My assistant, Julia Feldmeier, introduces us to a former Moss Hollow counselor who's teaching a second generation about the pleasures of the woods.
As a counselor at Camp Moss Hollow, Senodja Walker routinely led her campers on overnight hikes up to the overlook, a clearing on the mountain where they cooked dinner over a fire and camped out under the stars. Dinner was a simple affair: hot dogs, marshmallows and other easy comfort food that Ma Wiggins, the venerable Moss Hollow cook, had packed for them. Or usually packed, at any rate.
On one expedition in 1990, Walker recalls, Ma Wiggins substituted chicanery for comfort. Absent were the quick and easy frankfurters and marshmallows. And in their stead?
"Would you believe she gave us a whole chicken and corn that was still inside the husk?" Walker says. Ma Wiggins has a "heart of gold," Walker says, but one of the campers must have ticked her off somehow. "She really got us that time."
Shucking corn and divvying up fowl were the hardest of Walker's camp counseling experiences.
"We actually had to cook!" she says, shaking her head as though 15 years later, she still can't quite believe Ma Wiggins pulled that stunt.
Okay, so unexpectedly having to cook chicken and corn alongside a gaggle of culinarily-challenged girls probably was hard. But for someone like Senodja Walker, a veritable uber-counselor if there ever was one, the challenge was also very, very fun.
Walker spent seven years as a counselor at Moss Hollow, and the only reason she left was because she graduated from college and joined the Army. She's now a captain at Fort McNair.
"If I weren't in the Army, this is what I would do," she says. "If we didn't have to fight wars, I'd be a camp counselor." (A new slogan for the peaceniks: Make camp, not war!)
Both Walker and her husband, James, were deployed to Iraq in 2003. When they returned to the Washington area this spring -- they live in Woodbridge -- Walker immediately phoned Family and Child Services to enroll Marcus, James's 13-year-old brother who is now in their custody, in camp.
"There's no way I could be here and not have him exposed to this," Walker says. "It's such a big part of my life -- I had to get him involved."
For his part, Marcus isn't exactly bubbling over with enthusiasm, Walker says. But she's not worried. She knows the camp ritual: Reluctant campers who are pushed onto the bus invariably are the ones who are dragged off when it's time to head home. She's debating signing Marcus up for another session.
"I know deep down he's going to love it, and he's going to want to come back in August. They all do."
Camp, as Walker tells it, really is the place where a kid can be a kid. "Whether they come from a broken home or not, when they're out there, you see the kid. You see just purely what's inside of them. If they get scared because it's dark at night and the lights go out, that's the kid inside of them. All the worries about home and the worries about the real world, all of that just kind of goes away because it's just them out there."
Life hasn't been easy for Marcus these past couple of years. "It's tough dealing with two parents that are in the military, get deployed, go off to war; you don't know if they're gonna come back. Your life was turned around by moving in with them in the first place, and now it's turned upside down again -- and then they both come back," Walker says. "It's tough for a little kid to deal with."
So on July 5, she'll pack him off to Moss Hollow, where there'll be no parents, no schoolteachers and, hopefully, no worries. At camp, Marcus can explore what he really likes -- and learn more about himself in the process.
"He's always got us," Walker says, "but, you know, I always find it nice to throw a kid in the woods and see how they fare."
Oh, but Marcus? A few words of caution:
Don't cross Ma Wiggins.
If you only recently started reading this column, you might be curious about why, out of the blue, a plea for donations for something called Send a Kid to Camp started appearing. The reason is this: In this busy world, in these busy times, many people would like to act on their charitable impulses but find themselves too, well, busy.
Every summer The Washington Post, through this column, provides some help. For going on three decades we have raised money for a summer camp for at-risk kids, Camp Moss Hollow. It's one way we show our commitment to the community and a way for readers to do the same.
This year, it will cost $590 to send one child to camp for one week. Many readers donate that amount. But many give a fraction of that, and those donations are just as appreciated, for they all get us closer to our $650,000 goal. (As of yesterday, we stood at $44,646.10.
Since we wouldn't expect you to just dash off a check without knowing where it's going, we introduce you to various people who've been helped by the camp, or who have helped others.
So, that's the deal, and here are the details on how to make a tax-deductible contribution:
Make a check or money order payable to "Send a Kid to Camp" and mail it to Family and Child Services, P.O. Box 96237, Washington, D.C. 20090-6237.
To contribute online, go to www.washingtonpost.com/johnkelly. Click on the icon that says, "Make a Donation."
To donate by MasterCard or Visa by phone, call 202-334-5100 and follow the instructions on our taped message.