One Monday last August proved a perfect Maine summer evening. It was warm, and as the sun set over the western shore of Sebago, girls who had spent the past seven weeks together sat around a campfire, preparing to say good-bye.

The final night at Camp Wawenock was about connection and friendship. After a traditional camp prayer, campers sang songs, and director Catriona Sangster delivered a reading. Then each girl stood and gave a handmade friendship gift to another camper. There were hugs and squeals and cheers.

Then the girls made their way to the waterfront, each carrying a boat-shaped piece of wood bearing a lit candle. In the small cove, the girls launched their boats and said good-bye.

From a few hundred yards away, I heard laughter and sobs. Camp’s ending is nothing if not bittersweet, with final days of celebration and ceremony sealing memories of a summer well spent.

Camp Wawenock opens each June with a “friendship fire,” said Sangster. Campers exchange hand-decorated pins. At season’s end, the friendship gifts cap a summer of connection and community.

Campers also sometimes make a wish as they launch their boats, Sangster said. After the final campfire, girls return to their cabins for special gathering time.

“It’s not good-bye. It’s good-bye for now,” Sangster said.

At Fernwood Cove, a girls’ camp in Harrison, Associate Director Caroline Glovsky said a banquet, awards, and songs “become not only a bonding point, but also a ‘we are larger than ourselves’ point.”

Campers are given awards, Glovsky said, including a “Neatness Moose,” for tidy living; awards symbolizing random acts of kindness displayed throughout the summer, and prizes for living the values of Fernwood Cove.

One ritual is the passing of a signed board from departing senior campers to their successors. “They’re passing on their roles and responsibilities,” Glovsky said. On the final night, seniors are honored with a song from younger campers. Candles are floated onto the waters of Island Pond.

A fireworks display caps the evening. “We don’t want them to go to bed sad,” Glovsky said.

At Camp Nashoba North, a co-ed camp in Raymond, director and owner Sarah Seaward was preparing for the end-of-the-season banquet, an event two months in the planning.  The banquet transforms the dining hall, with past themes including Monopoly, All Things Maine, and Harry Potter.

Season’s end marks a time for reflection, Seaward said. Campers who have returned for their fourth summer receive a laser-engraved, Maine-made Shaw & Tenney paddle. Eight-year campers earn a jacket. All campers have memory plaques with the names of the cabins and a record of their achievements.

Marcy Isdaner, director and owner of girls’ Camp Mataponi in Naples, called the seven-week 2017 session “excellent.”

“The last few days are really bittersweet,” Isdaner said. Those days include “Jamboree,” four days of “spirited competition in all aspects of camp.”

“It brings everybody back together,” Isdaner said, after being divided by age groups during the season.

The culminating Jamboree competition is the “rope burn.” Senior campers, wearing flannel shirts passed down from camper to camper each summer, walk to the dock holding hands, and jump into the water. They then progress, with the rest of the campers behind them, to two bonfire areas, where ropes soaked in water hang 11 feet above the ground. The goal? To build a bonfire and burn the rope in half. Whichever team burns the rope first earns the most Jamboree points.

There is song, too, of course.

Most campers return year after year, Isdaner said. For the seniors, many of whom have come to camp for eight or nine summers, the end is a time to realize that they are moving on, but that it’s a chapter “not to be sad about.”

As Fernwood Cove’s Caroline Glovsky put it, “Just because you are leaving camp, camp isn’t leaving you.”

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