Friday, March 28, 2014

The Magic

I am constantly meeting crazy people.

Okay, so I'm definitely using the loose definition of "crazy." What I actually mean is, "I am constantly meeting new, intensely interesting people from all sorts of backgrounds that may or may not have a reason for appearing at my home/place of work."

Oh -- did I not mention that this is a camp post? Sorry. This is a camp post.

We are a year-round camp and retreat center. The summer is largely devoted to kids' summer camps; during the school year, it's all about adult groups and weekend youth retreats. While a lot of these groups are associated with the United Methodist Church (as we are) and other churches, we have a large number of other groups as well -- scrapbookers and quilters, AA chapters, family reunions, tribal organizations, schools, here and there a government agency in need of a space. There are plenty of groups that do their summer retreats elsewhere but come winter turn up here, since we're one of the few open all year.
There is, of course, more to it than that. Not everyone who visits stays over night. We're a fully operational business with a bunch of buildings to keep in order and massive food bills.This means that, in a standard week, there are also volunteers, food service people, occasional repairmen and delivery folks (FedEx, UPS, the propane guy). Since we also have a lot of repeat guests that consider the camp a regular destination and people planning events, we get a lot of drop-ins -- people just stopping by to say hi or take a tour or check out progress on one project or another.

And finally, there are the tourists and outdoor enthusiasts who show up by accident. It's been awhile since someone turned up looking for Mount Rushmore, but folks get lost hiking or biking in the area and find themselves in our parking lot pretty regularly.

I lay this all out for you because it's the easiest way to describe the people that find their way to camp: there are no standard types, nothing in common except that they all found themselves in the Hills.

That is what makes my job genuinely fascinating.

We get to see these people at an interesting point in their lives. They're away from home, away from the usual distractions, and (usually) able to relax. Then they turn up for a meal (which they don't have to cook or clean up after) and the Storm Magic kicks in.

The Storm Magic is this strange phenomenon where people just ... start talking. About anything. Everything. Somehow, being down in this little valley seems to open people up to talk about their lives.

It. Is. Awesome.

All those random people, every one of them that turns up six times or only just once, every last person has a story or ten to tell -- and those stories come out here. As a result, I know more about what's going on with people I've seen twice in the last year than I do about some of my own family members. It's the conversations over coffee before breakfast and the jokes thrown around after lunch, the late-night rounds while someone's got a fire going or the chance to chat when someone first rolls in. It's stories about our food service rep's kids and what the Red Cloud seniors are doing after graduation, old camp stories from retired pastors and every kid who wants to tell you all about his favorite class because he remembers you selling him a candy bar last summer.

And wow, it's the pictures shown by proud grandmas.

It's even the full-life-stories you get when you're booking someone new and the kids who have so much more to say when they're not afraid their parents will overhear. Or the quick set of directions to a lost hiker that turns into half an hour hashing out details on local trails.

Heck, it's the wrong number I answered last week that turned into a 5-minute chat about the weather and the guy's ranch.

I don't know every life story. Not every single person turns up once willing to spill their guts. But the longer I'm here, the more I learn about each person that passes through, from the kids that turn up every summer to the FedEx guy.

It may just be the single best thing about living here.

“Everybody has a secret world inside of them. I mean everybody. All of the people in the whole world, I mean everybody — no matter how dull and boring they are on the outside. Inside them they've all got unimaginable, magnificent, wonderful, stupid, amazing worlds... Not just one world. Hundreds of them. Thousands, maybe.” 
-- Neil Gaiman

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