Thursday, February 01, 2007

What Does "BerryBird" Mean?

Now that I’ve debuted my new name, I thought maybe I should explain where it came from. In my earlier post explaining the origin of the name Lake Loop, I mentioned a camp I attended as a kid at Second Home Nature Center. Outdoor Youth Adventure was a week long day camp, with a sleep-over on Thursday night. I might have had social difficulties in school, but not at camp. In my mind, it was heaven, paradise on earth. I loved that camp, and it was where I earned the moniker BerryBird.

We did all the normal nature camp stuff: learned to identify trees, caught insects with nets, went fishing and seining, played games, went hiking and canoeing, did crafts, got up close with raptors and snakes and turtles. We had private Seton spots, where each kid would be left alone in the woods at the same designated spot every day to reflect, and to draw or write about our observations. We went on swamp treks, which were exactly like they sound, wading chest deep through stagnant water.

On Thursday afternoons, we would canoe or hike over to the far side of the lake, where we “camped out.” There were several lean-tos we would sleep in, and a big campfire near a small pavilion used as a kitchen. We might cook up fish we’d caught for dinner, bony sunfish and prickly bullheads, or cook up a big vat of stew or goulash.

S’mores were a given. I love the process of roasting marshmallows: choosing the stick, sharpening a nice point, spearing the marshmallow, jostling for a good position around the coals, watching the magical transformation. I never liked eating them much, though, which was never a big problem at camp. There was always someone nearby, happy to eat my extraneous marshmellows for me.

Around the campfire at night, there was the requisite singing and ghost stories. One year, in a very special ceremony, the counselors bestowed “Indian names” on all us campers. I cringe a little now typing it, as it doesn’t sound especially politically correct, but this was the 1980s and no one thought anything of it at the time. I still like the idea, because each kid received a unique name they had earned through their escapades of the week. We all felt special. A more modern approach might be to call them “camp names.”

For example, my friend R was obsessed with great blue herons, and would keep a daily tally of his spottings. He was also very athletic, winning the Mighty Oak award in the Outdoor Olympics. He earned the name GreatBlue. Another friend S had a good eye for birds, and she was called ScarletFeather after the tanager feather she found. During the swamp trek, C had a frog leap onto his face and grab hold of his glasses; he became GreenFrog.

Anyone care to guess how I earned the name BerryBird? Many kids grow up learning to avoid wild edibles, out of fear of poisoning, I suppose. I was not one of those kids. Second Home Nature Center was a place I knew like the back of my hand: I knew every twist and turn on every trail; I knew the location of every thicket of blackberries, raspberries, and black raspberries (my favorite); I knew the phenological differentials between sun and shade; I knew when to run ahead and when to lag behind.

I became BerryBird because of my gluttony. And I never grew out of that: I still love fresh berries.


Mary Stebbins Taitt said...

Great story! I used to love being a camp couselor and I let the wild black raspberries grow up in my yard for the sheer pleasure of eating out of hand and the delayed pleasure of baking pies. And I love the woodland trails, the lakes and streams, being in the woods, writing at Seton Spots. Great story.

Not so little sister said...

Nice story. I never went to summer camp but always wanted to.

Erin said...

I was never given a camp name that I liked. One year I was called "Rubber Woman" because I had exhibited my ability to tuck my heels up on my opposite upper thighs and then walk on my knees. Can you imagine the ramifications of giving that name to a pre-teen?

I loved camp too, and it was nice to have at least one week every summer when I could be the "cool" kid.

Nicole said...

Lovely story. I went to quite a few camps myself, although I could never escape the fact that I was a nerd at heart. I was always too slow, too small, too weak to do anything big. Always bringing up the rear.

BerryBird said...

Erin: you are right, Rubber Woman is not the best name for a girl of that age. You were extraordinarily flexible, though. Did the trauma shame you into keeping it a secret after that? I hope not.

Nicole: although I mentioned my friend being athletic, this camp was not a highly competive physical environment, at least not in my memory. I myself completely lack all coordination and athletic abilities; I couldn't even hit a volleyball over a net, but luckily that was not required. I do not think I would have thrived in a more traditional camp, the kind I was always reading about in childrens novels.

I still liked reading about those other camps, though, the ones where kids went for weeks at a time.

Aliki2006 said...

I, too, always wanted to go to summer camp. Great story! And now I want fresh berries...