There's something thrilling about not knowing where you'll sleep each week. Waiting in anticipation for Friday night, where the answer finally comes, only to leave two days later.
Out of all eight weeks, this past one was definitely my favorite.
In the Sunday morning darkness, a handful of Luther Springs staff and I loaded the van for Tallapoosa, Georgia to work at Lutheranch, our sister camp and the newest of the four NovusWay sites. The travel excitement grew inside my body, making sleep impossible (or maybe that was just the lumpy van seats).
Eight hours later, our van rolled across bumpy gravel and past soaring trees to the Lutheranch Retreat Center.
First reaction: This place was beautiful. Wood floors and paneling. Granite countertops. Vaulted ceilings and giant windows. It screamed opulence in the wilderness, not summer camp.
All of the campers and counselors stayed in hotel-style rooms inside the center, each equipped with bunk beds, carpeted floors, private bathrooms and showers, and beautiful wooden doors to fit the center's rustic, woodsy theme.
Sunday passed, and with it camp came. Each day began at 8:30 am with breakfast cooked by our amazing kitchen staff. Meals included hearty strips of bacon, buttery biscuits, fresh fruit plates, grits, thick and fluffy pancakes, and of course, piping hot coffee!
After breakfast, the campers trekked over to the outdoor chapel for morning word. The walk there included gravel paths, grass fields, and my favorite part: a Narnia-esque trail surrounded by trees and rolling hills.
Going alone one morning, I found an unexpected surprise. Nestled among the trees were hand-painted prayer rocks. It made me wonder how many visitors had passed over these same rocks, too consumed in their own thoughts to notice the beauty beneath their feet.
When unoccupied, the outdoor chapel was my favorite spot to relax and reconnect with God. The giant cross and lakeside view gave me peace, and moreover an appreciation for God's creation that I could never feel in the suburbia of Orlando.
After morning word, the kiddos did a changing lineup of camp activities. One of my favorites to watch and photograph was swimming/canoeing at the lake.
It was during this time that I truly saw the personality of each camper. Some jumped right in, eager to swim and have fun. Others were wary of the floating algae and imaginary lake sharks. Yet all were eventually able to let loose and just be kids, which is what camp is truly meant for! I also got some SWEET cannonball pics :)
After activities, we scarfed down delicious lunch and relaxed for an hour to let the food digest in our tummies. Once rested, the campers took a hayless hayride through the woods to Trinity House. Here are some of my photos from the ride up:
Owned by the camp, Trinity House was the original place for campers to stay prior to the retreat center. It was used by us each day for bible study and CRAFTS, which was my second favorite time to photograph.
Each day's craft was themed to fit the word of that day (i.e. perspective, community, identity, purpose, and hearts), allowing campers to remember the bible study in a visual manner. Crafts included cross necklaces, clay bowls, heart mason jars, and melty beads. I might've overdosed on creating versions of the latter...
One of the things I miss most about Lutheranch is the wildlife found there. Frogs. Dragonflies. Deer. Fireflies. You couldn’t walk somewhere without encountering raw nature, or it encountering you...
Which brings me to the story of Bear. It was Tuesday morning, and I, in my sleepy haze, was jolted awake when someone shouted that a bear was outside the retreat entrance. With camera in hand, I went to see this bear. Here’s what I actually saw:
This is Bear (pronounced Bee-Air). She was a stray Great Pyrenees, fluffy and content roaming the camp. Bear also loved people. All week, she would randomly make an appearance around camp. At Morning Word, group interaction course, craft time; you name it, she was probs there.
But Bear wasn’t the only camp furry friend I found. There was also a barn cat who lived with her kittens near Trinity House, and found daily relaxation on the house steps.
She was super skittish if you tried to pet her, but would still try to rub against your legs and purr. I could never quite figure out if she liked me, or just used me as a scratching post...
I LOVED meeting these fluffy friends and seeing their personalities each day. Yet, one aspect of camp takes the cake as my favorite (literally).
We all know that I am a casual foodie (or person who just REALLY REALLY enjoys unhealthy things), so obviously the sweets would be my favorite, Here were my top two of the week:
Introducing ice cream in a BAG! It might look... weird, but trust me on the deliciousness of this treat. Each camper was given a paper bag filled with ice and the heavy cream ziploc mixture. After A LOT of shaking that vv hurt my wimp arms, I took the ziploc out to find homemade ice cream! We finished it off by adding our own toppings and eating right out of the bag.
My second favorite dessert was also a camp sweets essential: s’mores 😍 Not only was it delicious, but it also yielded some sweet bokeh pics:
We left the day after these s'mores photos were taken. Driving down the winding road of camp on that sunny Friday afternoon, I felt pangs of sadness start to form in my stomach.
What if I never get to see Lutheranch again?
The sprawling trees and Bear will be a mere memory to me. The kind kitchen staff, rustic lodge, cool Georgia breezes, and the twinkling of starlight and fireflies across a glassy lake surface will wither to crude sketches. But even as the details fade, the impact this week had on my life will remain.
For in my heart, a small part will belong to Tallapoosa, Georgia. Always.