The Essence

This had to be shared. Whoever put this together did a great job!  I wish they had more video from  the long and remote trips Manito-wish offers, but this really captures a good portion of why people love this place and keep coming back.

Watching it made me very nostalgic for my time at camp.  While this video focuses on the fun and learning that happens at camp, my personal take on it is that the real learning comes on trail.  I can remember my first year at camp, unaware that we even took a camping trip, let alone for three days (I was 11, so this was back in 1994 or something and it was a big deal to me.)  I was terrified.  I had never been camping outside of my backyard, and in my backyard I was scared of raccoons.  But before long I was packed, given a talk about how sometimes girls get their periods on trail for the first time, and pointed towards an orange canoe with some unknown, antiquated looking name on it.  Thankfully for me, my mom had taught me how to stern a canoe from an early age and though hardly anyone in our group could steer the boats, I could.  This made me a hit with my leaders, and even though we got in late, crashed a campsite somewhere on the Manito-wish River, and many girls were unhappy, I glowed inside.  THIS was cool.

The next year when I returned I did a 6-day trip.  I was in heaven.  I distinctly remember that it rained incessantly, but one morning we got out and it was mercifully only drizzling– there was a fog over the lake and we paddled out into the rising mists on glassy waters.  Again, I thought, now THIS is cool.  I get it.

We ended up sharing a campsite that night with another trip group, which was good because our fire-making skills were not cutting it in the rain.  But the leader of the other group told us that the previous summer she had done a 5-week trip in Canada (we called the trip a “Canuck”) and she helped show us how to make a fire so we could all cook dinner.  She smiled out from under the hood of her raingear and she was genuinely happy to be outside, cooking dinner in the rain.  I was inspired.

Following those summers, I went on to do a 2-week paddling trip in Quetico Provincial Park with a group of girls that I still keep in touch with today.  We paddled hard, we portaged a ton, and we all giggled at each other and marveled at each other’s strengths.

The next summer, I did a Canuck as a 16-year old.  5-weeks of camping in remote Northern Saskatchewan with 4 other kick-ass girls and a leader who seriously changed the way I saw the world.  We were a good bunch who liked to challenge ourselves, work hard, and test our limits.  I learned how to cook creatively over a campfire, how to bushwack a portage with a compass and a map, to to raise a tarp and sail on a 100-mile long lake, and how to paddle whitewater, expeditionary style. I learned how to be quiet, to meditate over paddle strokes, and to ride the windswept rollers on turbulent lakes.  I came home from that summer tanned, lean, and different.  Stronger.  More self-assured.

The girls on that trip became some of the people who I most related to in the world.  We planned to do a Staff Instructor’s Course (S.I.C.) in 2-years time. We went back to Manito-wish as staff and spent a summer passing forward some of the skills and lessons we had been taught as campers.

In the time that passed between my Canuck and my S.I.C., some things changed in my life.  I applied to colleges and the process taught quite a bit.  I remember sitting in a dorm at Dartmouth with my host who told me ” I love it here, it makes the Friday nights that I stayed home to do schoolwork seem worth it.”

To me, this was a life-altering revelation. I had never stayed home on a Friday to do homework. I had always done well in school growing up and I never  learned good study habits as a result.  I was in the advanced track throughout school, placed at the top in standardized tests, won scholarships, but didn’t know how to simply do homework or study for a test.  I was a mess of unmet potential.  I had been resting on my laurels as an intelligent kid since elementary school, without putting in the time to really improve myself.

This realization led me down a strange path involving a lot of re-evaluating.  I imposed a grounding on myself, staying in for nearly six weeks instead of socializing.  I tried out for a play and got the lead.  I did my homework and did well.  I started bringing home the grades I should have been from the beginning.  In this quest for perfection, however, I stopped eating.  I got compliments and someone even suggested I consider modeling.  I lost sight of my priorities– big time.  I deferred from Macalester.  I took a year off to go figure out what was happening.

The following summer I headed out on my S.I.C., to spend 55-days paddling from Northern Saskatchewan to Arviat, a small Inuit village on Hudson’s Bay.  I hadn’t completely come to terms with some of the things that had happened in my life, but I knew that I always felt most like myself on trail.  I spent 7.5 weeks of that summer in the tundra and taiga.  I was challenged mentally and physically as I had never been before.  Worrying about my weight was an afterthought– I was worried about whether I could shoot a polar bear if I had to.   I was filleting Northern pike.  I was fending off the ever-present buzz of black flies.  I was portaging a canoe blown sideways by the unmitigated tundra wind.   I was reminded of my smallness and impermanence.  I was healing.

I came back to work at Manito-wish for 6-years.  I could have stayed longer.  Every year there I learned more about people, nature, and myself.  I never stopped growing.

Everyone has their own story about Manito-wish, but the uniting feature of those stories is that through Manito-wish people figure out who they are and what makes them tick.  They learn to appreciate the natural world and it’s intricacies.  They grow into good people.

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