No offense to family, friends and Xboxes waiting at home, but a lot of kids really didn't want to leave the Mill Hollow Outdoor Education Center last Friday afternoon. Three days of summer camp high in the Uinta Mountains zipped by too fast.
"I wish," said Shannon Cunha, "it was three weeks."
When Shannon and her friends from Upland Terrace Elementary School start telling all the stories about their adventure-filled trip and begin explaining the gory details (literally) about Liz Merenluoto's infamous fish stick and what their adopted trout, "Taylor Icky Fish," apparently had for his last supper
And why Carter Allen streaked through a campfire program with only a towel on
And how kewl their counselors, Chugs and Hollywood, were
And what they bought at Trading Post shopping sprees before going broke
And why they hugged trees and how close they got to squirrels and who gave Megan Salotto a charm necklace and, well, everything else.
Understandably, after listeners digest these many tales, it might seem that the camp was indeed three weeks long.
Not that there weren't moments when it did seem like an eternity especially when the heavens opened up during the long, chilly, soggy hike to Mill Hollow Reservoir; or when everyone was required by Ms. Ulla Sponbeck to complete at least one inch of boondoggle before they could get their cherished free time.
"I don't have five hands," Morgan Wilcox lamented after finding out she was boondoggle-impaired.
Phil Varner also struggled with the tricky plastic-weaving activity. "I'm going to be here until tomorrow morning."
Meditating for a few minutes in the replica Sioux tepee also dragged for some students, mostly because fun was on their minds and also because a spider allegedly tried to attack Mike Daniels and Phil before meeting its untimely death.
But other than that, time passed faster than the scurrying pot guts (a k a squirrels) who bravely swiped food while daring capture by curious 10-to-12-year-old hunters.
(Disclaimer: Hunting pot guts wasn't on Mill Hollow's approved activities list, nor on Ms. Sponbeck's agenda, but attempting to catch the wee wildlife was definitely one of the more popular things to do.)
In fact, students were given a heads-up about the dangerously cute creatures when they first arrived. "Candy is fine," said girl counselor Hollywood, "but this comes with a warning: If you leave it out, you're inviting all the rodents of Mill Hollow into your bed."
Anybody who's slept in a Mill Hollow bunk bed knows there's barely space for one person, let alone any furry friends.
Not long after having this discussion about mankind's interaction with nature in their makeshift classroom underneath Cabin 7, Erin Wankier had an interaction of her own.
"It was that brown thing," she said, pointing behind a big boulder. "It touched my toe."
"You might want to be careful," warned Shannon. "They might bite, and they have rabies."
The squirrels have likely told their young similar things regarding the tricky treat-givers.
Of course, there were the standard camp rules. Kids were also told not to sneak into boys' cabins, and vice-versa, to not litter or vandalize, and to avoid drinking stream water. "You could get a bug that could give you diarrhea for five years," Hollywood said. "And that's no lie." Fortunately, nobody considered trying this Hollywood diet.
After being let into their cabins for the first time, the students were then directed to the amphitheater, where they awaited their teachers and, in the case of the boys, got drenched by Mikey's mischievous water bottle.
"I know where you sleep," Phil warned.
Suffice to say, that wasn't the last fight involving the liquid.
Ms. Sponbeck's group spent the rest of the day exploring the Mill Hollow Center, observing in the Bird Blind as animals nibbled seeds off of a dozen feeding stands "this is my favorite spot," Morgan said and learning about American Indian culture and Mother Earth as well as stocking up on boondoggle, candy and popular stuffed bulldogs at the Trading Post.
After dinner, students had a couple of hours of recreation time, during which they learned how to dance like American Indians (or at least like the counselor, Jester) and how to saw like a lumberjack. They also played volleyball, musical chairs and kick the can. No kicking anybody's can except for the provided plastic one, Fungi admonished.
A campfire program included several funny skits, a gas-guzzling fire and a bunch of eardrum-popping sing-alongs:
"The cooks at Mill Hollow, they say are mighty fine
But you ask for fried chicken and they serve you porcupine . . .
