The Magic of Camp Riverlea

September 15th, 2014

By Ben Harris

Each session, we welcome every camper into Riverlea’s fellowship of the ring. “Welcome to the fellowship of the ring”, we say, placing a necklace over a camper’s head. It was a privilege to help with the ceremony this year, certainly one of the best parts of my summer. I could never have accurately estimated the feelings of profound joy and pride I would experience while welcoming campers, orcs, and staff into the Riverlea community during this traditional camp ceremony

This Riverlea tradition can have different meaning to each child: another reminder about the importance of community; more encouragement towards mutual respect, gratefulness, and interdependence; just a colored ribbon with a cheap ring on it; an awesome colored ribbon with a real magic ring on it. When a camper chooses to wear her or his ring the following Friday, I can’t help but smile.

Beyond the symbolism of the ring’s circularity, different ribbon colors representing the passing of time, the metaphor of keeping the ring close to one’s heart, and the inevitability of camp experiences shaping a child’s interaction with the world around them, the magic ring ceremony means something to the counselors too. Many staff members were once campers, people with a strong connection not only to the Riverlea community, but also to the physical place. Somewhere in the Hobbit House, their names are covered up by those of more recent campers. They have memories of their old counselors, learning to swim in the pool, who they had a crush on, and what the old Shire looked like before it burned down in 2010. I have these memories. They are essential aspects of my strong connection to Riverlea. I like to think memories like this are being made each summer, that everyone’s connection to Camp Riverlea strengthens with each positive experience.

“Is it really magic?” a lot of campers ask me, clutching their rings. Some look skeptical, others captivated. “It is if you want it to be, but you have to really believe in it”. Usually this isn’t a satisfactory answer. I don’t expect any campers to will themselves into flight or invisibility, laser vision or super super strength, nor do I intend to convince them that belief alone can create something. “Yes” or “no” would be boring answers, ones that fail to call into question the nature of magic, the power of belief, and the relationship between the two. I don’t expect anyone, camper or staff, to really work that idea around in their heads while at camp, but I hope it finds its way into everyone’s consciousness sooner rather than later.

My belief is that the magic of Camp Riverlea is interpersonal. It happens on the playground, during activities, on the bus, in the Shire. It happens outside of camp, too, when friends get together to reconstruct Riverlea stories from memory fragments. Those, in my experience, are some of the most magical moments. I share them with some of my best friends, people I’ve known since we were campers.

In essence, Camp Riverlea is like most places. Things happen there that people can later remember. But what makes Camp Riverlea particularly special is that it’s a community of people willing to believe in, contribute to, and participate in the magic of the fellowship of the ring. I am both excited and proud to say that we spent a lot of time this summer developing a multifaceted and longitudinal plan to continue increasing the quality of Camp Riverlea’s magic for campers and staff alike. Riverlea has many magical years to look forward to. I hope I can come back for more of them.

A camp tradition for Durham area children

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