Clearwater

The summer I was nine, I spent half of June and the first weeks of July at sleep-away camp, a set of buggy wooden cabins strung alongside a lake in northern Wisconsin. All day the pines rained needles onto the eaves. At night the storms made spiders of the branches against the screens. A few lodges, a bridge, a dock, and a hundred girls, massed against miles of forest clear to the great arching bank of Lake Superior, as deep as it was cold.

Whose idea was it that I go away? I was the eldest in my small family. My parents were young, and in our town there were plenty of options for children with long summer days. I could say that it was my mother’s, because she believed in pushing me to try. It is true that she had a busy schedule that summer, completing the hospital-based clinical pastoral education portion of her candidacy for the Episcopal priesthood. (When I was twelve, she would become the first female priest from the diocese of Chicago to be ordained there; I watched her lie, facedown, on the cathedral floor to receive her office from the mitered bishop.) Or it could be that my father suggested camp, believing as he did in the institutional practices of childhood—troops and teams and choirs, and, come ninth grade, a New England boarding school. But I suspect the idea was mine. I remember that Susan Andersen was heading to camp that summer. In our fourth-grade class, Susan was that rare political child who is both popular and diplomatic. In the giant cubby we shared on the hall outside our classroom, where usually she could be found kissing the new boy, Ted, whose eyelashes were visible from three desks over, one spring day she said to me, “You should come too.”

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