MILWAUKIE — Though school has started for Emma and Brook Wycoff, Camp Howard is a memory that makes the girls feel delight, even amid homework and rainy fall weather.
These sisters say that a day at Camp Howard is well worth remembering, and so they told us about a typical 24 hours.
A day at camp actually has roots months before, when representatives from Camp Howard make fall and winter visits to Catholic schools to discuss the opportunity. Parents sign up online or on paper applications brought home by students.
At camp after a bus ride from Portland, campers’ days begin when the counselor’s alarm rings. Birds are chirping in the woods above the Bull Run canyon, in the fragrant foothills of Mount Hood. Emma, a 14-year-old freshman at La Salle Prep, says it’s easier to get up at camp, because you know the day is going to be full of fun.
Brook, a sixth grader at Christ the King School in Milwaukie, explains that everyone in the cabin — 10 to 12 boys or girls — then rifles through luggage for toothpaste and hair brushes and heads off to the bathroom. The older kids get, the more time they spend on the morning ablutions, she says.
Cabin mates march to the dining hall around 8 a.m. “You hate to be the person who has to set up for breakfast,” Emma says. “Then you have to get there even earlier.” After a flag raising and pledge comes prayer, which invariably includes hand motions. The straightest, most quiet line gets to head in for breakfast first.
The peace ends at meals, when excited talk all but peels the paint off walls. To energize the crowd even more, a staff person who gets the short straw is required to sing an embarrassing song and act out the words. A typical lyric: “Jump, shake your rumpus.”
After cleaning the cabin (candy can be had for the best sprucers) come morning activities. This can vary from swimming lazily in the heated pool to a thrilling commando hike, a version of hide and seek in the woods. Some kids choose art while others prefer basketball and other sports. Some lie down and watch clouds.
Lunch is even noisier than breakfast. Brook says the homemade rolls are superb, especially the cheesy ones served with tomato soup.
After lunch comes FOB time, for “flat on bunk.” It’s a nap for younger campers and quiet reading or chatting for older kids. The Wycoff girls at first found this enforced quiet objectionable, but now see the wisdom of it.
More activities fill the afternoon. One popular hike goes on a zig-zag bridge over a stream and past a tree that seems to glow in summer. The trunk of what is known as the Fairy Tree is made of multiple shoots and can be climbed into and treated as a jail cell or secret cave. Campers can go to the archery or b-b gun range. Sometimes, there is a vigorous game of paint ball.
Pranks happen throughout the day. One year, a counselor sent his 8-year-old boys to sing loudly at sunrise in front of a girls’ cabin.
After dinner, campers head out to the log seats in front of the dining hall. Counselors dole out awards such as “Best Archery Shot,” or “Exemplary Behavior.” Then comes mail call, but scrambling over logs to get to letters and packages is forbidden. Some lucky campers hike to an overnight sleep out under the stars.
The end of the week brings a dance for the 13- and 14-year-olds. There is also a spiritual highlight — Mass with a visiting priest. The whole camp shows up for an intense game of capture the flag in the main quad. It gets crazy, Emma warns, but is really fun. Boys sometimes camouflage themselves with shrubbery and charcoal-darkened faces.
Evenings include campfires of one kind or another, with songs, skits and games followed by some peace and quiet. The main campfire site has a postcard view of Mount Hood, which glows nicely at sundown.
Campers walk sleepily to cabins after a long day. They brush teeth and do a prayer devotion. Some talk quietly after lights out until a counselor calls a halt. Others campers snack in the night and a few snore. Brook recalls one girl snorting a fly up her nose and waking up the whole cabin with distressed sputtering. In any event, the next morning comes fast.
“All through camp, you meet people and make friends,” Emma explains. She and Brook both love Camp Howard so much they plan to become counselors. It’s in the family. Their mother, Heather, was a camper in the 1980s and a staffer later. Just like both her daughters, she received the coveted Cougar Award, which goes to only the most outstanding of campers who live out high ideals.
“It’s a big part of who I am,” says Wycoff, who still has her badge and is certain her daughters will keep theirs, too, remembering days at Camp Howard.