Memoir of a Girlhood: Tall Timber’s Calling

The old wooden sign with the white-paint carved out letters “Camp Kenneydell” is long gone. A fancy county park sign has taken its place. In fact, other than the lake, the only familiar feature of the Tall Timber’s Girl Scout Council camp I attended for seven summers–every year of eligibility–is the lodge. The lodge looks exactly the same, except Muffin’s kitchen didn’t have a microwave on the counter under the maple paneled cabinets. And the pantry shelves that once held #10 cans of vegetables to last a summer (and which we 7th and 8th graders carried around camp in our backpacks, conditioning for hiking in the mountain ranges) sit empty. And it had a moss-covered shake roof, not the tin one that protects it from the damp Pacific Northwest winters now.

The two long porches, front and back of the cedar shake building, where dozens of girls ate Muffin’s three square meals a day on benches at long tables are empty and silent. The rafters no longer ring with the sound of our voices singing the camp songs that would become imprinted on our memories and pulled out of the fabric of my being to sing my children to sleep a couple decades later.

The bridge across the creek behind the lodge that ended at a steep hill up to the CIT compound is still there. But probably it’s a different bridge. Those girls were gods. There is no longer any sign of the tent platforms where they trained to be counselors one day. Nor are there any ruins or archeological digs to show where Sleepy Hollow and the tent platforms of the youngest scouts were; or the little wood-bunked A-frame cabins of Sherwood Forest where the older girls told ghost stories and giggled in the dark until Scotty played the mournful Taps on the bugle up by the flag pole that is also gone now. Flashlights off, we slept then, until the same bugle blasted us awake too soon with Reveille.

All those girls: Sue Ann and Barbara, my best forever friends back then; classmates Lucy, Nancy who died of breast cancer some years ago, and another Barbara, also gone too soon; beautiful Charelle with the exotic long curly hair from Winlock that I wanted to be my back-packing buddy at Junior Outpost and sleep with under the two-person plastic rain protection. Surely such a partnership would boost my status at least in my own eyes. And dear Jan from Shelton who was my penpal during the long months of school until summer finally returned and we made sure we attended the same two-week session of camp. Dear beautiful Jan…from ugly Gretchen. Dear beautiful Gretchen…from dumb Jan.

The trails are unrecognizable; no longer turning left to Sleepy Hollow and right to Sherwood Forest from the flag pole. The trails pass picnic shelters now, instead of outhouses down which johnny juice was poured each morning by the campers whose caper it was that day to exchange one stench for another. They pass fancy playground equipment rather than fire circles surrounded by planks nailed onto rounds of tree trunks for campfires where we sang the evening songs, “Barges I would like to go with you; I would like to sail the ocean blue…” And the sad ones like “Mandy” that was later banned and which I do not remember the words to. It was about a young woman who died too soon.

The longer trail to Black Lake has a gate across it and a “no admittance” sign, but the chain-link fence is oddly only a few feet long, and another trail goes around the end. So do I. The board walk across the swamp over the huge leaves of the skunk cabbage is gone. Now the trail is in the swamp. But I’m not supposed to be there, so I don’t wonder at the lack of trail maintenance. I flash back to the single-file line following stocky Scotty, the veteran counselor with her trademark Scottish-plaid tam and Turtle with her ready grin (the first two lesbians I knew long before I knew what there was to know), and sweet pretty Skeeter bringing up the rear as we tried not to brush the walls of stinging nettles. And surely the beach and the boathouse (forever disappeared) at the end of the other trail that we shivered down in our swimsuits was not so close to the camp areas in the 1960s; they must have moved the lake inland. The lake where I learned to sink a canoe out in the middle, flip it and empty it, and get back in to earn my canoeing badge.

Seven summers in nirvana. The memory brings me to my knees in longing to have the days back. I am grateful for the echoes.

High in the sky above
The love song of the trees
Will blend and wend its way
Out on the breeze.

Tall timber’s calling, and the echoes ring,
And all nature sings a song along the timber trail.

Camp Kenneydell

9 thoughts on “Memoir of a Girlhood: Tall Timber’s Calling

  1. Oh the memories this brought back! I was a Kenneydell camper from 1st grade through CIT, then as a counselor in Sherwood Forest! Knew all the same counselors and still make Muffin’s lemon jello cake. Weren’t we the lucky ones to make those memories & friends that still bring a smile…and echoes of songs & laughter!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I love when a reader finds and comments on an old post and I get to revisit it myself! Kenneydell was the time of my life. And holds a prominent spot in my memory bank. Thank you, Maggie.

      Happy Gratitude Day. Gretchen


  2. Thank you, you evoked the essence of Camp Kenneydell beautifully. I recall troop camping there with Mary Date, Jean Winjum and my mom as our leaders. Margie & I led the singing, with camper’s cocoa before lights out. Remembering sweet times, wonderful memories.


  3. Thanks Gretchen, for the echoes, the memories, the old friendships remembered. I spent nearly thirty years with the Girl Guides of Canada working with all ages and levels and then nine years at the Ontario Provincial Girl Guide Training Centre, Camp Doe Lake. The best times of my life were spent at Doe Lake with youth. My Guiding days taught me so much about myself, people and life.Thanks for the memories,
    I can feel all of your memories still beating in my heart. Now seventy, oh how I long to have those years again.


  4. Thank you Gretchen. This made me cry tears of joy remembering the best part of my childhood summers. Margie Date Smith


  5. I think we were fortunate to be in this when there was still an innocence to our adventures and surroundings that will never be again. Some of the trade-offs are worth it, others I’m not so sure.


  6. O my did you make my Saturday morning, which is when I am reading this. Not being of the female persuasion you (the specific but the general) would think that Kenneydell would not amount to much of a memory for me. But you(still the general) would be so wrong. If Girl Scouting had a GeekFan girl president it would have been my Mum. I think she always wished she had stayed a professional Girl Scout staffer. I spent many a lovely hour at Kenneydell, campfires, weekend work parties, visiting Mom’s troop when they were there. In my later years I went back and led sing-along/special campfires for girls and for campstaff.

    On a harmonic vibration note this post also evoked all my own Boy Scount Camp memories which were the same nirvana for me. Every spring, as long as it’s been, I get camp fever, ready to pack my bags for being on staff. Every memory you remember with really only the names changed match a corresponding camp memory of my own.

    And I love how vividly you remember the people and your relationship with them.

    Thanks for this gift.


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