Words and Photo by Krystina Olsen
It was summer of my life’s twelfth year and in a moment of courage and rebellious spontaneity, I came undone and alive for the very first time. Some people are born bold enough to let truth come blasting out of their hearts, painting magic all over life. My shy and quiet nature kept me more on the timid side, never really thinking to explore such blasting or painting or anything like it. But this one particular summer, on this one particular night, that magical truth came crashing in and found me.
I had this treasure-of-a-friend, Callie, who I spent every weekend of that summer camping with; drinking in friendship, earth, and whimsy. We gathered under a canopy of trees, an open air dormitory dotted with colorful nylon walls, oversized sweatshirts, stories and ‘mallows and people we loved. Callie’s robust passion for life was contagious and her smile would knock you over, it was so sincere. Her family would pick me up and we’d drive to the edge of Vermont, heart happily thumping as we’d see the marina in the distance. That welcoming little lake island was waiting for our pre-teen delight. So, with sleeping bags and wonder in tow, we let that island lead us into adventure.
It was a hot day, that Saturday by the lake, and we felt it. Like desert lizards, we soaked in each drop of sunshine, boombox blasting Dixie Chicks and Barenaked Ladies. Time stood still as our adolescence made its way into the world. We grilled hot dogs and jumped off docks and never did mind all the scattered pine needles stuck to the bottoms of our feet. Come dusk, hoodies were steeped in the scent of firewood. Faces were glowing from the sparkle of the day. We shuffled to the cozy flannel beds waiting inside our tent, full, happy, and ready to chat the night into oblivion. It was quiet and the trees were dancing with the wind outside. A quick glance out the mesh window and I could see the moonlight reflecting on the water. I even think I saw a star wink my way. Curious, I winked back.
Callie rustled in her cocoon and whispered at me. I looked over and could read on her face that she was brewing a mischievous idea. “What is it?” I asked both interested and a little uneasy. “Come with me.” She smiled and bounced up out of that tent, trusting that I’d follow her vague request. She knew me so well. I do love a good leader.
Callie ran down to the water, me close behind, and she stopped. Looking back at me, she laughed the cutest laugh, then slipped off a piece of clothing. Then another. And another. Until she was completely bare. I was in shock! “What?!” My brain was twirling with so many thoughts.
“C’mon!” she giggled toward me. I am not the kind of person who obliges very willingly. My heart was eager, yet in that moment all I could think of was my body. It took hardly a second for me to notice my imperfect self and there in the middle of spontaneity, heaps of insecure chatter grabbed at me, weighing down this tender and light spirit of mine. Critical words came swarming in about my thick thighs and funny breasts and how I’m probably not good enough for this invitation into abandon.
“Krystina, c’mon!” she pulled at me again.
I could cry I was so intimidated by this sweetly vulnerable moment of dipping our bodies into water completely naked. I took a massive inhale, and with it came a wind of bravery. It was that lump-in-your-throat kind of bravery, where you feel this could go terribly wrong or perfectly right all at the same time. And though there are things in life that would require much more courage than this playful moment called for, my shy self found this exact time to be the thing that would push me into uninhibited bravery. Exhaling, I shimmied out of my woven threads and into that welcoming body of water and I can tell you with so much truth in these bones: I felt free. So unmistakably free!
My skin hit the water and as in slow motion, I could sense the pain of growing up in a gruesome comparison-world washing away. I could sense how wonderful it was to be a girl, and how completely valid I was in my frame of feminine humanity. I could sense friendship and the anchoring bond that formed when I let myself come undone. I could sense the smallness of me against the huge wild world. I could sense, too, my significance in this place and that I might even have importance after all. I was twelve years old and I woke for the very first time to embracing and accepting and becoming. My skin felt alive, and it’s because the stars gave me permission, winking at this sacredly divine romance. I slipped into naked freedom and for some reason everything finally made sense. I left that water changed and totally liberated.
The earth taught me her secrets of how to unhinge my timid doors and walk into joyous abandon - that hiding isn’t what was needed all along, and that my unique self was absolutely enough. Creation gave its call to take a deep breath and say yes, so I did. And with it, I gained new levels of lightness I had never known before. Still, pitching a tent and soaking in the rhythms of nature awakens me. Camping will never again be just camping. Sure, I adore the trees that canopy, the colorful nylon walls, the oversized sweatshirts, the stories and ‘mallows and gathering of people. But I will forever look at the stars and remember the time they winked their whimsy-permission my way, and I curiously winked back with a wildly brave “yes.”