Rhia’s Renaissance

 /   /  By Emma Birches
Stone Soup Magazine
March/April 2001

By Sarah Casserly Marcus, Illustrated by Jessie Hennen

Rhia thought she was an ordinary girl. From her mousy brown hair to her average height, she was not physically remarkable. Her life was ordinary, too. Every weekday she woke up, went to school, got good grades, came home, and did her homework.

When she arrived home one afternoon in March, her mother had a very telling look on her face. This was an ordinary occurrence at this time each year. It was time to choose a camp for this summer.

For as long as Rhia could remember, when March came she had to make this stressful and unpleasant decision. While she was at camp, her parents always went on an exotic vacation. She dreaded going to camp; it was never her style. Every year it was the same; her mom would say she found the “perfect” camp. However, camp was only “perfect” for Rhia’s parents, who were able to go on their vacation without worries about their daughter.

Rhia's Renaissance girls on a cabin

The door to the cabin opened and in walked her three bunkmates and their counselor, Judy

To Rhia, camp was boring, just like the tiresome succession of baby-sitters her parents had employed. Rhia survived each summer without complaint until her mother suggested returning to that camp for another year. Therefore, each March, Rhia’s mother was forced to come up with another “perfect” camp. Rhia shrugged her shoulders and resigned herself to another boring summer.

*          *          *

On the twenty-second of June, with their car loaded with gear for a safari in Africa, Rhia’s parents delivered their daughter and her trunk to Camp Renaissance. As they pulled away, Rhia took her first deep breath of the clean New England air. Thank goodness her parents were scheduled to leave from Boston, or Rhia would have been stuck in another hot and muggy camp in the South. Rhia rubbed the slight chill from her arms and proceeded to the camp office to check in.

A local teenager helped Rhia move her trunk to her assigned cabin. The cabin was small, with beds for four girls and one for the counselor. No more bunk beds to hit your head on from below or twist your ankle when you jumped off. The cabin was charming, all the beds had quilts, and there were the most unusual flowers on each bedside table. The blossoms were pale purple with pink edges, and so delicate. She smiled as she turned to place her things in a small chest that smelled of wild roses. The sights and smells of this place beckoned her to reexamine how she felt about camp.

The door to the cabin opened and in walked her three bunkmates and their counselor, Judy. Margaret was the smallest of the girls, with long, curly red hair and an infectious giggle. The serious-looking blond with glasses was Amy, who didn’t seem so serious when she unpacked her huge stuffed octopus. Then there was Kim, who was glamorous, but kindly began to suggest that she could work wonders with Rhia’s hair. All the girls seemed so different; Rhia had a feeling Camp Renaissance would be a unique experience.

After a dinner without bug juice or hot dogs, the girls went to sign up for their activities. Rhia chose some of the usual like swimming, jewelry-making, pottery and canoeing. Most of the other campers had made their final decisions and had gone on to the campfire. As Amy was about to leave, she noticed Rhia was having trouble. Amy sat down next to Rhia and asked if she could help. Rhia’s confusion and inability to decide was foreign to Amy, who was so confident and always knew what to do. She suggested that Rhia take a chance and go for a challenge. Advice taken, Rhia decided to choose something new, different and maybe exciting. She chose photography.

The first few days of photography class were spent learning to load film, work the camera and develop pictures. At the end of the first week they were sent off to explore and take pictures.

As she wandered around the camp property, the sun beat strongly on her back. The shade beneath the trees seemed so enticing. When Rhia walked through the outer rim of trees and moved farther into the woods, peacefulness fell over her. The sounds of other campers dissolved in the distance. Ten minutes into her forest walk, Rhia could see the edge of a clearing. As she came closer, she was surprised to find a lovely marble statue of a man in the center of the clearing. He looked almost like a god in this tiny piece of heaven. To Rhia, he appeared peaceful and content, as if he knew the magic that permeated this area. She felt that same sense of excitement and hope that she had felt when she first entered her cabin. This sensation made her feel like she belonged here and urged her to move closer.

Rhia had to blink and shade her eyes as she stepped out from beneath the trees. The ground below her was as soft as a pillow and she looked down to see a dense, green ground cover. When she looked more closely she could see little stems supporting minute buds. She remembered her mission and pulled out her camera. She focused on the delicate buds and hit the shutter again and again and again. Over and over she adjusted her view, from a wide slice of the ground cover to a close-up of the perfectly posed single bud. From her position behind the viewfinder, all the shots looked like the professional pictures she had seen on gallery walls. Full of anticipation, she rushed back to camp and the darkroom.

Rhia missed canoeing and pottery the next day. She spent hours focusing and adjusting the enlarger to print her pictures to her satisfaction. The buds were perfect and seemed to have a mystical power over her. She felt compelled to return to the clearing, but would have to wait as it was almost time for dinner.

The next day it rained, so Rhia waited again. The hours seemed to crawl by so slowly. Rhia thought that she would never get back to the clearing. Rhia spent a lot of the time staring out the window, praying for a break in the downpour. The cabin door flew open. Rhia jumped out of her bed as Kim burst through the door. Kim was bored as well and decided it was the perfect time for Rhia’s makeover.

Rhia was filled with apprehension as Kim gathered a blow-dryer, curling iron, and at least eight different brushes. Kim was curling and pinning and tugging and seemed to know what she was doing. With another bang, Margaret entered. Rhia almost jumped out of her skin. Margaret plopped down on the bed, and began jabbering away. Soon Rhia was so wrapped up in Margaret’s stories and giggles; she found herself totally relaxed. By the time the dinner bell rang, Rhia’s tresses were no longer mousy and blah, but bouncy and “cool.” It was the talk of the mess hall at dinner.

The day after dawned sunny and warm. After breakfast, Rhia had an hour of free time. She knew this was her chance. With her camera flung over her shoulder, Rhia ran through the forest. As she hit the clearing she was overwhelmed. The green ground cover had bloomed into a sea of pale purple. As she focused the lens for a closeup, she realized that she had seen these flowers before. Of course; they were the same flowers that had been on her night table the first day of camp. Was it a coincidence, or was she supposed to find this clearing?

Rhia's Renaissance girl and a statue

Two or three times a week she would be drawn to the clearing

This question stayed with her through the summer. Two or three times a week she would be drawn to the clearing. The flowers continued to go through their life cycle, each phase ordinary for the flower but magical for Rhia. The flowers became like friends, each unique and beautiful in their own way. No two were exactly alike and often their differences were what made them so special. She found the pattern of budding, blooming, and dying repetitive, but strangely comforting and beautiful. Perhaps she was beginning to see the extraordinary in the ordinary. Perhaps this was the secret of Camp Renaissance.

The summer’s end came all too soon. Rhia’s parting from her friends was bittersweet. She would miss them terribly, but she would always remember what she had learned from them. Amy had given her the confidence to expand her horizons. Kim taught her that everyone has potential. Margaret’s gift of laughter taught her not to take things so seriously.

Rhia greeted her parents with a new happiness and a suggestion that she return to this “perfect” camp next summer. Before she climbed into the car, she paused and glanced toward the forest, with a hint of secret to her smile; she caught a glimpse of the statue in the clearing at the edge of the trees.

Rhia's Renaissance Sarah Casserly Marcus

Sarah Casserly Marcus, 11
Watchung, New Jersey

Rhia's Renaissance Jessie Hennen

Jessie Hennen, 11
Shoreview, Minnesota

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