Any parent of a teenage daughter knows how rare it is to glimpse “behind the scenes” in an adolescent’s life. Teens often find it hard to articulate their emotions, especially when they’re stretching their sense of what is possible, or who they are. That’s why we’re grateful to share an extraordinary letter from fourth-year Aloha camper Sarah McGrath.
We wrote here earlier this year about Sarah’s attempt to build a one-log fire, one of the requirements for a Vagabond rank in campcraft. At the end of the summer, she left a note for campcraft head Sarah Sincerbeaux (“Sisterbear”). The counselor had asked the teenager to describe her reasons for attempting the Vagabond rank, the third highest of four campcraft ranks, and what she learned from the experience.
Sincerbeaux shared the note with us at The Aloha Foundation. With Sarah McGrath’s permission, we now share it with you.
Being A Vagabond
I used to run up mountains. I would hike as fast as I could because I wanted the climb to be over, so I could enjoy the view. I had a hard time waiting for others to catch up, and when my parents would tell me to slow down, I got grumpy.
At the beginning of the summer, I had a schedule. I had planned out my summer so I could finish my rank halfway through second half. I guess in a way I was running though my rank so I could get to the summit. I wasn’t prepared for anything to slow me down. But then my one-log fire didn’t light. I was confused, devastated, and upset. How could something I had been working on so hard fail? That same day my mom sent me a letter, with a quote: “To those who look to the sunshine, the shadows fall away.” I didn’t really get it at first, but after thinking it over I realized I needed to slow down. I had been running up a mountain, dodging the obstacles and looking at my feet. I had forgotten to look up and look around me.
I was terrified when I retried my one-log fire. I knew I was better prepared, but my head still couldn’t see around this boulder in the trail. I took the first step over it, and I lit the match. I stuck it in the wood shavings and the rest of the way seemed easy. I could see the light at the summit shining through the trees.
This summer has forever changed me. I didn’t finish my rank on my original schedule. But I now realize that it’s not just about getting to the summit. It’s about the climb, the struggle, the journey, and the learning between point A and point B. I have learned to cherish those long wandering trails that don’t necessarily have a summit. I now know that I would rather go slow so I can look up and watch the woods around me, than watch my footing every step of the way. Sometimes I’ll trip over an unexpected root, but I know I can always get up. A boulder in the trail is not something to find a way around, but to climb over and conquer.
So here I am at the summit. You’ve given me this title as Vagabond, but it’s no longer just a rank. It’s much more than a set list of skills and tasks. Thank you all for showing me the way. The view from here is great, and I can’t wait to come back next year to start that other trail that leads to something called a Guide.
During the 2010 Aloha season, 70 Aloha campers earned ranks in eight departments. Behind each rank earned, or attempted — the 12 girls who earned their Botswain ranks in Canoeing; the camper who earned her Court Master, the highest possible rank in Tennis; the Peddlers, Penguins, Bowmen, Carvers, and First Mates — was a story and a learning experience, some of them as powerful and transforming as Sarah’s.
Just don’t be surprised if you haven’t heard about it yet…
Author Kristen Laine, writes and blogs about environmental education, women’s issues and children in the outdoors. After her graduation from Harvard, Kristen went west, and in between outdoor expeditions in the Seattle area, became “Outside Magazine Online’s” first editor. Now on the east coast, Kristen lives with her husband and two children in Orange, New Hampshire, and when she’s not writing, can often be found rowing on the Connecticut River.