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The Tufts Daily
Where you read it first | Wednesday, April 17, 2024

Compost in the Daylight: Projectile turtles

Even objectively scary things, like a bee sting or a projectile turtle, seemed to have no consequence at summer camp.


A snapping turtle is pictured.

“My sister, Petra, one time picked up a stone from a river at summer camp, then discovered it was a snapping turtle and threw it at my face.”

I wrote this down after a family dinner this summer. I forgot Petra threw a river creature at my face. I thought it was hilarious, as a 21-year-old, when she brought it up. I suddenly wanted to be back at camp, where my sister was only scared of snapping turtles when she picked them up for inspection.

At camp, we also ran through fields. But then I ruined it for everyone because I wasn’t afraid enough. I stepped on a bee, so the counselors inaugurated a rule: All field-frolickers must wear shoes. The thrill of the activity was gone; kids stopped frolicking.

I went to sleepaway camp too. The camp instituted new rules each year.

Once, the director yelled at my bunk for drawing on the walls, even though the only reason I could fall asleep was because I made up stories about the names scrawled on the ceiling above me. “Rachel Bonim 2010.” “Leah Chavarim 2012.” The counselors instructed us to scrub off our Sharpie signatures. I’m happy it was impossible –– even if it dragged out the punishment.

Every year they would get harsher with curfews. My brother Gavin told a story from his last year at camp –– at that time it’d been four years since I said goodbye to my camp friends. “We were upset with the curfews because we had perfected the art of sneaking out,” he said. “So, when they kept changing them, I stole a TV.”

At the same dinner where Petra brought up snapping turtles, nostalgia seemed to infect Gavin’s brain. In reaction to his theft, I spit out my mother’s roasted chicken.

He explained, “I was running, holding a massive TV, with no idea where I was going to put it, while a counselor chased me on a golf cart.”

Our family laughed at the odd sight we could all clearly picture.

There, Gavin wasn’t afraid either. That’s what I miss most about camp –– it was this safe, adventurous place, so everyone was fearless. Even objectively scary things, like a bee sting or a projectile turtle, seemed to have no consequence.  

Sometimes I want to give up my fear again. When I was little, I didn’t think anything terrible could happen to me, even though I saw something bad happen every year. Kids always got hurt or lacked fear and broke lesser rules as a result.

I know I can’t go back though, and perhaps that’s the greatest lesson Jewish summer camp taught me. Everyone loves camp because of the people, and those people don’t go away. Electronic heists or flying reptiles come up nonetheless at silly dinner conversations or when I run into a friend of a friend.

Those stories lessen the fear I have as an adult. Perhaps I’m too adverse to ignorance now. I should throw a snapping turtle at my sister’s face –– purely for my existential crises, not to get back at her or anything…