Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Camp Orkila

I’m back from a weekend at Orkila, a YMCA campground on Orcas Island that hosted over 300 father-son pairs from Mercer Island. If you do the math, that’s something like 25% of all the K-3rd Grade kids on the Island—which sounds like an incredible turnout to me. Apparently it’s quite the tradition, operating continuously for at least fifty years.

Pronounced "Or-kai-la", it's a beautiful site overlooking the ocean in the San Juan Islands. You only get there by ferry, an hour-long trip from Anacortes, two stops after Lopez Island. Anacortes itself is almost two hours' drive from Seattle, so it really is quite remote.

We were part of the “Y-Guides” program of the YMCA, which organizes groups of 5-10 boys and their fathers. Most people refer to the groups as “tribes”, though apparently they are trying to get away from the Native American references and use the neutral term “circle” instead. Unfortunately none of the members of our circle were able to make this weekend, so Nathan and I were unattached—the wrong way to participate in the program. Everything revolves around the circles, so although everyone was gracious and tried to get us integrated into their activities as much as possible, we weren’t able to take advantage of the real benefits from circles, like carpooling up to the site or sharing the burden of the first night’s cookout.

It’s a good tradition, one that feels like the kind of thing we did when I was a boy in rural Wisconsin, but one I can’t imagine happening in Silicon Valley, for example. Californians are too transient, so there aren’t enough people who live in the same place long enough to participate in (much less start) traditions like this.

The event happens twice a year, once with fathers and sons, and again with fathers and daughters. Several of the fathers I met had been here half a dozen times already. We'll see if I integrate well enough into Mercer Island life that I someday match that record.

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