I landed in Toronto on 14th May, at the beginning of my two years in Canada. It is now 2nd September and already I feel different to the girl that stepped on the plane those months ago. Since the 23rd June, a place called Canoe Lake in Algonquin Park has been my home.
I couldn’t accurately pinpoint where I am on a map. My finger would slide too north or perhaps far too south. I am surrounded by green and blue for forest and water, two natural elements that have become everything I need. (I legit sound like a full-on geography teacher right now). I’m calling Canoe Lake ‘my home’ in my head with such fondness, the way my voice sounds like when it’s about to crack, because I’m filled with such excitement about absolutely everything I’ve experienced this summer that I can barely hold two syllables together. I only wish you could hear my voice right now.
I’m currently sitting in the Camp Ahmek B.O (business office) looking out of the window across at the water, so content. There is a slight breeze in the air today and an angsty grey in the sky; the kind of grey that water turns into after someone has dipped a used paintbrush into it. My Patagonia sweater (which my friends and I refer to passionately as Patagucci, specifically Annie) feels soft against my neck. I like this day a lot and how quiet it is. Families that have stayed as guests at September camp have arrived and gone. They all depart in the same way: rolling out in their cars with a wave, a grin and a crunch of gravel under their wheels.
More goodbyes are beckoning and I can hardly stomach them. I leave tomorrow. So I thought I’d write and think back whilst I still can. This wind and the smiles around me have got me full of nostalgia.
Endings and Beginnings
Two and a half months ago my friend Molly dropped me at Toronto Pearson airport with my whole life in two bags, and I waited alone in the lobby of a hotel for a random bus to take me to somewhere called Camp Wapomeo. I had been hired as a Counsellor there back in January, but amongst working full-time and handing in my notice, right up until I moved to Canada, I had barely thought about it since. I wish I could watch myself back then from the hotel security camera. Sophie Hollis sitting there alone in her denim jacket with the collar up, hair messy and shower-fluffy, needing a drink so badly but too numb with terror to get up and get one. Those moments before the bus came were a whirlwind.
I cannot stress this enough: I didn’t have a scooby where I was going. I didn’t know anything about Camp Wapomeo, except that judging from a quick scroll on their website they seemed to like canoeing. I didn’t know how to pronounce the name either (basically still don’t). But what ate away at me the most was that I didn’t know anyone going to wherever the hell I was headed, apart from two girls I had met on my Bronze Cross lifeguard course the weekend before and hadn’t been able to contact since as neither had Canadian phones. Shout out to my first friends in the TSC fam Bailey the boat driver and Chloe Palmer. It was honestly the thought of seeing your beaut and friendly faces again that got me on that bus. So a million times over, thank you.
The little I did know about Camp Wapomeo was from an Instagram post that I had seen of a green house on the water. Everything and everyone else was alien to me, complete strangers, and these strangers looked at me strangely too because they didn’t know who I was and why I was there. Apart from boarding my original flight to Canada, when I left my family and best friends behind, waiting for this bus was the most scared I have ever felt in my 23 years on this Earth.
Fear went, briefly. The bus came and picked me up. A girl jumped down the steps and I told her my name. She scratched my name off of a list and told me to get on the bus, I could put my paddle around the other side.
I remember thinking ‘a paddle? Da fuck is she on about’. I nodded, said I didn’t have a paddle. She looked surprised but again repeated to get on the bus, so I knew this was it. I had to rip the plaster off now. I could hear faint, boisterous cheers coming from inside. I kept unclenching and clenching my fists. I was terrified, truly shitting it. I stepped up onto the bus and quickly sat in the closest seat to the front. I didn’t dare look behind me. I kept texting Jillianne and staring at the three full stops as she typed. She was giving me a pep talk. Telling me I could do this, that she loved me so much and she was sure other people would love me too. I looked out of the window as the bus started to move, seriously questioning whether she was right.
Nearly four hours later the bus jolted in front of an entrance surrounded by trees in the forest, in the middle of nowhere. The horror movie had officially started. People began to move, collecting their bags, chanting loudly. Groups of beautiful people with the healthiest skin and hair I had ever seen were loading luggage onto something which I know now is a barge, but initially looked like a plank of wood that was particularly buoyant. I just sort of stood there with my bags, not knowing how to look busy. I was the definition of deer in headlights, of dazed and confused, helpless and very aware of it and so different to the people around me.
When I look back to that day now, to the bus and the mysterious journey to Wapomeo filled with questions I didn’t know the answer to, I am filled with joy. It’s the kind of happiness that comes from overcoming an obstacle and being able to meet it again at the other side. I am proud that I stuck it out and that my fear eventually subsided (it took a few weeks, but subside it did), because Camp Wapomeo has been beyond worth it. This summer has taught me to endure challenges whether it be mental, physical or emotional. I have learnt that when you find you are in a situation alone, be your own very best companion. Be yourself, on good days and bad days. Stay true to who you are, or as much as you can grasp of who you are. Hold on to your quirks, no matter what you have done or go on to do. Your weirdness is not shameful, it’s fucking incredible.
I thought I had a lot of things down when I was travelling alone in Toronto and Montreal before camp started. I thought I knew who I was. I believed I had the bravery to be able to return to the camp lifestyle I used to love and settle in quickly, but I didn’t. It took a while. I was shocked out of my complacency by living in these lakes. These lakes brought me back to being okay with being a bit of mess in the best possible way, and I don`t think being grateful will ever quite cut it.
