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Baco Counselor Toast 2018

Dear Baco Family,

Close your eyes.

           Over the hills and far away there’s an oasis hidden in the mountains where people gather in a circle twice a day before eating, and where they sleep under the stars in wooden huts. Where the rain patter sings on the aluminum tin roofs as you sleep and where kids drink hot chocolate with marshmallows before breakfast time. Disconnected from life’s realities, in a hypnotic trance where nothing else but bliss exists, wandering souls collide together in summer’s heat.  Just imagine the most beautiful oasis in the whole world, where a man on a mountain cliff controls all of the sunny weather, and where a mighty hawk soars over a magical lake. Keep your eyes closed and just imagine.

           Imagine a place like no else, where the people fall asleep to the chirps of crickets, and live out their dreams in a beautifully twisted reality. Where magic is born – and shared – and passed on for future time and people to come. Where your time flutters and flies away over the mountains, as the sun sets and as the moon rises. Where the trees are greener and the flowers grow, and where nature controls its own course. Where stories are told and remembered, and where young boys are able to grow up from listening to them.

So this is the story of a young boy who was always scared to grow up, and learned to do so in that special place. Fourteen years ago, at the age of seven, he came over these hills alone, to live in a very fun house without any sense of what to expect. Smaller than the rest, with hair to his shoulders and an acoustic guitar around his neck, he began to subconsciously live through the best days of his camp career. As white wispy clouds faded in the bright blue sky over the lake each summer moment, second, day, year, he learned over time how to make that phenomenal place his very own home.

But when the night sky darkened, he always found himself struggling to fall asleep at night. Laying in bed he’d think of his family back at home and the monsters that hid under his bed, fearful of life’s scary unknowns. To fall asleep, he’d listen to his counselors stories each night, that told the histories and memories behind Baco’s true story. Every counselor would tell a new tale each night, recounting memories from their own personal pasts.

Breathe in and take a look around. Camp is like a fairy tale – constantly blurring time’s path and the distinct line between our reality and fantasy – Forever tangling its own course as its rewritten and retold. Like a daydream, where you aren’t aware of the beauty around you, or the magical traditions that repeat and live on longer than you. Like the fairy tales that tell the story of a boy who grew up, or the boy who got super powers – the stories that people never ever forget.

But most stories are not all fairy tales, and every story ever told is unique. Yet in this magical place you all sit in today, everyone’s story is able to blend and be told and heard together. Some of your stories are just beginning, and some of you may already have a great collection, yet you all are able to enrich your own story by hearing each other’s. The characters you meet, the ones that come and go and pass and stay – the characters you love, and hate, and the ones you hate to love and love to hate – they add to your story – teaching you how to grow and evolve.

But back to the boy’s story. When the boy was young, a great legend named Mel wore a grand Indian chief headdress in the center of this ring that we sit in today. The legend’s stories changed the boy’s life forever. He told the stories behind the stars in the sky and the great Indian warriors who overcame epic battles and were able to grow up and evolve through time. Last summer, the legend’s son stood before this ring delivering a sermon on the power of words and stories. His son was the one who put the music and magic that reverberates in the camp’s air to this day, and the man who didn’t start the fire, but always kept it burning. Today, his daughter tells us more campfire stories – while carrying the whole world on her shoulders – and she could not be doing a better job at it. The Wortman traditions live on and long in these mountains, and we cannot be luckier to have them.

Traditions and stories from camp are special because they are able to evoke a special sensation of nostalgia – a particular longing for your past that is impossible to fully obtain – an attempt to hold onto your memories and your stories of your lost time. That’s what I love about telling stories – they are never the same – constantly changing – adding endless parts and infinite possibilities and endings.

The boy’s story grew longer over his summers spent in those purple mountains, and four years ago marks the best chapter of it. He lived in a large wooden hut under the stars with his best friends. There were 24 of them, all together, serving corn dogs and soaking their skin in black, red, green, and blue paint. There is not much I can put into words to describe how amazing they are, or how much the boy loves them, but I will say this. Without them, there would be no boy. Almost lost along his way, the boy’s friends welcomed him with open arms and hearts, making this magical place we stand in today his home again.  Like many kids, the boy had his own problems, doubts, and fears. Specifically the fear of growing up and becoming mature enough to approach and accept change – but he has overcome it – and is still able to pass on his story.

I cannot forget that there are some people whose influential stories made it possible for this boy’s story to be heard and told. On this very day the boy finally got the chance to thank them for their kindness and for making him still feel young – as though he was reliving the better and earlier days in the Funhouse. There’s this one guy up there in the mountains, in an office, with perfect handwriting, that lives and prays for the children there who give out sticky kisses and fistfuls of dandelions.  His energy and positivity are contagious, and he helped show the boy to be the best leader he could be. Down the slopes, there’s this one woman who mentored the boy for over twelve years. She taught him to paint and draw, and to pay attention to detail by appreciating all of the little things around this place. Over at the Kauser House, there’s a legend who screams to clean the bunks, and his best friend, camp dad, sweeps the dirt that lays beneath the bed. And the best friend’s wife brings all the sunshine and sunscreen, and she taught the boy to be a lot more selfless and caring – to do everything he could for the people around him – and to be the best self he could be. She told the boy today how unbothered and content this place can make someone, and how simple life is up here. She also continuously fights for everyone here to add and continue their own stories. And near the Funhouse, the boy’s friend and hero lives nearby, forever sharing his great wisdom. And to the Funhouse – you guys are so unreal that it is hard to believe you aren’t imaginary. Your smiles and endless yelling warm everyone’s hearts, and everyone cannot wait to hear and see your future stories be created and told. You create your own story. This summer was just your first chapter.

Sometimes it’s hard to put things into words, so you really have to learn to read and write in between the lines. But that’s what I love about telling and reading stories. – they are never easy – and they are never the same. They’re constantly changing …adapting. Stories are the only thing we have left when we all say goodbye to each other. And for some of us, this is our last chapter, but for many of you, there are infinite more stories to be told.

Yesterday, before I slept I thought of my family back home and the monsters that still hide under my bed. Last night I had the strangest dream, where the boy found his story suddenly coming to a close. Where he woke up to a swarm of butterflies in his stomach, and realized he finally grew up. It’s crazy how you wake up – and you feel as though it was all just a big dream – all jumbled with fantasy and magic.

There’s a piece of that boy in each of you that sits in this ring today – and a piece of you all within him.  I’m glad that I got to tell you the history behind his story. So that’s my story. And I hope you liked it. And since stories cannot be heard unless they are passed on, I hope you all forever continue to tell yours. For now, we all just have to move on to our next chapter. I love you Baco. Baco Pride.

J. Foerster, Waiter of 2014


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