We were on Little Grassy Lake, along the Shawnee National Forest and near Giant City State Park, south of Carbondale. One night, Becky and I took a canoe out onto the water, sometime towards sundown. Beck had come to be my "adventure partner" – the other leader with whom I would do the more exciting and extreme activities, leading trips away from the main camp site, taking kids spelunking, rappelling, longer-distance canoe and hiking trips, and the like. It was the caves we especially loved. Working together at camp was the most accelerated form of time I've ever experienced: rich experiences shared by college students who spent, quite literally, all their time together. Even more so than being in an undergraduate dorm setting, friendships developed quickly: you had more actual "face time" with one another in those few months than most people got in a year or two together. Romances happened quickly, too, with the same accelerated depth and shared experience. But my relationship with Becky wasn't one of those: we were friends. We were partners.
That night, as we enjoyed paddling the lake together, we got to enjoy just that feeling together: it was a luxury to not be surrounded with campers, to not have to be monitoring them and teaching them. It was rare that we got to canoe with someone who had been trained, who we weren't having to direct, and there was a quiet pleasure in moving competently around the lake together, to handle the canoe with something that sometimes approached the delicacy of dance. Sometimes we talked, sometimes we didn't. As the night settled around us, we stopped in the middle of the lake and drifted. We were far enough away from towns that the stars blazed overhead and we lay down in the canoe, heads at opposite ends and our legs stretched out to one side of the other's, speaking to one another past our feet.
As we stared up at the stars, the talk grew quieter, harder, and somehow more pure: working down to the essence of one another. We spoke of love, then: of our fellow staff members, of the boy that twisted Beck's heart and the girl that had addled my every thought. I was glad to have Beck to bounce my thoughts of, and I was aware of the gift it was of being able to do so: this was the summer where for the first time, it seemed that almost all of my closest friends were women, and it was so enriching or transformative an experience that I cannot hope to describe it. But I was more aware of how hard it was for Becky to talk about this: that this conversation, this articulation of her feelings was in itself a great risk for her, and I was quietly stunned by the sheer gift of herself involved in simply being allowed to hear these words, to get a glimpse of the secret of who she was.
Then I sat up, and saw a wonder. It was sometime toward eleven or midnight by then. With no moon visible, the pine trees circling the lake were just a darkness, seen more clearly out of the corner of the eye, an indistinct circle of nothing in the distance. The stars arced over us, a dome of light: and under us, too. The lake, perfectly still, had become a mirror, and even the vault of the heavens was clearly visible below us, so sensitive had our eyes become over the hours in the night. Above and below, the Milky Way formed a ring. Floating amid the stars, two people, younger than they knew, looked up and whispered of love.