So here is a summary of the camp quotes that I stored on my phone throughout the summer to give you a very faint idea of how hilarious and just indescribably beautiful this summer and the people around me have been. (Update: this isn’t all of the quotes, I will be adding more.)
Until next time,
At bar night, sitting in a dinky table with the pitchers and the girls, one drink down.
Erin: I`m not on instagram for the likes
Soph: What are you on there for
Erin: The truth
One of my Kiowas staring dumbstruck at Marbles, a blonde horse with different coloured eyes, who was innocently standing there.
Kid: YOU`RE REALLY FREAKING ME OUT (repeatedly)
In the chalet with Max, Nina and Erin, describing my new CIT co-staff to Max so he knew who she was.
Sophie: she’s quite small probably around 5 ft 3. I know the measurements won’t help
Erin: She’s got asthma
Max: I don’t know people’s medical records off by heart
On trip, on the campsite. Ruth and I are playing a game of families with my Kiowa campers. I am sitting on a rock as I was playing the servant and was kindly given a 10 minute break from my chores. I see Ruth in the distance begin to gallop.
Ruth: My name is Mia, Mia the horse
Georgie and I discussing the big topics at dinner with some salty dish.
Soph: Why are the salt shakers clogged?
Georgie: Because this camp likes its traditions including its salt shakers since 1924
In the chalet having a deep discussion about Cluedo characters and their traits.
Sophie: Lizzie you’re Professor Plum
5 mins later.
Lizzie Bevans: Who’s doctor plum, what’s he like
Sophie, about to ring the activity bell for the first time. Rose turns to her abruptly.
Rose: Would you ever consider going trans
Lizzie Bevans canoeing by as the Kiowas are doing their nightly hand squeezes before bed. It’s entirely silent. All that can be heard is Lizzie’s contemplating voice over the water.
Lizzie: People don’t usually describe me as funny
It’s 7:46 AM in Centre 3. A Tuscie camper shouts to Marie C over the wall as she lies asleep.
Kid: Marie I just cracked my back, it really hurt!
Marie, rolling over, sleepy and extremely casual: you okay
On a night off at the P store with Rose, Rosie, Catarina and Bob. It’s very dark and we’re about to canoe home before Rose suddenly squats by a tree.
Rose, mid-shit: Since turning vegeterian I`ve been shitting all over the place
On trip with my Kiowas, at the campsite. Max, trying to describe what dyslexia is after a Kiowa very seriously asked him.
Max: It’s like if you wanted to spell dog you would spell it gog. (long pause) that wasn’t a very good way of explaining it.
In the infirmary with a camper who keeps fainting. It is deathly quiet and serious.
Nurse: What’s your first name
Kid: I think it’s … it’s something like … Pepper.
A conversation during dinner with the most homesick camper I have ever met.
Another kid: why is your fork bent
Kid, starting to cry: At home we don’t have bent forks
Caught in a thunderstorm on the way to the P store, so Nina, Lizzie Bevans and I find ourselves sitting drinking tea in a random old man`s cabin with another two Brits who were also canoeing and seeking shelter. The family are being very kind and trying to get to know us.
Man: what do you study at university
Lizzie Bevans: I’m at Bath Spa University. I study Education Studies with a Primary Teaching pathway
At the archery ring celebrating the last night out. Georgie and I are talking with drinks.
Georgie: This music is not my vibe
Sophie: I know it sounds like onomatopeia
Napping in a guest cabin called the Annex after looning was completed. Guests Tim and Sally Crocker come in and do not see us. Rose and I wake abruptly.
Sophie, standing up straight: welcome to your cabin we just finished cleaning
Catarina, the drunkest she has ever been, sitting on the senior docks with Annie and me. She sees someone reading the dish schedule which is pinned onto the caddy shack.
Catarina, shouting: My name is Catarina am I serving tomorrow
*A while later but the same night, after Catarina drunkenly turned on her data to text a boy. She received a text instantly charging her 50 euros before she had used any data.*
Catarina, peeing behind a trash bin: Sophie I`m scared
Soph: Why babes
Catarina: 50 euros
Napping in centre three with Rose, and all of a sudden she sees something strange perched on the branch of a tree.
Rose: Sophie look out the window!
Sophie: why is there a squirrel with a full-on bagel
Around 9pm at Show Time night September camp, and Jem and I are eating snacks in the kitchen.
Penny, 7 years old, coming up to us: Why is there a chipmunk in the kitchen
Jem, very intoxicated and holding a bowl of fruit loops: don`t worry about the chipmunks honey they come and go as they please
With Cassidy and Catarina, watching Rose take on the Rickety Bridge at High ropes. Rose is extremely scared and saying she wants to come down.
Cassidy: Try… try climbing
Max, playing the character of Mark the ranger at council ring.
Kid: I saw a wild giraffe
Max, overly-kindly: … well done
In the B.O office at Ahmek, September camp
Annie: What’s our cabin called
Soph: (long pause) Bonfield
Hannah and I in the B.O sorting out our VIA rail tickets to Montreal. We needed help so asked a question on VIA rail`s live chat room.
Hannah: they haven`t replied in a while… Oh Monica is typing
Sitting in woodworking, watching Hannah sand down her paddle.
Soph: what music would you listen to at a silent disco
Hannah: classical. A bit of Beethoven.
At lunch talking about Hollie’s big tooth, which sits exactly in the middle of her face (as opposed to her two middle teeth together.)
Sophie: So if Hollie was a vampire there would be only one tooth mark
Hollie: No I would use my canines
© Sophie Grace Hollis 2019. All rights reserved.