Night alone in woods strengthens relationship with nature

BY JENNIFER SILVERMAN

This summer, I embarked on my ‘senior’ year at Camp Barney Medintz, a sleep away camp located in Cleveland, GA. During the summer between freshman and sophomore year in high school, campers graduate to a new unit called Juniors in Training (JIT). Instead of being in a wooden cabin with 11 girls and 2 counselors, JIT’s live in a permanent tent with 3 other girls and participate in many different activities that make this summer different from any other.

One of the unique activities JIT’s participate in is called SOLO, a period where all participants spend a night in the woods alone. During this once in a lifetime opportunity, campers spend 24 hours by themselves where they are responsible for making a fire, preparing food and essentially surviving by themselves. One intriguing aspect of this experience is that SOLO can be declared at any time. When a senior counselor calls SOLO, all 82 JITs have 15 minutes to sprint back to the tents, pack all materials and run back to the main road at camp for departure.

On the afternoon of July 10th, two of the staff members caused a disruption at lunch to draw everyone’s attention, right before they called SOLO. As I ran back to teen village where I lived for the summer, I vividly recall my heart beating in fear of what was to come.    

Without anything but water, a sleeping bag and a flashlight, I was ready to take on the challenge. In this moment, I remember feeling nervous, awaiting the next 24 intimidating hours I would spend alone in the woods. After two hours, I arrived at my campsite and was supplied with a whistle for safety, a tarp and a bag of food for dinner.

The first task I did was set up my sleeping bag, my tarp and make my fire base. Each JIT is only provided one match, making the fire-starting process intimidating. At camp, we learned not to ‘scorch’ the Earth, meaning making a fire base in a way that we don’t burn the soil and all the life that lives in it. I had to build a proper fire base by laying down tree bark on the ground. I did not enjoy this process because it was labor intensive, time consuming and I got covered in dirt. In the end I was able to start a fire which made me feel accomplished in a time of fear.

After SOLO, I was informed that only 12 out of 83 people were able to start a fire, and I was the first one. Knowing that the flame I created would provide me light, keep the bugs away and add warmth to my campsite was reassuring and made me feel accomplished.

During my time alone, I wrote a letter home, and ate dinner. I went to bed rather early, and when I woke up in the morning, it was time to go. A counselor came to pick me up, and I was reunited with the rest of the unit on the bus. Everyone shared their SOLO stories.  On the journey back to Camp Barney Menditz, I felt so relieved that my day and night alone in the woods was over. This unforgettable experience taught me that I am capable of so much more than I ever thought. SOLO gave me time to escape from reality during a busy session at camp and reflect on my life thus far and is an experience I will never forget.

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