The Magic of Camp Nakanawa

Camp Nakanawa... helping young ladies gain confidence and reach their potential in a positive and fun-filled environment.HOGWARTS SCHOOL of WITCHCRAFT and WIZARDRY


First-year students will require:

  1. Three sets of plain work robes (black)
  2. One plain pointed hat (black) for day wear
  3. One pair of protective gloves (dragon hide or similar)
  4. One winter cloak (black, silver fastenings)

Please note that all pupils’ clothes should carry name tags


When I read this passage in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone I was immediately taken back in time to when I was eleven years old. I was preparing to go to Camp Nakanawa for the first time. The camp list went more like this:


Camp Nakanawa


First-year campers will require:

  1. 6 Navy or Royal Blue Shorts
  2. 4 White Shorts
  3. 14 white shirts with collar
  4. 1 pair leather shoes with heels (Required for riding.)

Please note that all campers’ clothes should carry name tags


While there might not have been magic, a la Harry Potter style, Camp Nakanawa was filled with its own magic.


Upon arrival at camp, girls were sorted into teams, either Amazon or Valkyrie. In Norse mythology Valkyries were maidens who rode in groups of three and escorted noble warriors who had fallen in battle to Valhalla. Amazons were warriors of great strength and prowess. Each team had its own history, traditions, and songs. Valkyries wore blue ties for special occasions, Amazons, red. Over the course of the summer girls earned points for her team through individual and team competitions.


Following the thrill of reuniting with old friends and meeting new ones we settled into camp life. Each morning, the bell woke us up and we all headed for Egypt, the wash house. The next time the bell rang we went to the dining hall for breakfast. After breakfast the activities began. We had classes in canoeing, swimming, archery, horseback riding and more. Sometimes we were sorted into class based on skill level in an activity and sometimes we were all in classes together. After a tennis lesson I’d hurry to my cabin, change into my blue bathing suit, I was a Valkyrie, and head for the dock. After asking for and receiving permission to go onto the dock I’d go to whichever area on the dock my particular class was assigned to. We’d swim back and forth with a swimming counselor walking along the dock and instructing us in our form on the various strokes, crawl, back crawl, breast stroke. At the end of the swimming lesson we’d all stand in line to get ear drops, race back to our cabins and change back into our blue shorts and white shirts. Then, with water dripping down our backs from our wet ponytails and a quick drink at China, the water fountain, we’d be off to the games field and soccer class.


Each evening had its own special activities. Once a week we’d have team meetings. Wearing blue ties and walking in threes the Valkyries would go out in the woods to Valkyrie Rock. Wearing red ties and walking in pairs the Amazons would go to their own meeting place. We had weekly council ring meetings. Sitting in a circle around a campfire, we’d have a skit of some sort, sing camp songs, and girls would be recognized for special achievements in various activities. Cabins would perform “Bunk Stunts,” plays they had worked out and practiced, in the playhouse. We had overnight camping trips. Sometimes we’d simply walk down to the dam that contained the lake and camp there. Other times we’d go in a truck to The Cove. There we’d camp on a plateau overlooking one of the many hollows that make up the Cumberland Plateau. Sometimes we’d load on buses and attend a play at the Cumberland Playhouse. One year it would be South Pacific. The next, a play featuring a character called Johnny Timberlake. Many of us had quite a crush on the male lead in that play!


As camp drew to a close the medal meets and tournaments would begin. Over the course of the summer there had been meets and tournaments for all skill levels but the medal meets were for the best of the best. Then came the final team meetings during which new silver letter girls would be announced. Girls who had won their silver letters in previous years met over the course of the last week of camp to consider which of their fellow campers would become new silver letter girls. Camp wasn’t all about competition. Generosity, kindness, friendship, and honesty were highly valued. Girls who possessed those traits were awarded a silver letter, a great honor, and they were permitted to pin a tiny sterling silver letter, either a V or an A, on their ties.


The last night of camp was the awards night. First, the team with the most points for the summer was announced to wild cheers. Those who had won the medal for each activity were announced. The outstanding intermediate camper was named the Lady of the Necklace. The outstanding senior camper became the Lady of the Cup. Girls who had been judged worthy of representing all that Camp Nakanawa stood for were made N girls, another great honor. Tears, joy, honor, camp songs, that was award night.


Once everyone was in their cabin for the evening the Octette went around to each cabin in which a girl had won a special honor and sang her a song. Holding candles the Octette would sing:


Silver letter girl,

Your heart is all awhirl.

You’ve shown true in all that you do,

For you’re a sterling girl.


Wear your pin with pride,

Remember ever to strive,

You’ve passed the test and you’re the best,

A silver letter girl.


The next morning, rather than board the scarlet Hogwarts Express, we boarded buses and headed home. But goodness, so many other similarities. Gone was the camp uniform of blue shorts and white shirts. Fond farewells, tears included, were said. And for most of us, “Next year,” was what helped us make it through the next ten months until we could return to the magic of Camp Nakanawa.

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