When the “I Survived the Polar Vortex of 2019” t-shirts get made (if they are not already!) I won’t be able to wear one and feel right about it. Truth is, I didn’t survive it. My travels took me to Arizona and California visiting past, present, and future campers, along with my mother and brother. But I did get frequent updates and not just on the temperature, along with the daily texts from our son’s school announcing yet another cancellation. People often ask me, as a denizen of the far north, what the difference between -10 and minus -30 is, and my usual first response is, “20 degrees”, followed quickly by “about a minute before you get frostbite.” But it’s just as much about bragging rights, identity, and a sense of place. A parlance, an idiom.
While my family (and pets) were pushing through the Arctic blast, I also had my own weather events. A blustery 47 in Tucson was cause for the local weatherman to advise people to dress in layers. If you have never been in LA when it’s not sunny or had to make the trip from central LA to the OC in a bit of rain, you might be confused when the folks at Starbucks tell you to “be safe out there.” Every place has its lingo. Most conversations in MN begin with a weather forecast (or report.) LA, it’s the traffic (duh!) Chicago and NYC much the same, but since the public transportation is actually serviceable in those cities, the option of the “EL” or the subway works its way into the conversation.
It strikes me that at Camp, it’s not so much how the conversation starts, but how it does not. Sure, the weather comes in there (though never traffic!) but it never seems to default to small talk, or rather the smallest of talk. “How you doing?”- more often a combination of what are you doing and how do you feel- seems to get a heartfelt response. (I eavesdrop on a lot of camper conversations!) The talk is revealing, humorous, and often non-sensical, but it’s authentic. Sometimes it’s lengthy, sometimes, just a nod or even more abbreviated, yet still speaks volumes. Often, too, the communication is non-verbal, and includes a gaze, a posture, a gesture or just proximity that is both inviting and reassuring.
If you call Camp, I am still just as likely as anything to begin with a weather update, just as I am likely to start most emails the same way. It’s unavoidable- or at least for me it seems to be. But as I listen in on camper talk, and when I talk to them, it transcends, or maybe bypasses, weather and traffic, and cuts right to the local news. Not just human-interest stories, but human stories of interest. At least they are to me! I could listen to them for days- all 56 of them that comprise a summer session. It’s a helluva lot more interesting than what I seem to be hearing lately, and it may even be more useful. Kids can come from Arizona, California, France, Mexico and Grand Rapids, and find a common language reflective of the place, the climate (environmental and social), a starting point, and often, so much more.