In Your Words is a regular feature of Mass Audubon’s Explore member newsletter. Each issue, a Mass Audubon member, volunteer, staff member, or supporter shares his or her story—why Mass Audubon and protecting the nature of Massachusetts matters to them. In the Spring 2020 issue, we interviewed three counselors from Mass Audubon’s Wildwood Camp. You can also read Nina and Dustin’s stories. If you have a story to share about your connection to Mass Audubon, email email@example.com to be considered for In Your Words in a future issue!
When I was 10, my friend Evan was going to Wildwood for the first time and was nervous about not knowing anyone there, so he invited me to go with him. I loved it so much that this will be my ninth summer, first as a camper and then as a Leader-in-Training (LIT), a Leader-in-Action (LIA), a Junior Counselor, and finally as a full-fledged counselor.*
I loved being out of the school environment in a place where I could run around and be a kid, but the biggest thing for me was that there were new people every year who didn’t know me. Each summer that I returned to camp was a chance to create a better me. Having the freedom to remake yourself over and over is a great way to experiment and explore who you are at a time in your life when everyone’s trying to figure it all out. You don’t always get to do that at school where people may have known you for years and already have expectations about who you are.
At first, I didn’t think much about the nature camp aspect. I just thought that all camps were like that. But over the years I’ve come to enjoy Wildwood’s emphasis on teaching kids about nature more and more. Having staff naturalists leading programs every day is so helpful because I don’t always have the answers to kids’ nature questions—plus, I get to learn about nature, too. I want to run for political office someday, and protecting the environment is a big reason why.
One time, when I was a camper in Leopold (boys ages 9–10) and we were sleeping in the cabins, I woke up to a HUGE spider right near my face. I was convinced it was poisonous, but I also thought it was just a cool spider and wanted to know what it was, so I convinced my counselor to go wake up the staff naturalist to come identify it for us—at 2:00 in the morning!
LIT and LIA were the most fun I’ve had in any Wildwood program. I loved the leadership aspect and felt like we grew even closer as a group than we did as regular campers. Toward the end of the program, we climbed Mount Ascutney and sat at the top for over an hour, just looking out at this magical view in silence. There was a real sense of community and camaraderie after spending several weeks learning and growing together. The beauty of the natural setting definitely enhances the Wildwood experience, but for me, it’s really all about the people and the connections I’ve made.
Jackson Lieb is studying business and political science at the University of Massachusetts Amherst and will return to Wildwood this summer for his 10th year, and second as a counselor.
*Wildwood’s Leaders-in-Training and Leaders-in-Action programs are now known as the Environmental Leadership Program, Years 1 and 2, respectively. The Junior Counselors program will be replaced with a Counselors-in-Training (CIT) program this summer.