I dove into the lake this weekend. Big old cold Lake Superior. Air temps had climbed into the 90s, suffocating the marathon runners. The lake water warmed up from unswimmable cold, maybe the 50 degree range, to tolerable, maybe 60 degrees. I didn't want to go at first, but with a flat-out dive I was in the water. Oh, and it felt good.
Something about going out against my will, something about how it all turned out all right, brought me back to a bittersweet memory of summer camp. Summer camps are notorious for their traditions, for good and for evil. I could spend weeks on this blog analyzing my summer camp experiences and how they made me what I am today. That would get really boring. So I'll just do this once.
I spent most of my summers at Camp Koochiching, on Rainy Lake up by International Falls. Unbelievably, I'd go away for 5 or 8 weeks at the age my sons are now. The camp sessions were half in camp, on Deer Island, doing traditional camp things like sailing or riflery or woodcraft, and half on trail going to some deep wilderness lakes and rivers in the Quetico and in the crownlands north of there.
One goofy tradition at Koochiching was randomly throwing people in the lake. A mob would gather around some popular boy or some irritating boy, grab him fully clothed, then march him squirming spread-eagle down to the dock, chanting "IN THE LAKE! IN THE LAKE!" And in they'd go, with a huge splash and cascades of laughter from the throwers and the one who got tossed.
Here's the dock at the camp area for 11-12 year olds:
I was so afraid of being the next victim that I dug into my own emotional trench. I would not be that popular boy whose charisma demanded being taken down a few notches with a good wetting. I would not be that nerdy boy who would make a good victim with squeeling and cries of injustice. Six summers at Koochiching, and I never got the toss. I perfected the art of the middle path, to neither boast nor to irritate.
But since when was going into the lake such an awful thing? Sure, you'd get wet, along with your clothes. Clothes dry in an hour, kids even more quickly. Tossing the nerdy kid just because he'd squeel was cruel, I'll admit. And when the mob tossed your mattress in, too, that was taking it way too far.
Maybe it's nostalgia for youth and the path not taken, but I'm wishing now I'd been tossed a few times. I want to be "out there." I want people to respond to me, to react to me. Sure I'd put up a little fight, but I'd let you win. Get a good swing going as you send me over the dock edge, okay? And if you toss my mattress in, too, I'll get you back.