From 2006 to 2011, I consistently spent my summers in the Northern woods of Bemidji, Minnesota. Following my mom and sister, I attended Camp Thunderbird, a place very near and dear to my heart. Thunderbird is not like any other camp out there. When I was at camp, my biggest concerns were not being able to complete a clean-cut figure-eight while canoeing solo to pass my Voyageurs or that my favorite foods from Sunday night buffet would run out before my cabin got the chance to help ourselves.
Thunderbird taught me independence, as I learned from a young age how to live away from home without my parents, which made coming to college relatively easy for me. I learned to embrace my quirks and cherish them. Weirdness was accepted, and no one was judged for being their true self. The camp cherishes an environment of growth, acceptance and genuine attitudes. Never were we allowed to receive packages that consisted of magazines, makeup, clothes or any other products we would normally be concerned about at home. It is this type of environment where we all learned that the important things in life are not superficial, such as how you look or how others view you. I learned to embrace myself at camp, and I never had to worry about being accepted by others. Our brother camp, Camp Thunderbird for boys, existed right across the waters of Lake Plantagenet. A couple times throughout the summer, we would go to boys camp and have a social type event. I will never forget getting ready for these events, as all of us girls would try to pick the most outrageous outfits to wear to the event because we honestly didn't care what these boys thought of us or if we looked good or not (sorry boys).
The friendships I made at camp are lifelong and are unlike any other friendships I have in the other existing realms of my life. Camp friends see you at your worst, encourage you to be dirty (one time we went on a camping trip and didn't shower for 20 days, and no one thought anything of it, which may or may not be concerning) and go on adventures. One of Thunderbird's slogans has resonated with me even years after camp, and I can honestly say it was because of Thunderbird I went from being a "strong young girl" to a "proud woman."
What makes Thunderbird really unique is that during the last two years as a camper, you are actually only at camp for a total of two weeks. For six of the eight weeks of the summer, we traveled outside of MN, camped in tents every single night, hiked to the top of mountain ranges and lived out of backpacks. Going into ninth grade, we traveled to the Pacific Northwest and hiked in multiple national parks for days and days at a time, camped on snow, and made it to Mount Rainier's base camp. We also got to white-water raft in Oregon and visit Seattle. The following summer, we drove from Minnesota to Wyoming, the Dakotas, Montana, Canada and Idaho where we completed over forty hours of service fixing up a community hiking trail. Camping taught me how to live with essentially nothing, as I lived in one pair of clothes for seven or more days at a time and the only necessities were really my hiking boots, sleeping bag, and Thermarest. I learned how to set up tents, hang bear bags, carry everything I needed in a backup up a mountain and cook off a WhisperLite stove. While these are skills that I may or may not use later in life, I am lucky to have learned them as they taught me other valuable lessons, such as how to vent for myself and live with nothing.
I am nostalgic for the days of playing camp-wide capture the flag, attending daily waterfront activities, singing in the lodge, and learning what it means to grow up and have an adventure. I would do anything to go back in time and relive my camper years. As cliche as this is, camp taught me who I am, and I would absolutely be a different person had I not gone to Thunderbird for all these years.