A quick warning: yes, this camp is for a specific religious branch - no, I will not include said religious branch related stuff here. This moment, and what inspired it, have nothing to do with it, except that they took place there.
Back in August of 2010 I was dropped off at a summer camp called "Cairn", specifically the Glen Mhor site. I was there for a two week program known as "Adventure Camp", which was basically a camp that focused on building the relationships within a group of 10-15 kids anywhere from 13-17 through activities such as Low Ropes, Ziplining, Rock Wall, and other adventure-related activities. I was just coming out of Grade 8, which was easily the worst year of my life. At the end of Grade 7 I had been a naive, happy kid, with no real problems. Grade 8 broke me. I'm not going to talk about it here, but essentially I had turned into a shell of a person, even more shy than I was before and afraid of anything I didn't know everything about. In a moment of what was then shocking and unbelievable bravery, I agreed to go to the camp, hoping that maybe it would help me to recover myself. By the time camp rolled along, I no longer believed it of course - I was forced into the car and forced to remain behind, intimidated by everything there.
Those two weeks did miracles for me, but there was one thing that stuck in my mind when I left - the myths and legends of what everyone at the camp called the "Wishing Tree". What it boiled down to was that many years ago, someone at the camp had used string to attach a film canister to a random tree in the forest, and had put a wish in that film canister. Without anything to mark its location, the tree was extremely hard to find. Even when I arrived at the camp in 2010, there were very few people who had actually found the tree. While I never went looking for the tree that year, I left with the imprint of the Wishing Tree stuck in my brain, slowly growing a seed inside.
In 2011 I returned to the camp, this time for their Pre-LIT (Pre-Leader in Training) program, also two weeks long. This year I was obsessed with the Wishing Tree, and the other kids in my Pre-LIT group were too; as a result, many of our non-training sessions were used to search for the Wishing Tree. We even created a gridline map of the area we knew it was located, doing sweeps through the forest in an attempt to find it. We did not find it, and on the last day, the morning we had to leave, half of the group woke up extremely early (after an extremely late night) to go look for the tree... and they found it. I was not part of that group. The frustration within me was like a never-ending volcanic eruption, for I had been defeated in my attempts to find the Wishing Tree by myself. I left camp with a fire in my heart, knowing that I would return the next year - and with what looked like five weeks to work with, I was sure I would find it then.
2012 rolls along, and first I do a week-long PIF (Pay it Forward) program, where you do assorted work to help maintain the camp site and participate in activities in the local community, such as singing at the retirement home. Unfortunately, despite my enthusiasm for finding the Wishing Tree and my constant requests, we did not have time to look for it. I left camp disappointed but even more determined than before, knowing that in two weeks I would be returning for LIT (Leader in Training) and be there for four weeks.
I arrived two weeks later for LIT, happily discovering that the people I was the best friends with from Pre-LIT were there with me. After our week-long canoe trip I started trying to find the Wishing Tree again, although it was difficult - LIT was extremely busy all of the time, and the Wishing Tree required hours (or so I thought). Then, after many fruitless efforts, the dream opportunity came. On a weekend where everyone else had been taken away for their parents for an afternoon of visiting time (due to issues with time, my visit would take place later on), I remained at camp alone with a couple weekend campers and a few staff, the two head staff there being former LIT Directors (and coincidentally two of my favorite people to work for and with). With an experimental camp name (at the time I was just "Tex"), I joined them in a large group as we all wrote our wishes down and set off to find the Wishing Tree. We searched for two hours, but alas, we failed to find it. That was the last chance I received in 2012, but when I left camp at the end of the month I knew I would return to become staff the next year, and somehow I knew inside me that I would find it the next year.
