2021 marks the 35th anniversary of (I Wanna Go Back To) Tamarack. Howie (the original camp owner) announced to the camp that I was writing the new camp song. Which was cool. Except that it was the first time I was hearing it too.
1986 was a bizarre, wonderful, tragic summer. It was the year we lost Jonathan Miller to a freak boating accident, and suddenly the camp was in mourning, which – as I’m sure you can imagine – is about as strange and foreign an emotion as you will ever have at camp. It seems to rise above that somehow. After Howie announced it, at about 2AM that night, I ventured out to windsports on my own with only the night sky lighting my way. I sat down on the picnic table with my yellow legal pad and a pen and could not for the life of me start writing. I was 19 years old and well established in my own emotional turmoil. I was on the cusp of starting university, which I was not looking forward to as I did not have Clue One about where I was going. My parent’s marriage was also slowly slipping into oblivion, so I was about to head back to more chaos than I could bear. All I wanted to do was stay at camp. With my family of friends. Who would shield me from the rest of reality while we idyllically breathed in an endless summer.
So that didn’t happen.
But what did happen is that I found myself immediately writing. About leaving friends, about things I would miss, about tumbling with unforgiving speed from a child to a man. And somehow, it all got flavoured with my overwrought feelings of longing, and sadness, and dread of the future and what it held for me. Suddenly the page of my yellow legal pad was full all the way to the margins with these little thoughts, and within an hour I had the song. And what was most surprising to me was that even though I had written it with sorrow and doubt and fear, it was overwhelmingly filled with joy when I put it to music.
I wish I could explain what it feels like to hear 35 seasons of staff and campers sing that song. My mom always taught me that the only worthwhile goal in life was to leave this world a better place than you found it. If you can have a positive effect on just one person, your life was worth it. That is the camp song for me.
Recently (for obvious reasons) Rob Cooper (the first Head Of Video at camp and now an award-winning writer and producer (Wikipedia Page here) sent me a long-forgotten video he shot for the camp song in 1986. I was surprised by how emotional it was to see myself in all that youth and angst and vulnerability (and hair), but it was a humbling and loving reminder that the more things change, the more they stay the same. I will play that song for as long as I am asked to. Because it takes me back to a snapshot of comfort and safety and belonging. It always will.