I recently discovered my childhood summer campground has been abandoned for over a decade. I have vivid coming-of-age memories from this place, but even the most vivid memories are no substitute for being there. I needed to go back. I texted a friend from high school, grabbed my camera bag, jumped in his newly acquired Prius, and we were off. His memory of the drive there was more accessible than mine, but my failure to remember wouldn’t last very long. After driving down the muddy, overgrown road that led to the lodge, all my memories returned.
Walking through Lakeshore Christian Camp was like walking through a puzzle. Piece-by-piece I slowly assembled my disordered mess of camp memories. The environment gradually transformed from ruin to imaginative restoration as I went from site to site. While the grounds remained pretty unrecognizable, they were still capable of connecting my scattered memories.
“If it were not for the warm memories I have of this place, It would have been a much more chilling experience.”
The mess hall that once hosted my 8:30 am breakfasts and afternoon chapel services is now an overgrown shell of its former glory. Tattered and torn hymnals are strewn about, and overturned, moldy furniture is haphazardly positioned across the room. The basketball court now features a fully matured maple tree at center court and the bathroom cabins have been reduced to crumbling porcelain. If it were not for the warm memories I have of this place, It would have been a much more chilling sight to see.
Walking past the old snack and gift shop, I recognized a gaping hole where the back door use to be. I adjusted my camera lens and made my way through. Beyond that hole is a large hill that overlooks the Lake Winnebago. I held up my camera rig, pushed through the brush, and began to capture the now obstructed view of the largest lake in Wisconsin.
Taking a moment, I recalled all the time I spent on this hill. My fellow campers and I would congregate here at the end of every trip as we prepared for a long bus ride home. It’s here where I would sit with my bags packed and sleeping bag rolled fidgeting with my disposable camera and 256mb MP3 player. I could practically see my thirteen-year-old self there on that hill adjusting his Linkin Park playlist. The routine of looking out over the lake after a long week at camp was always the same, but each summer offered a different take on the experience. Some weeks provided tough life lessons, while others were without a doubt a defining childhood adventure. But regardless of whether it was a good trip or a bad trip, every one helped me grow and mature in different ways, and every one culminated on that hill.
I am now a very different person from the boy on the hill. I am taller and slimmer, I don’t really listen to Linkin Park (as much) anymore, and my faith is vastly different from what it once was. But even in all these changes, I remain very much the same. Standing in this place, in that lodge, and on that hill, was a gentle reminder of that. Because in the same way I’ve changed, this place has changed. The pool is dry and cracked, the bathroom cabin walls are gone, and I certainly would not recommend using the halfpipe. The unforgiving arrow of time has affected both myself and this place, but both remain strangely the same.