Description: The YMCA in Park Ridge obtained a new youth counselor after my graduation from Maine South H.S. Jim H. had become a bit of a celebrity amongst our friends, “the Hippies of Hodges Park”, by the time of one of my visits home from Grinnell College and we became acquainted. During the summer of 1971 he was reassigned to a YMCA camp in the border lakes region of Northern Minnesota, Camp Wakonda on Lake Vermillion, and had given a general invitation to any and all of us to visit him up there.
Thus it happened that one very early morning in late August Mother drove Kevin Donnelly, Art Kazar and me up to an Edens Expressway exchange on her way to work at Lutheran General Hospital. Having no money not already earmarked for other purposes, college in my case, we were going to hitch up through Illinois, Wisconsin and Minnesota.
We made it, amazingly enough, by dawn of the next day. Times were different then. Hitch-hiking was not unusual. The counterculture looked out for its own and they were usually identifiable: me by a pony tail, Kevin by braids and fringed jacket, Art by a full beard. Of course, on the way, we were almost arrested (twice) outside the Wisconsin Dells; risked being killed in a wreck by an angry speedfreak outside of Duluth; had to run away into an unknown pine forest from an armed contingent of drunken “Iron Range Boys” and got caught in a downpour just as we were laying out sleeping bags in a field somewhere around Ely, Minnesota.
Camp Wakonda was a canoe camp inhabited by the aforementioned Jim; Kurt, his assistant from Park Ridge; a boy who had been found living in the Chicago Transit Authority bus sheds–called, unimaginatively enough, “C.T.A.”–and one lone woman, Candy, also an employee of the YMCA. Otherwise, it was just us and busloads of kids who’d come up every few days, go to bed, eat a hearty breakfast of flapjacks prepared by us on enormous wood-burning stoves and then go off with guides in canoes. Mostly, we were alone.
Candy, a thirtyish feminist who taught the subject during the year in Chicago, intimidated and attracted me. At that time, being only nineteen, she seemed very, very mature, completely out of my league as I’d just recently lost my virginity. Besides, she was bigger than me, probably stronger too.
I’d brought The Tibetan Book of the Great Liberation up because of a general interest in Eastern religions and a growing interest in C.G. Jung, author of one of its introductions. I’d figured that I’d be forced to read it up there in the north woods for lack of anything else to read. Indeed, it was formidable, the critical apparatuses being quite scholarly, the primary Tibetan texts being extremely obscure. I read it in fits and starts, trying to think about liberation from the wheel of dharma, trying not to think of the gorgeous Wendy.
On the last full day we were up there I was sitting on a stump in the tundra trying not to notice Candy when it was announced that all of us were going into Ely to help pack a van. Someone was going to donate money for the town to get an ambulance, the amount of the donation depending upon how many could jam into the vehicle. That uncomfortable event and the ride back from it got Wendy and me talking together for the first time.
The conversation continued upon our return as the sun set and we headed along a trail into the piney woods. Candy told me about herself, her feminist school and about how horrible the summer had been trapped up in the middle of nowhere with two unconscienceable sexists. I was different, she said. I didn’t argue.
Returning to camp, she invited me into her cabin, lit candles, urged me to bed. Timidly, having only known one girl before her, I obeyed.
Since it wouldn’t do to have Jim or Kurt know about our night together, Wendy dismissed me just as the eastern sky was brightening. Returning to the cabin shared with Kevin and Art, I was greeted with a rain of pillows and good-humored curses. They knew. It was one of the most liberating emotional experiences of my life.
I finished Evans-Wentz’ book on the long bus ride home with a pack of returning wilderness canoers.
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