down and saw the baby rattlesnake. Unlike an adult rattler which is light brown and black, this one was mostly black. I turned and found an elf (teenaged helper) walking by.
“Go get the director,” I said. “Rattlesnake.”
I got the boys off the log and told them to tell their leaders what they had just found.
Take that, you two, not watching your campers!
The seven year old boy wasn’t moving. He looked scared.
“You get to tell you parents that you found a rattlesnake at camp today,” I said. “You are the only one who can say that. High –five!”
The boy high-fived me and ran off to play.
The director came by with her walkie-talkie. I showed her the snake, which was not enjoying all the attention and had slithered under the log. The director called the maintenance man who lived on the grounds. He came with his grab pole and burlap bag. The poor snake had crawled into the center of camp, so it had to get moved.
Rumor had it that the maintenance man put the snake in his freezer and would then deliver it to a friend who wanted it for a pet. Wrong as that was, at least he got it out of camp central. No one was bitten that day. Baby rattlesnakes are the worst, because they can’t measure the venom they use when they strike, and it’s often a whole lot of poison.
At the end of the day, I had parking lot duty, checking that the kids got into the correct cars. It was a thankless job, and the parents, sitting in their cars in a long line on the dusty road, were generally grumpy. Every now and then a thankful parent would hand a volunteer a paper bag filled with dinner. My shift every year was on Mondays, so I never got rewarded that way.
In my final year (right before my youngest aged out of camp) a little girl sat on the log at the end of the day crying, waiting for her mother.
“What’s the matter?” I said.
Her shirt was covered in cherry snow cone mess with dust stuck to it.
“My mom is going to be mad at me,” she said. “My clothes got dirty.”
“This is camp,” I said. “You’re supposed to get dirty. Tell your mom I said that.”
“Okay,” she said, sniffling.
Later I loaded the girl into her mom’s car. Mom was breaking out the hand sanitizer before I even got the door shut.
A week of living outside at Diablo Day Camp — that was the most nature some of these city kids got all year long. It was a lot of work, and there was leader politics to deal with. But the kids were great, the site was magnificent, and I got to teach children how to appreciate the out of doors.
Couldda Wouldda Didda
I volunteered for one week each summer for eleven years. It was hard work but worth it.