University of Minnesota
minnesota writing project
center for writing

Minnesota Writing Project.Center for Writing's home page.

Sarah Rutledge

Sarah Rutledge reading© 2007

Pine Trees and Memories          7-26-07

I will never forget the summer I was fifteen.  My newly blended family took a vacation to a family YMCA camp in northern Minnesota on the edge of the Boundary Waters.  Camp Du Nord is a rustic camp of cabins and tents where families can relax and enjoy nature.  The one hundred year old campground is located on the shores of Burntside Lake, a lake that would come to define tranquility and freedom for me. 

My blended family consisted of my brother, a stepsister, stepbrother, dad and stepmother.  We, the children, were all similar in age as well as similar in our distrust of each other as we attempted to share parents for the first time.   We were the Resource Family of the week, which meant that we provided a service for the camp in return for our lodging in a rustic cabin.  While my father taught groups of adults about trees, my siblings and I worked and played with the small children who attended the camp with their parents.  I spent the week working with other young people my age who were known as Junior Staffers, the camp counselors who freely spent their summers helping the Senior Staffers, and families that attended the camp.  Little did I know I would begin to make friendships that would last years and fill a lifetime of memories.

At the end of my family’s week stay my brother and I were not ready to go home.  We had fallen in love with the camp, the beauty of the forest, the lake that surrounded it and with our new friends.  We signed on to stay at the camp for the rest of the summer working as Junior Staffers.  We didn’t get paid money, but what we lacked in financial pay, was made up for in memories and experiences that would guide us through the rest of our lives. 

That summer there were about ten Junior Staffers.  We were all high school students of various ages.  There was a cabin for the girls and one similar for the boys.  I will never forget the smell of the boys cabin.  It smelled of dirty socks, sweat and something moldy, which made me cringe at the time, but if I were to come across the smell today I’m sure I’d smile with sentimentality.  We spent our mornings cleaning biffies, and came to be known as the “Biffy Gnomes”.  It was not a glamorous job, but one we completed with a sense of humor.  We even shared our original song  “The Biffy Gnomes” with campers at the weekly campfire sing alongs. To this day I love the word “biffy”.  In addition to our biffy duties, we worked with young children in morning age groups; lead nature hikes and helped families with overnight canoe and hiking trips.  We were given a freedom that was not bestowed upon many young adults, one that was not taken for granted.  Our free time was spent having campfires, singing along to the social anthems of U2, and playing practical jokes on each other.  We made midnight runs to the camp kitchen for homemade granola and took moonlight walks on dark pine scented trails.  We were fearless and familiar with the nature that surrounded us.

At every closing campfire the staff led families in a song titled, This is My Father’s World.  My family continues to returns to Camp DuNord every summer, now with a third generation of campers.  This is My Father’s World is still sung at every closing campfire.  I cannot make it through this song without happy tears in my eyes for the memories of long ago summers when I was a “Biffy Gnome”, young and carefree.

That summer, when I was fifteen, The Junior Staffers created a bond that would have us returning to camp year after year to work and play.   During the school year we all lived different lives in different towns.  We didn’t see each other often, but we all knew that come June, it was time to head back to Burntside Lake for yet another year of adventure and friendship in a place where we could be free.