A Fragile Something

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After seven weeks of daily sports, dances with girls' camps, and a fierce intra-camp competition called Color War, the final evening activity of every summer at Camp Skylemar was called Waterfront Night. After darkness fell, the whole camp waited outside their bunks for the Color War captains, carrying torches, to pass. Each bunk fell in behind these leaders in a silent processional that ambled along a dirt path to the waterfront.

Ten minutes later we reached Tricky Pond, tricky because the winds shifted frequently, where we were met by a massive crackling bonfire. After planting their poles in the sand, the captains stood at the water's edge. The rest of us sat facing them. Out on the water, on a pontoon we could not see, counselors sat in darkness we could not penetrate, softly singing camp songs that echoed across the water.

Speeches by the adored camp owners marking the end of our summer followed. Finally, each camper approached the water to say goodbye to his summer. We were given a tiny boat, made from the stub of a lit candlestick attached precariously to a small piece of balsa wood. A fragile nothing, but something.

Crouching by the water's edge, we gently pushed our boats toward the unseen pontoon and made a wish. After fifteen minutes, Tricky Pond's shore was aglow with the flickering lights of these tiny boats, buoyed by wishes as they headed towards the unseen counselors. Some boats never made it very far, snuffed out by a tricky gust of wind. Some hugged the shore and took their own path away from sight. And some, most, made it out to those counselors, but I don't know for sure. We never witnessed their final mooring. We had turned around to walk back to our bunks where marshmallows and dreams of the next summer awaited us.

And so it is with my teaching these days. Every morning, alone in my classroom, awaiting the arrival of my students, I prepare for my day by remembering a little beach by a large pond, and a lesson 40 years old.


A fragile something. A push. A wish.

With a Perspective, I'm Steve Hettleman.

Steve Hettleman teaches English at Redwood High School in Larkspur.