Way back in the late 1960’s in the summers after my seventh and my eighth grade school years, I went to the most wonderful camp. It was in Canada on Manitoulin Island. It was called camp Adanac, which is Canada spelled backwards. I spent eight weeks on this island in the middle of Lake Huron and I was in a cabin with seven other kids and a counselor. It was a wonderful camp in a beautiful place with lots of great kids to hang out with.
I had become aware that every year they issued an award to a select number of campers called the Objiwong Award for an outstanding camper. Now me, with the low self-esteem I had back then, I thought I didn’t have a chance because, well, I just didn’t win these kinds of things. So, I go along my way not thinking much about it and as the summer progressed it came time to award the Objiwong to the winners. It was done in the middle of the night.
I went to bed one night and I am in my sleeping bag sound asleep and I am abruptly woken up by counselors who put a pillow case over my head and tell me to come with them. Now I heard that they came in the middle of the night to get you and my immediate thought was, “Oh my God, I won. I am one of the winners!” But I wasn’t sure of this pillow case over the face. I wanted to know where I was going but we were not permitted to know that.
They take us out of the cabin and I hear some other counselors and kids and we are all being herded together. So, with our guide, one by one we walked along the camp road. We came into a part of the camp road where the lake was coming up to the road. They made us get on our hands and knees and crawl through the water. We got up and they continued to move us along and then they took us through brush and made us walk through it. This was paying our dues like a fraternity hazing, but very mild.
After a long walk, they took us to a fire. I had no idea where we were. They had us line up in front of this fire and took our pillow cases off. There we were and there were long sticks with toilet paper wrapped around it, made into torches. The camp adults were standing there and the counselors were all there and I could see who the other kids were. And then we received a solemn speech from Mr. Roberts who told us how important this occasion was and how significant to have been selected for this award.
We then were led back to our cabins with the pillow cases over our heads to get our sleeping bags. Then we were led into the woods where we spent the night with just our bags and our pillow case to contemplate receiving this award. The pillow case was to cover us because there were many mosquitoes. My guide leads me on and on through thickets of brush and I am just wondering where I am and where I am going. We stop and the counselor said, “I want you to count to a hundred. Once you have counted to one hundred you can take the hood off. And you are going to stay here overnight and we will come and get you in the morning.”
I was like, “Oh My!” I was so excited and a little nervous about being in the woods all by myself. I was a kid and the bugs didn’t bother me so I got into sleeping bag, covered myself up with the pillow case and went to sleep. The next morning, they came and got me and I was sworn to silence. I was not allowed to talk until after lunch that afternoon. If we did we would lose our award.
On the way back to my cabin I am walking by myself and my brother James, who was there with me, was sitting on his cabin steps. And he asked me questions and I silently gestured that I couldn’t talk. He gets it immediately, “Oh, you won the Objiwong Award!” And then he does everything within his power to get me to talk. I prevailed through much frustration and amusement on his part. He could not get me to talk.
I get back to my cabin and all my cabin mates were asking where I had gone and what had happened to me. I gestured to them that I couldn’t talk. So, I remained silent through lunch and when lunch was over I was able to talk again. That night at our camp fire, in front of the whole camp, we were presented to the whole camp as the Objiwong Award winners of 1969. It was one of the greatest experiences of my early life.
Debra Wuliger, figurative artist working with color, texture and pattern to celebrate life.
Image silhouetted with story. Ready for hanging.