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There's no life like it
By Frank Jones
The wake-up horn sounds through the trees. It's 6:45 a.m. and Nova, who
in another life is Jennifer Hamilton, 19, a
second-year fine-arts student at Queen's University in Kingston, Ontario, opens her eyes.
It's dark in the cabin. She can barely make out the sleeping forms of the five girls for whom she is responsible. It's a misty morning
on the Bruce Peninsula. There's no sign yet of sun.
Nova doesn't care. She's back at camp. She quit her summer job selling jewelry in her home town of Goderich to return.
"I missed it so much. I missed the other counsellors. I missed the kids. I missed the fun," she says.
She pulls back her pink comforter, climbs out of her bottom bunk and starts the wake-up process. Sometimes she tortures the girls with her Ella Fitzgerald jazz tape. This morning she's going easy. "Time to get up. Wendy, Lisa. Come on, let's get going!"
Wendy groans. Nova, she says, is "always cheerful! Even in the
morning. That's the worst!"
Could there be a group of young adults more cheerful than camp counsellors? They are a special breed, and Nova is one of the best.
"She's effervescent, she's funny, she's spontaneous and she loves camping," says Tim Matheson,
director of the Celtic Sports & Arts Camp, near Wiarton, where Nova
has been coming for seven years,
first as a camper, then for leadership
training, now as a counsellor. Next summer she'll be head of the
All the staff at Celtic have
nicknames. Matheson's is Lumpy. Nova was named, oddly, for the Nova steel
company. But it means "star" too. "She's been Nova forever," says Matheson. "She always will be."
After a session with her girls on the basketball court, Nova lines up at
8 a.m. for scrambled eggs in the
bedlam of the dining hall. Ryan, 7, has somehow climbed onto her back in the lineup. He smiles blissfully; she doesn't seem to mind.
"It's a special time in my life," she says. "When I was a kid, I always liked the counsellors. I thought they were cool. I picked up a lot of stuff from them."
It has rained overnight, so Ali
(Bear) MacLachlan's highland-
dancing class is moved indoors to
the big sports pavilion. "Actually," Nova admits as Bear leads the
warm-up exercises, "I have no idea how to highland dance. But I am more successful at it than I was at the mambo yesterday!" She's
being modest: leading her group, Nova dances with a sprightly step, and her mambo is not to be
Hot work. Nova goes to the
marquee to fetch water. Matheson beckons her over, then tips the
canvas roof, soaking her with
accumulated overnight rain. She laughs and runs. She'll get even.
The best thing that's happened, says Matheson, is that his camp now takes school groups, so it can offer counsellors employment from May
to September (at $100 to $300 a week). Nova was supposed to work only in May and June, but when she went back to Goderich to her job in a jewelry store, she just missed the camp too much, so she's back for July and August too.
What's special about counsellors? "They like kids, and they are good-hearted," says Matheson. "Down the list come skills components like kayaking or rope work."
On the soccer pitch, the kids are demanding to play a game Nova invented yesterday called Barnyard Soccer. It involves chasing after a
ball while making barnyard animal noises, and everyone laughs as
chickens, turkeys and donkeys chase the ball in turn.
Then a little guy named Tony
gets a ball in the face and starts to bawl. Nova puts her arm around him and consoles him. She and a
counsellor buddy, Saira (Keester) Peesker, improvise a song, "Everything's gonna be all right," and Tony wipes away his tears.
There's a song for every occasion. "Donkey riding, donkey riding,
ee-aw, ee-aw," Matheson bellows at lunch, standing precariously on a swivel chair.
Afterwards, Nova leads the
lunchroom cleanup detail before she and the girls go back to their cabin, Woodland, for an hour's rest, maybe a sleep or time to talk.
"Some of the kids come with a lot of baggage. A lot choose to leave home at home -- to forget it -- so they don't have to deal with it here," Nova says. "My best moment? A girl
I was helping in belaying (rope
climbing) was having a hard time. But she didn't say anything. She didn't complain. She kept going. And she reached the top. She made it. That was good."
Then activities begin again. Swimming down at the Lake Huron beach, kayaking as the sun finally bursts
through the mist. "The
counsellors are on duty all the time," says "Miss Alice" Romanalho, a coach and parent. "Even if it involves getting up and going to the bathroom with one of
the little ones in the night."
After supper, the logs are stacked at the centre of the circle for Nova's favourite time -- campfire. Everyone gets to perform, and this night there's a special treat. Nova gives her
rendering of Tinker Boxer, a famous old camping song with lots of actions and comic dialogue. The trees echo to the laughter and cheers for her performance.
At the cabin Nova reads to the girls -- tonight from Bill Cosby's book Childhood. A camper might be 15 and super-smart, but it's still a
comfort to be read to.
Her charges mostly asleep,
Nova's day is still not ended. There
is a staff meeting to discuss
tomorrow's program. Afterwards, she wanders over to Matheson's house, picks out a couple of books to read, one about far-away India.
It's past midnight as she walks back to her cabin under the stars. She will have to be up again at
6:45 a.m., but still she doesn't
sleep. A time like this is too precious to miss.
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