Mini Camp Reflections, 2021

Cloud teaches her camper how to do a hospital corner!

Take a Little Bit of Spirit, Take a Little Bit of Fun

As you unpacked your Mini Camper’s trunk last week, no doubt she unpacked her special time at Camp Alleghany for Girls for you. You’ve heard stories about the activities she enjoyed, the friends she’s made, the food she ate, and the songs she learned. And we’re delighted she brought home fond memories to share with you.

I want to share something she’s likely not able to express to you, but is now part of her as a result of her time with us.

‘Ghany We Will Give

Fifty years ago (!) I first set foot on the banks of the Greenbrier River. In the twelve years that followed, I was transformed from a shy and awkward ten-year-old to a confident and accomplished young woman with a clear sense of my independent identity.

Last week I was privileged to rejoin two dozen of my former fellow campers and counselors to give back to Camp Alleghany something of what she gave to us.

As Mini Camp Counselors, we shared one glorious week initiating 80 first-time ‘Ghany campers, Mini Campers – your camper – into the place, traditions, and ideals that shaped our identities while solidifying our loyalty to the camp we all love best.

Some Things are Always New, Some Things Don’t Change, Come What May

This year’s Mini Camp experience was especially unique due to our Covid protocols, which were as successful as intended. And they brought an unexpected bonus!

Based on the guidelines provided by the American Camping Association and the state of West Virginia, we were entirely effective in preventing a Covid outbreak during out Mini Camp week. The protocols and face masks provided excellent prevention, but did not prevent our ability to interact as a group, make new friends, and have fun!

The unexpected bonus (at least for me) was that our micro-pod format (wherein we initially interacted as pairs of tents within a unit, and subsequently as entire units of tents) allowed each girl to bond and bond quickly with seven other girls in a way that I’ve never witnessed in all my camping years. Young girls from as close as Greenbrier County and as far as Alaska learned side by side about the magic of Alleghany.

One is Silver and the Other Gold

The four campers in my care quickly formed friendships with each other that became stronger as the week progressed. Tent 24 became a sort of sisterhood in which each supported the others as they laughed and learned and lived together as a team. Others were welcomed into their circle, but my girls seldom strayed far from each other. Tent 24 was not unique in this aspect. Several of the other Mini Camp counselors witnessed the same sort of phenomenon within their micro-pods

We have a song your Mini Camper may have sung to you by now, in which the first lyrics are “Make new friends, but keep the old.” By the last day of camp, these new friendships seemed to become old friendships!

What seemed like an unfortunate inconvenience in the beginning, turned out to be a blessing in the end. I’m confident this group of girls would have come home with many new friends during a “normal” year without Covid protocols, but I’m not certain the friendships would have been as strong without those protocols in place. Silver linings always present themselves to those who persevere together.

The River is Time

There are so many iconic elements of Alleghany for those who grow to love her. The mountains, the trees, the full moon rising, a deer at dawn, the gentle pop of .22’s as they find their paper targets on the Rifle Range, the graceful glides and turns of an eagle in flight, the sweet stickiness of a warm s’more, the pride of new accomplishments, the peace of the bugle blowing “Taps” at bedtime. And especially, for most of us, the river.

Still one of the cleanest in our country, the Greenbrier River is one of a kind.

Most days, the water is so clear you can see every rock lining the river bed. These are ancient rocks which are eternally – yet imperceptibly – changing as the water washes over and between them, cleansing and shaping their contours to transform jagged edges to smooth and rounded ones over time.

I like to think that the waters of the Greenbrier River have the same effect on those who love our special camp. I imagine that our river symbolizes Alleghany washing through our souls – cleansing, reshaping, and transforming our spirits – to make us more perfect. And that each year we spend together on these river banks, the more perfect our spirits become.

The transformation happens to each of us individually, but the changes are not possible without our togetherness here. And, these changes are often not something we consciously choose or notice in the moment, because we’re focused on laughing, learning, and living together.

Answer, And Her Spirit Will Last

I believe every Mini Camp counselor shares my joy and gratitude for the privilege of being able to participate in shaping your special young girl’s future by teaching and reinforcing Camp Alleghany’s ideals – purity of spirit, loyalty in friendship, courage in independence, grace in competition, contribution in group living, and reverence for nature.

When your daughter, or granddaughter, or niece, or neighbor, or dear young friend reveals to you the beginning of her transformation, you’ll know the Magic of Alleghany.

Perhaps it’s something in her manners, or in her poise. Perhaps it’s a new curiosity about the world around her, or a heightened attentiveness to the feelings of others. Or perhaps instead of being fixated on winning, she’s satisfied to simply play the game for all its worth.

Whatever the signs, our dear Alleghany has shaped her in some subtle, yet permanently, positive way.

Thank you for trusting in Alleghany, and her Mini Camp Counselors, to allow us to share a marvelous, magical week with your special girl and show her why this is the camp we all love best. We hope she’ll return for years to come.

(On this same theme, I composed a poem a few years ago, inspired by the haunting melody of Eric Satie’s “Gymnopedie No. 1,” which sounds to me like the gentle grace of the Greenbrier River where camp is sited. It is still, slowly and surely winding its way toward a sing-able tune, which is why it has not seen the light of day until now.)

Grace of the Greenbrier

When, my dear friend, you picture a river
Clear, green, gray, blue,
Does it wind through your fondest memories?
Where you last knew
Friendships whose current just brought you along,
So gentle but sure as you all headed on,
Slipping easily over the boulders that shaped you, safe, then strong.

When, my dear friend, you think of your river
Pure, true, old, new,
Does your mind see the banks of the Greenbrier?
There are so few
Rivers whose current keeps laboring on
Graceful and constant – a spirit so strong
Smoothing edges so gently and slowly to carve unique stones.

Now, my dear friend, your feet find this river
Always pure, true
Would you say that your life stands before you?
What’s behind you?
Mountains that ripple between you and there.
Tinged pink and blue and gray, painting the air
And when then the sun fades, you realize you suddenly don’t have a care.

When my dear friend you meet a new river
Scent, path, flow, hue –
Measure its water marks carefully, you’ll see
One will shine through
Yet, how do you measure the part you can’t touch?
And who will stand by you, attesting as much?
For surely, one single stone cannot make a clear river such.

— Cloud Q. Conrad, Alum (1971 – 1982) and Mini Camp Counselor, Camp Alleghany for Girls