Thursday, May 29, 2008

Northern Yearly Meeting, or How Not To Camp

This last weekend Jeremy and I and Jeremy's niece, Claire, journeyed to Northern Yearly Meeting. We traveled with about 40 other people on the "eco-bus" - just a school bus we hired so that we all wouldn't be driving on our own. (We ended up with a nicer tour bus on the way there because the company was out of school buses.)


Northern Yearly Meeting includes Quaker meetings in Minnesota, Wisconsin, North & South Dakota, and Iowa. For the last several years, the annual session has been held at the Wisconsin Lions Camp in Rosholt, Wisconsin.

After a butt-numbing 5 hour drive, we arrived a little after 6:00 to find dinner already in process. Everyone tumbled off the bus and collected our suitcases, tents, and other gear into a big pile. We headed into registration and dinner and I was confronted with my first surprise. There on the announcement board was information about ticks and Lyme disease. Great.

After dinner Jeremy and I headed to Indian Point to set up our tent. We found a great spot at the end of the field on the point, looking through a clump of birch trees onto the lake. In the process of setting up we realized we didn't have a tarp or tent pegs. The tent doesn't really need the pegs, but we were expecting rain sometime that weekend so the tarp was needed. (Those missing items were misplaced during our move...I guess.)

We mingled around for awhile and then dutifully attended the orientation for parents and guardians (since Jeremy was guardian for Claire for the weekend). The meeting was over after 10pm and we were released into the pitch black outside. (We forgot to bring flashlights too.) We made our way blindly down the dirt road out to the point and found our tent. Three other people had pitched tents right next to us. Two had groups of kids, and one had a family and their kid. Blindly, Jeremy and I groped through our bags looking for pj's and finally climbed into bed. Then our neighbors arrived. The tents full of kids were squealing and laughing and telling ghost stories. The parents in the tent next to us were reading Harry Potter to their kid. Jeremy put ear plugs in, but I can't fall asleep to all that noise. After some time, Jeremy finally asked (in a very loud voice):

"Yeah. Uh - are your ear plugs working?"

That was all it took. The reading ended and all the noise stopped. Go Jeremy!!

Saturday morning we pulled our shoes on and trudged over to the nearest cabin to use the bathroom and showers. After breakfast we attended morning worship and some of the business meeting. After lunch Jeremy went swimming in the lake. It was a warm enough day, but the lake was quite cold and really woke Jeremy up! Afterwards we went around the lake on a paddle boat. Then we joined an afternoon interest group.

The interest group was a hiking tour around the lake where we learned to spot poison ivy, as well as trillium, wild mustard, hemlocks, and a load of other flowers. We also nearly got carried off by swarms of mosquitoes. The mosquitoes were huge and everywhere. I got bit all over (uh...we forgot bug spray too).

Most of our meals were in the dining hall with standard camp fare like mac & cheese, "meat on a bun," cookies, brownies, salad, etc. For dinner on Saturday night we had signed up for the simple meal. I'm not sure why they call it that because it was anything but simple. I would call it the local meal or cooperative meal or something like that. There was an enormous salad area with sprouts someone had grown, lots of veggies for toppings, different dressings, avocados; several different kinds of bread, including fresh bread baked that day; several different kinds of goat and cow cheese made by the organizer; goat yogurt and goat milk; and a big container of cabbage soup and rice. It was much tastier than the conventional dining hall dinner.

We had to decide then between the plenary session and a campfire. The mosquitoes were out in full force so we opted to stay inside. The plenary was great. They had a panel of several people sharing about their callings or leadings in life and then we broke up into small groups and shared experiences of leadings in our lives. It was a really rich experience.