Staff had been another dream of mine since 2010, and I achieved it this year, 2013. But when I got to camp... the Wishing Tree faded from my mind. As a staff member there were so many new opportunities open to me, and I decided to spend my time doing those things instead, not ready to become emotionally invested in a tree that I continuously failed to find, over and over again. That was how it was for July. But by the time August rolled around, I wasn't so sure I'd be back in 2014 - I was becoming emotionally troubled with several issues at the camp, one of which resulted in the first time I ever cried at camp (and the first time I witnessed one of my best friends, and one of the toughest people I know, cry as well). Near my breaking point, I was relieved when the Camp Directors told me that if I wanted to, I could take the week off - so that is just what I did. Over that week I relaxed, collected myself, and took the time to heal and get ready for camp again. When I returned, it was an... interesting week, to say the least. My cabin was not the greatest, but the two other Counselors I was partnered with for the week worked extremely well with me, so I was alright. Halfway through the week a whistle was blown - and then another whistle blown. One of my Co-Counselors and myself answered the call and were sent to search in the forest for the person, whoever they might be. While searching, I spotted a piece of paper at the base of a tree. My partner and I agreed that it was probably nothing, but decided to investigate just in case. What we found was a tree with film canisters shoved in between the roots on the ground. Neither of us had found the Wishing Tree yet, and we were really excited, talking all about how we had finally found the tree. However, later that week it was revealed to us that the tree we found was fake; some cabin earlier in the summer had created that one for themselves since they couldn't find the real one. I was frustrated - I had yet again been stopped, and my combined uncertainty about returning and dissatisfaction drove me into a frenzy. Luckily for me, the next week, our final week, was Teen Week - which meant that I had a cabin perfectly capable of looking in the forest for a few hours. I was partnered with my best friend mentioned above and another of my best friends (which made for arguably my favorite week of the summer); the one I mentioned before had found the Wishing Tree with the group that woke up early in 2011, but my other friend had not found it... nor had any of the teens in my cabin. So we took them out to look for it the very first day.
We managed to (without my friend, who knew the location of the tree) search in the general area that we knew the tree was. After fifteen minutes, though, we became disheartened and decided to go look at the tree I had found before. While my friend pushed us to just take the safe route and take the path back down to look at it, I argued that it would be more of an adventure - and more fun - if we bushwacked through the forest towards it, as I knew it was in a roughly straight line down the hill we were on top of. With the cabin on my side my friend reluctantly agreed and we set off down the hill. One of my campers got ahead of me when he wasn't supposed to, so where he went left I went right in an attempt to catch up to him and get in front. While I did so, I turned back to make a joke about us walking right past the Wishing Tree on the way down, and then continued walking - before I stopped.
I couldn't believe my eyes. I froze. It just couldn't be. There was no way I was standing right in front of the Wishing Tree.
I called for everyone to stop, though none of them guessed why. I slowly turned around to my friend, and seeing the look on my face he looked further down and smiled, and nodded. My cabin started asking what had happened - so I told them all to come.
"Guys... we just found the Wishing Tree."
My exact words. We were all stunned into silence, as we examined the film canisters hanging from branches by twine and the film canisters that had fallen to the ground. I had found the Wishing Tree precisely how everyone said I would - by stumbling into it by accident. My certainties from 2012 about finding it this year had been correct, that feeling deep inside had not failed me after all. Although none of us had a wish to add, we did not care - the fact that we had found the Wishing Tree was enough.
To try and describe the feelings I felt would be like trying to describe what happens after death - I can't. How do you sum up the triumph and happiness of an accomplishment that has taken four years, the satisfaction of knowing you've finally overcome every obstacle and defeat in your way, the realization that it is real, and not just a legend or a myth, the joy of knowing that you have just stumbled into a moment that cannot ever be tarnished? You don't.
Everything was perfect in that instant. There are very, very few moments in my life that I would describe as perfect - right now only two others come to mind, another from this summer and one from last year. But this moment... this moment is one of them. One of the perfect moments. A goal so thoroughly fulfilled, and shared with everyone else present... I don't know if there is much more you can ask for.
I found the Wishing Tree. Maybe it isn't the single best moment of my life, but it's certainly one of them.