Gee, Mom, I wanna go to Mill Hollow."
The Upland boys' skit was a hoot. Two guys sat in front of the crowd, and as some boys walked in front of them, Mikey asked, "Hey, where did you get those cool shoes?"
"Meier and Frank," they replied.
Another group then walked by. "Hey, where did you get those cool shorts?"
"Meier and Frank."
Carter and another shivering, barefooted and bare-chested boy walked in wearing only towels. "Hey, who are you?"
"Meier and Frank."
Much of Thursday was spent on an all-day hike to the Mill Hollow Reservoir the camp's legendary five-mile hike that had nary a dull moment, starting when the kids learned how to turn leaves into musical instruments capable of noises ranging from kazooish to, according to the boys, noisy bodily functions. "We're going to outdo the Utah Symphony," Ms. Sponbeck said.
Students listened to Mill Hollow legends, tasted pine needles and were urged to pick a tree and hug it. Ms. Sponbeck, a master lesson-giver and 20-year Mill Hollow expert, hoped the group would contemplate the possibility that nature communicates. The girls were more sensitive to this point. Boys made cracks about quackies cuddling with quakies.
After the rain relented, a white patch on the trailside became the site of a rare June snowball fight.
Eventually, the group made it to the reservoir, where Aleksi Merenluoto was bound and determined to capture jumping fish on his point-and-click camera and where Liz and Sara Bezdjian gained bragging rights by catching a fish well, sort of.
The trout was dead and had floated to the shore, when Liz poked it onto a stick and paraded it around, even claiming she was going to take it home.
Some girls gathered around and touched it. Boys wimped out.
"It's slimy," said Kate Giolas.
"I touched it!" exclaimed Anita Phadnis.
"It's icky," Mikey added.
Ms. Sponbeck wisely decided to donate the fish's body to a scientific study. She let Liz and Sara dissect it, prompting several boys to walk away, all grossed-out. The autopsy taught where certain body parts were and revealed what the fish had snacked on before passing on to the big pond in the sky.
"You guys! It ate a worm!" Liz marvelled. "That's so cool."
"Oh, that's sick," said Taylor Deus the boy, not the fish.
"Man, I think we should all take part of it home," Morgan mused. "That'd be funny."
"I'm not taking anything," Phil refuted.
It was an educational experience and a fish story the students likely won't forget.
"Never lose a natural teaching moment," wise Ms. Sponbeck said.
The rest of the hike was filled with kids shooing away mosquitoes, giving each other flat tires and untold spontaneous water fights.
Once back, they did a required service project by cleaning up garbage and old nails around cabins. Then came dinner, more recreation time Celina Ferguson prospected a speck of gold out of the river, but she didn't keep it. "I probably couldn't find it in my suitcase," she said and the highly anticipated dance, featuring the Boot Scootin' Boogie, the Macarena and the Mill Hollow Shingle Shakedown.
"Today was the best dance of my life," Carter said.
The boys played cards while kids from another school tried to tackle Chugs in WrestleManiaHollow before lights had to be turned out at 10 p.m. Mikey called Chugs "awesome" because he at least let them talk once it was dark. The cabin got in trouble from management the night before for being too rowdy, too late.
Friday flew by the quickest. The usual 6:50 a.m. flag ceremony was followed by a pancake-and-bacon breakfast, packing and a three-mile hike to the Sewer Lagoons. No dead fish were found on this trek, but a writing contest, more snow fights, face paints (guess who become the canvas?) and a fossil field kept the students plenty entertained.
Soon, too soon, it was 1:30 p.m. time for counselors to exhale and time for students to hop on the buses and head back to Salt Lake.
At the pickup point, it was clear the three days couldn't have gone any slower for Kenzie's little sister, Allison. She missed her big sis so much, she cried all night Wednesday and slept with Kenzie's favorite teddy bear. She also baked her a surprise welcome-home cake.
"It's been a couple of long days without her sister," said Kenzie's mom, Christy Baxter.
To Allison, it probably seemed like three weeks.
And she hadn't even listened to any stories yet.
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