It Sounds an Awful Lot Like a Cult

Dear Mom and Dad:

I know it's been some time since I've written, but that's because I've been having such a great time. I'm growing as a person and learning a lot about who I am. I wasn't happy when I first got here, and was a little homesick, but I'm feeling much better now. I know I said I wanted to leave, but our leader Terry has really opened my eyes.

He also introduced me to a few people who have been here for a while, and they talked some sense into me. They showed me all the cool things that the group does here, and got me really excited about how I can learn and change if I just commit to this new way of thinking and doing things.

Our unit leader, Steve, is really cool. He's got long hair and an earring, plus a bunch of tattoos that he says are from his "old life." He keeps them as a reminder of who he was and doesn't want to be anymore. He used to be a bartender, but he started coming here a couple years ago and said this place has really changed him. Now he's become one of the senior leaders, and Terry relies on him a lot for discipline and day-to-day stuff. Steve also plays guitar, and is teaching me a few new songs. He says I have a real ear for music.

It's been especially fun at night, when we all gather around the campfire and sing. We're learning all kinds of new songs and stories, and I'll share them with you if you can ever visit. A lot of the songs are about this place and the work we're doing. They really try to build loyalty and love of this place, but it seems to be working. Some days, I feel like I never want to leave.

We all eat together in the main dining hall. Everyone takes turns doing work, not only around the dining hall, but the entire compound. We're assigned different duties each week, and we have to meet the leaders' standards or they make us clean everything all over. This week, I've been on table duty, which means getting refills from the kitchen, and then clearing the table afterward. Last week, we were on latrine duty. The compound is kind of old, so we only have communal latrines and showers. Only Terry's house has a toilet and shower.

We also have a big garden where we grow a lot of our own food. Everyone is expected to help out in the garden too. Michelle is in charge of it, and each unit each take turns helping out. We were in the garden three weeks ago, and we'll have another turn in two weeks.

Michelle's real big on organic stuff, so we have to weed everything by hand and remove any insects that way too. Then she has us put all the weeds in a compost pile, and the insects get put in a big jar. Every day, she releases the insects in the woods. She says she's "sending them back to the Great Maker," whatever that means. I think they all find their way back here a day later, and that we've just been picking the same bugs over and over.

After lunch, we're all expected to go back to our cabins after lunch to relax. Steve is teaching us all about meditating and being mindful. He plays meditation music on his radio and is teaching us some really cool chants to help us "cleanse our chakras," as he called it. I don't know what a chakra is, but it sounds interesting. I know I feel more energized when we finish.

Other than our meditation period. they keep us pretty busy around here. It keeps us from getting in trouble or realizing how much we miss home, I guess.

For one thing, we're all learning important survival skills. I've really excelled at archery, and am the best in our squad. We even had a competition between all the units here, and I came in second! Kyle, our archery instructor, said I have real potential. He's teaching all the best archers about camouflage and how to shoot from a prone position, as well as from up a tree. He said it will an important skill to have in the future.

There's even a rifle range! Steve said we're all going to be properly trained on firearm safety, but we'll also learn how to field strip a rifle, clean it, and properly care for it.

Well, I'd better go for now. It's been raining outside today, and all our activities were canceled. Say hi to Grandpa and Josh for me. I miss you all, and am really looking forward to Parents Weekend.

Oh, and Terry thinks I could be a junior counselor next year. Would that be okay? That would be cool if I could be a counselor in Josh's first year at camp. I know he was upset about not being able to come this year, but tell him that the 9-year-olds get to do archery and canoeing, so he'll have a blast next summer.

Love, Kevin

(The photo above is of the camp counselors at Camp Crosley in North Webster, Indiana in 1979, the place where I spent some of the best weeks of my life. Steve is in the top left corner, and he was my favorite counselor. Terry the camp director is in the top right. I used their names as a way to fondly remember my time at summer camp when I was 12.)

The 3rd edition of Branding Yourself is now available on and in your local Barnes & Noble bookstore.