OVER THE WEEKEND I spent some time with my friend Selden Frissell, comparing notes on our experiences as campers at Camp Low, on Rose Dhu Island at the southern tip of Chatham County.
Selden, soon to be in second grade and currently a Brownie Girl Scout, returned home Friday from a week at Camp Low. For five or six years in the 60’s and 70’s, I spent two weeks at that same Girl Scout camp each summer. Decades apart, our experiences had many similarities.
The lodge that doubles as dining hall; the flagpole area that hosts morning and evening ceremonies; the Tidewater and Whitecaps cabin areas with separate latrine facilities featuring cold-water showers; the swimming pool at the far end of camp; the wooden walkway through the marsh onto the canoeing dock; all look or sound about the same as they did during my Junior Girl Scout days.
The changes to Camp Low are upgrades of fundamental services rather than cosmetic improvements. My recollection of Rose Dhu is of a rustic place, with minimal human intrusion. Electricity on Rose Dhu in my era was confined to the common areas—the lodge, the infirmary, the canteen that sold ice cream sandwiches, stamps, and bug spray.
Electric power has extended to the cabins at some point in recent decades, bringing overhead lights and ceiling fans to what was once a flashlights-only set up.
The girls still have an hour each day set aside for cleaning the camp, but lights in the latrines and the activity buildings have eliminated the chore of cleaning and refilling kerosene lamps. From my grown-up vantage point I’m a little stunned that, back in the day, 10 year olds with teenaged supervisors routinely wrangled jugs of flammable fuel as part of our camp experience, rubbing away the soot from the glass globes of the hurricane lanterns with handfuls of Spanish moss.
Singing as a group is still a core camp pastime, but the repertoire has changed. Last summer at a pool party in Coffee Bluff, an old Camp Low buddy and I belted out Verse One of “Barges” as her children watched in horror and our adult friends, claiming they didn’t know the words, refused to participate. Selden tells me that “Barges” isn’t in this generation’s camp song list, but when she launched “I’m taking home a baby bumblebee...” I was able to follow her lead for most of it.
A short camp grace is still sung before each meal, but the folksy Johnny Appleseed song—“Oh, the Lord is good to me, and so I thank the Lord...”—has been replaced with the more vibrant “Thank you LORD, for giving us FOOD...” sung to the theme from Star Wars, released the year after my camp career ended.
As camp adventures go, Selden’s experience last Thursday will top anything we had in the old days. Selden attended an arts oriented session called Making Camp Memories. Thursday afternoon’s weather created memories that the girls on Rose Dhu will be talking about to their daughters.
Selden did a thorough job of describing the high winds, rain and hail that roared through camp during “Turtle Time,” the quiet hour after lunch formerly known as nap time. Lori Ross, Program Director for the Girl Scouts of Historic Georgia, who own and operate Camp Low, confirmed most of Selden’s version of the story and filled in some details.
During camp season, Ross spends her office hours on site. When Thursday’s high wind sirens sounded, she and other camp leaders radioed to the counselors, moving ampers from their cabins or tents through the rain “and a little bit of hail” to designated safe zones. Selden’s group ended up in the concrete pool house, where a few dozen girls and a handful of adults spent the next hour or so.
“It was scary for the girls, they didn’t know why they had to run through the rain,” says Ross. “They were singing songs to keep them occupied.”’
Damage was minor overall, but had a huge impact on a group of 5th to 9th grade Scouts, spending the week in a sleeping unit comprised of eight canvas army-style tents set up on wooden platforms. Three of the tents blew away, and most personal belongings went with them. Other girls’ things blew out from tents that remained standing, or were soaked from incoming rain. After the storm, camp staff collected all personal effects from the tent unit and piled them in an activity building.
“We bought 35 sleeping bags and towels so they would have something dry to sleep in, and that night we had a big slumber party in the lodge,” says Ross.
The fire department responded quickly to a fallen branch that “came down on one of the power lines, it was sparking a little bit,” says Ross. “Georgia Power got the limb off the wire, and restored our power for us, by the time I left for home at 10:30 the power was back on.”
“All the girls were really very upbeat, even the girls whose stuff was wet,” says Ross. “Everybody got their stuff back, it was just a little wet and a little dirty. When they were leaving camp the next daythey said, ‘Yeah, this was fun. We had a good week.’ ”