We were trying to figure out what time it was by the position of the sun. One person had a watch.
“3:30!” I called out.
We paddled in a group today instead of a long line. Eva and I were miraculously keeping up and the red canoes had formed a pod, talking, laughing.
“2 o’clock!” called someone.
We passed a few loons. They swayed on the black lake from our pod’s forward surge.
“2:42!” called another.
It was the end of our third week and my arms had learned how to use a canoe paddle. I had discovered the various ways to keep our boat straight, pressing the paddle against the canoe like a rudder, or a modified J-stroke. I was trying hard to keep up with the group. Eva wore a red bandana around her head and I was admiring that.
“Hey,” called a boy, “isn’t there a camp tradition of girls taking off their shirts when canoeing?”
I looked over, the sun in my eyes.
At 13, I believed everyone. And I loved tradition. At home, I was the self-appointed foreman of Christmas tradition, walking the rooms and making sure everything was in place. Where was the Kermit with the Santa hat? If it wasn’t on the edge of the shelf above the dining room near the tree, I got a chair and made sure it was. I was devoted to my pink poodle ornament that no longer had a recognizable shape and the deer hoof from my late grandfather. Both were placed with honor in the center of the tree.
Off came the shirt.
Eva kept hers on but she had announced her group status earlier with her tubular red bandana tied thickly around her head and off we went, children of the 70s, me and my cousin on a black lake in the middle of Canada, surrounded by tall pines, whistling loons and ogling 13-year-old boys, all in the sake of tradition. The sun was on my back and I dared not look down at my front. But I was group status now, baby, keeping my canoe straight.
I glanced over to another girl who also believed in tradition and the two of us looked at each other, unsure suddenly.
After two minutes the shirt went back on. Soon we found camp. Pulled up the canoes. A counselor started kindling. Eva and I put up our tent and dragged in our blue duffels.
Then I had an idea.
I unzipped my messy duffel and searched. Maybe I was dressing for dinner?
Standing outside our tent, surrounded by the smells of burning kindling and the sounds of camp being made, I tied my red bandana around my head like Eva.