We made it back to our tent much earlier this night so we could actually find our pj's and our tent in the light. There was yet another tent pitched right next to ours. As we came to our camp site, a group of young boys arrived carrying on and being loud. I asked them pretty directly if they intended to be carrying on and making noise for some time. I didn't think I sounded that bad, but they immediately piped down then left a minute later - in fear and awe it seemed. Go Aimee!
This night, Jeremy and I went all out with long underwear on under our pj's, extra socks (two pairs of wool socks for Jeremy), sweaters and hats, and and extra sleeping bag. It got down to 40 the night before and was hard to sleep because it was so cold.

We slept much better, but at 5am Sunday morning I was awakened by Jeremy sitting up in the tent. It was raining. Not much rain, but our tent is tiny so we're the only ones that fit - all our luggage and other gear was outside. Jeremy got out and moved all the stuff to a shelter nearby. Then we tried to sleep for the next hour or two while it rained on and off and there was thunder and lightning. It was glorious!

After breakfast we made the decision to find new lodging. Our tent was a bit wet and they were calling for more rain. The cabin we were using for showers and bathroom had a whole empty side so we took several trips up the long dirt road and moved into the cabin. On the last trip, Jeremy carried our tent - completely set up - over his head. I wish I had a picture!

That done, we enjoyed another cooperative/simple meal. I helped clean up while Jeremy went to an interest group on sustainability. We met later to watch a couple of fascinating videos showing in one of the cabins: Radically Simple and The Power of Community: How Cuba Survived Peak Oil.

We had a standard dinner and then I went to volunteer in the FGC bookstore for awhile. While there it began to rain. Actually, to absolutely pour!! I haven't seen such a pelting hard rain for some time. The thunder and lightning kicked in and the camp raised their red flag on the middle flag pole - this denotes extreme weather. Not only the rain, thunder, and lightning, but we were also on a tornado watch! Thank goodness we put our tent away.

After perusing the books for awhile, Jeremy and I headed for our cabin. It was still a little light outside and the rain had stopped. But it was cloudy and so misty and muggy it seemed like we were walking through the clouds. We got to our cabin and discovered an incredible jam session in the common room outside the sleeping area. Drums, metal bowls, guitars, even a trombone! We had unwittingly set up camp in the Young Adult cabin. These guys jam, play games, and hang out till at least 2am and then drag themselves out of bed around 11 or 12. A woman who had taken refuge the night before in the cabin informed us of the late night noise so we decided to move with her to another cabin that had some empty beds. So, for the third time that day, we grabbed all our stuff and moved to a new spot. We also had to carry a mattress to the new cabin.

We finally got to bed - even though the lights were left on for others in the room and parents were reading to their kids. Eventually everyone came in to bed and all the lights went out. Then - the snoring began. One was really loud and nasally and inconsistent; one was a deeper tone and sort of constant; one person seemed to be struggling to breathe in-between snores. I lay there awake and knew I'd never sleep through this. I carefully got out of bed, grabbed my pillow and a little blanket and went out to the common area. There was a couch of sorts (think three slightly-padded wooden chairs in a row) and I curled up on this. About 30 minutes later, Jeremy came out with the rest of the blankets. The snoring had woken him and he couldn't find his ear plugs. We pushed the two "couches" together (sort of resembling a crib), piled the blankets in and finally got some sleep (after deciding to ignore the dripping faucet in the bathroom and the droning of a mosquito over our heads).

Monday morning after breakfast we split our time between packing up all our belongings and attending some of the last bits of business and meeting for worship. We grabbed lunch then headed for the bus. We got the promised school bus this time - which as many of you know are not designed for anyone over 6th grade (or anyone taller than 4 feet anyway). So after a butt-numbing, back-breaking, leg-cramping 5-hour ride, we made it back home. Physical discomforts aside, the return trip was quite fun with lots of singing and chatting, book reading for some, and passing around the bus chips, wasabi beans, jerky, and ice cream sandwiches.

Despite the mosquitoes, ticks, Lyme disease, rain, thunder, lightning, tornado warnings, poison ivy, loud neighbors, cold nights, forgotten flashlight, tarp, pegs, bug spray, etc - we had a great time and are looking forward to next year!

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