May 31, 2011 at 9:42 am (Uncategorized)

I was pretty psyched to find out that, completely randomly, I booked a getaway for me and Jeff that overlooks a lake where supposedly this guy lives:

It’s awesome. Here I thought the four days were going to be about sitting in a chair and reading books, occasionally rowing in the lake, and instead it’s turning out to be a cryptozoological event. Yay!

But all this reminded me of a story…

When I was a kid, I went to a summer camp in New Jersey. I went there for years as a camper, and then eventually as I became older, I became a counselor, and then finally director of a section of the camp. I knew that place like the back of my hand, and can still picture it in incredible detail whenever I think about it.

From the time I was a camper, there were these persistent rumors that there were snakes in the murky lake we’d all swim in. You’d wade in, swim for a bit, and then about one time out of ten, feel this weird sensation coming up against your shin and inevitably run screaming out of the lake. As a counselor, it was about once a week that I would see a group of little kids (and it was usually the little ones, not the older kids) running out from the lake yelling, “Snakes! Snakes!”

We were instructed over and over (and I remember staff meetings with various Executive Directors emphatically telling us this) that there were no snakes, period. It was just a rumor, and one that wouldn’t die. The weird things in the lake were simply the foot of another kid swimming by, or a leaf of an underwater plant, or perhaps a fish. No snakes. In fact, snakes didn’t even live in lakes, not freshwater lakes, not ones in this part of NJ that are manmade, and so forth.

I had no reason to doubt that this was true. Kids believe that there are creatures around every corner, and all it takes is for one kid to “see” something and pass it on to the others, and soon you have a full-scale riot on your hands. It’s human nature. No snakes.

One day (is it coincidence that this would wind up to be my last there ever? probably not), I was taking a walk around the lake. My group of kids were off safely participating in some activity, and I was able to get a much needed 5 minute break kid-free, and just take a walk by myself. I crossed the little bridge near the side of the lake, and came across a lifeguard who I had known for years and had been a former camper, now employee, just like I was. As I was rounding the corner, I watched him very expertly use an oar to a canoe to pull out a gigantic snake from the lake, throw it to the ground, and hack it to bits with the oar.

I remember screaming, and the lifeguard frantically motioning to me to shut the hell up.

Once I calmed down, we spoke, and the gist of the conversation was: Amy, of course the snakes are real. The lake is filled with them. What, you think that hundreds, if not thousands, of kids over many, many years have reported seeing/feeling snakes in the lake, and they’re all delusional? Didn’t you, yourself, feel the snakes when you would go swimming?

As it winds up, the whole snake thing was just a huge PR disaster for the camp – there were in fact dozens, if not more, snakes swimming around in there, which the camp had tried to eradicate for many years with no luck. Of course, you can’t actually tell children and their parents, Hey! It’s just a bunch of snakes! They’re perfectly fine! They won’t bother you! or you will have hysteria on your hands. So the only reasonable thing to do is to chalk it up to a rumor, and go on trying to slowly knock down the snake population. (Or else, you know, close the camp til you get the snake thing under control, but for whatever reason, that wasn’t an option.)

This whole story has stood as a metaphor for me ever since then. The initial read I had on it was Grownups lie, and not only about cute things like Santa Claus, but also scary things, too. But it was more than that. As a kid, I experienced tons of things that, as an adult, I believed could never have existed. I had, for instance, a man who lived under my bed. I was ok with it; we would talk a lot, and hang out. Of course, when I got older, I was sure he didn’t exist. But… the snakes did? I mean, I only felt the snakes brushing up against my feet… I saw the man and talked with him at length for years; surely he was more real than the things living in the lake.

And the creatures in my closet? What about them?

Anyway, it’s the experience of this time at camp that leaves me to not easily brush away the stories of conspiracy theorists or UFO fans, people who believe in ghosts or strange creatures, or the stories and fears of children. What the hell does it mean for something to really exist, anyway?

I have no idea. I’m still quite bitter I fell for the “the snakes aren’t real” thing for years, though.




1 Comment

  1. Andrew Thornton said,

    There are so many things that could never be… that are myths… legends… superstitions… things that couldn’t possibly be real, until they are found to be true. Gorillas were once upon a time made up and chalked up as delusions of jungle fever. That is until they caught one. Having a single book that could be opened and turn into any book you desire could never be… until now when anyone can by a Nook.

    So… I believe. The universe is a mysterious place, much bigger and greater than any one person could ever comprehend…. that is, until someone comes along who can.

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