Walking around campus in Ann Arbor, Michigan, my friends always say they know it is me across the Diag simply because they can spot my Kori-Approved-Orange backpack with all of the “brightly colored strings” attached.
Well, what people don’t always understand about those “strings” is that they are, in fact, retired friendship bracelets given to me throughout the past two summers at Camp Newaygo. What they don’t know is that I can tell you exactly which camper or counselor gave me each one. And what they can’t know is that with each bracelet comes a plethora of memories of smiles, songs, campfires, adventurous campouts, hugs, and colorful scarves.
I’ve been an avid fan of Camp Newaygo since the first day I stepped foot on the beach of Lake Pickerel with my Mom in 2005. I quickly turned into an annual camper for the next seven years, and after a short break, returned to Camp as a counselor for the summer of 2016. That’s a total of ten years of sunny days on the lake, shady walks through the woods, competitive games of Capture the Flag and Camper-Counselor Hunt, and exploring Northern Michigan through countless hiking and canoe trips. That’s ten years of making best friends/sisters during the summer and counting down the days until the next reunion.
But the thing about Camp is that I can’t always take those friendships back to Grand Rapids or Ann Arbor. Therefore, I’ve always treasured those brightly colored strings woven into (sometimes questionably executed) designs. Each friendship bracelet is unique to the person who gifts it – there’s always at least one mistake, a difference in pattern, or a deliberate color scheme that distinguishes it from the one it sits next to on my wrist.
When I was a kid, I would keep the bracelets on my right wrist until they fell off. I would then pick them up and put them in a box in my room with the other retirees.
Since being in college, however, I’ve had to remove them as soon as school starts back up because of the dance team I compete for. But removing them just feels so… sacrilegious. So instead, I came up with the idea of carrying them with me in a different way – hence the collection on my backpack.
Naturally, while packing for my semester abroad in Buenos Aires, Argentina this winter, I decided to keep them attached so as to bring a piece of Home with me across the Equator. Since then, they’ve made the trek through 24 hours worth of flights, countless bus rides to La Universidad Católica de Buenos Aires, and of course on a couple of adventures to National Parks across the country.
The wanderlust Camp instilled in me as an eight year-old searching for Blueberry Hill has persisted as a key piece of my personality to this day and I’ve been lucky enough to find friends in Argentina who share my same desire to be surrounded by nature and to explore.
Here in Buenos Aires, we recently had a week long break from classes. After being in the city for two months now, my friends and I decided to travel to the North-West of the country and explore the Andes. One of the days, I was climbing some mountains outside of a little village called Purmamarca – HIGHLY recommend — and half way through the day took a break in a plaza to sit down. I had my backpack sitting on my lap and after a minute, a group of little girls (who quickly informed me that they were “this old” while holding up four fingers) came up and tapped me on the shoulder. They asked in their high pitched Spanish, “how much are you selling those for?” I looked at them, confused. Nothing had been lost in translation… but I was not selling anything. The leader of this small girl-group looked at me, repeated the question, and pointed at my backpack.
After a minute, I realized she was asking about my sacred friendship bracelets.
I quickly told her I wasn’t selling them (obviously, they’re priceless!!!), but that I would let her look through them if she wanted. As she browsed, I told her and her friends that my very best friends made these for me and that each one had a very special place in my heart. She paused for a second and responded, “You have some pretty good friends. Mine don’t make me bracelets”, shooting her pack of followers a pointed glance. I thought, she’s not wrong – I do have some pretty high-quality friends around the world.
Well, eventually, she found a pastel bracelet that a camper made for me this past summer and exclaimed “this one makes me really happy inside!” I smiled, internally acknowledging the fact that it made me happy inside too. But oddly enough, I found myself untying it and, using a friendship knot, retying it on her tiny wrist. Sure enough, when her friends saw her receive one, I ended up giving out a few more – smiling and remembering each camper or counselor as I untied them one by one. The girls admired their wrists, exchanged versions of “mine is better than yours!!”, then said thank you, gave me hugs, and ran to continue playing.
So, despite my collection of “brightly colored strings” shrinking ever so slightly, the glory in my heart has grown just that much more. Knowing that in some way, shape, or form the Newaygo Spirit made it all the way to the North of Argentina made me realize how lucky I was to have grown up with Newaygo only an hour North of me. It made me remember that the Newaygo Spirit and the love felt under those wide oak trees isn’t something that ends when you leave the bubble of Lake Pickerel. It becomes a defining part of you and manages to influence and radiate through every little thing you do — even after your time at Camp has come to a close.
-Guest blog written by Emma, long time camper and counselor.