The second year I was working at Tahquitz our Camp Director decided 3 of the senior staff should spend a week at the ACA (American Camping Association) training camp before summer started so that we could bring back ideas. The three of us brought back stuff but not what we planned.
The camp was on Catalina Island at the Girl Scout camp there. I had never been to Catalina at that point before. For those in other parts of the world, Catalina is an island 26 miles of the coast of California and is part of the Channel Islands. In 1976 the only way to get there was by ferry, unless you knew a pilot of a small plane. It’s pretty much the usual Chaparral desert climate that most of Southern California has and once was the private preserve of the Wrigley family of gum fame. Now it is mostly camps belonging to the Y and the Scouts unless you live in the tiny communities of Avalon and at the Isthmus and the island is under the Catalina Island Conservancy.
Catalina has some unusual wildlife like Bison, fifteen bison were brought for a movie shoot in 1924 and there is now a population they keep at around 150. And yes, I mean full size American buffalo, up close and personal. It’s also the only place I know of in California where you live at close proximity with wild boar.
The Catalina ferry used to be greeted in Avalon by the lifeguard who had been the model for Mr. Clean. He was the first thing I remember about Avalon. Mr. Clean standing on the dock smiling. If you are going to other stops you stay on the boat and the ferry drops you off at your stop.
Camp was north about halfway up the eastern coast of the island and they threw a line at the dock and you jumped off. This led to our first casualty of the week when the line broke and caught one of the girls across the legs. Why they didn’t haul her off to the hospital I don’t know because she spent the rest of the week in bandages because the rope was a good 4 or 5 inches think and got her across the thighs like a whip and just laid it open. It was a dramatic start to the week.
One of the first things we were warned about was keeping our toiletries out of reach of the boars because they considered toothpaste food if they could smell it. We were supposed to keep them in locked boxes. Of course there is always the yahoo that doesn’t believe it will happen to him which is why about the third night of the camp some guy decided he didn’t want to lock up his toothpaste any more, dummy! We were having a session out on the beach when a wild boar ran through foaming at the month and dripping blue-green foam. Yep, he’d lost his toothpaste and no way to a market to get more. Oops!
I was there with E and A, my two best friends from the first year. Sometimes this led to some uncomfortableness and it was my first experience with the word being called an “Oreo” but it didn’t stop us from being friends and when we were off the mountain we took delight in driving bigots crazy but when it came to camping things could get interesting because even after a year at camp E and A were city girls to the core.
One night A shook me awake clearly terrified and demanded I accompany her to the john. This is not the kind of camp where you have to take a buddy with you to the bif. It’s a box canyon on the beach and the trees are all palm trees. So really bleary eyed and confused I went with her and figured out why she was scared. A buffalo had gotten himself wedged in the entrance to the women’s restroom. It had one of those L shaped wooden entrance ways and he had gotten in the L and stuck and E had to go. I made her find the men’s and we went back to bed. Why we didn’t get help for the buffalo at that point I can only blame on being still asleep from exhaustion and by morning the buffalo must have figured it out because he wasn’t there.
We were in platform tents which are little platforms a canvas tent is placed on over a frame. They usually have about 4 beds inside, two by two on a side end to end. I knew E rocked the bed sometimes in her sleep but if you told her to stop she did so I didn’t mind being in the bed at the foot of hers. One night the bed was shaking and I told E to stop it. The reply came that it wasn’t her. Suddenly the side of the tent is heaving back and forth. It was one of the buffalo scratching himself on the side of the tent. What do you do with something that big? You lay very, very still and very, very quiet and hope it goes away soon.
This Girl Scout camp is also mooring for one of the mainland yacht clubs and have their own potty by the beach for them to use when they are moored off shore. We gleefully watched two women attempt to get to the potty on the beach by rowboat one afternoon. There was a buffalo on the beach and every time they tried to land the rowboat the buffalo charged them. It was pretty funny and why they didn’t turn around and use the yacht’s potty I have no idea but we were not interested in helping them and they kept trying. It was one of the definitions of insanity as far as we were concerned. Doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result.
The thing with lasting repercussions happened on our last night. A couple of the guys had gotten permission to go on a wild boar hunt and managed to catch one and that was going to be the star of the cookout. E, A and I had helped raise Pork Chop and Bacon, the camp pigs the summer before and after being presented with them for breakfast the Thanksgiving after camp we were not eating any kind of pork. I don’t know what E and A had for dinner but I went to eat with the Adventist camp people down farther on the beach. They are vegetarians and wouldn’t even cook their dinner near the boar. It sure saved the three of us a lot of grief when we got up to our camp.
About three weeks into our summer we three got thick letters from the CDC. It seemed they hadn’t cooked the boar well enough and had prepared it on the same table with the other foods and some people had come down with trichinosis. We had to fill out huge long forms about what we had eaten that night. Did you ever try to remember if your marshmallow for a s’more had touched a certain table after 3 weeks? It was a joke.
We also had to get a blood test. None of the three of us had ever had the kind of blood test where they take several vials. They sent us to the only doctor in Mountain Center who was older than God and his nurse had gone home for the day. The other two were chicken so I went first. It was the first time he had ever used the vacuum type blood tubes (they were new at the time) and he wasn’t quite sure how to use them. He didn’t say this until after he tried! Anyway, he told me to pump my hand so that he could find a vein. Next thing I know he’s yelling at me not to look. Right! What do you do when someone says “Don’t Look!” You look. Blood was squirting a good three feet and running down the wall. He pulled the needle out and bandaged me up and told us to come back the next day so his nurse could do it.
I guess several camp staff had ended up in the hospital very sick and missed their summer but thanks to Pork Chop and Bacon, we were fine.