Catch-22 is a novel that I remember a number of classmates reading, back in high school in the 1970s. I did not read it at the time and did not watch the movie version either. This summer, I saw it in a book store and decided that it was a novel that I should read.

The expression catch-22 entered the English language through this novel. I have always paraphrased the expression as “a situation where one is damned if one acts and damned if one does not”, but I was interested to finally discover the origins of the expression.

This excerpt from the novel captures the essence of the expression “catch-22”:


Yossarian looked at him soberly and tried another approach. “Is Orr crazy?”
“He sure is,” Doc Daneeka said.
“Can you ground him?”
“I sure can. But first he has to ask me. That’s part of the rule.”
“Then why doesn’t he ask you to?”
“Because he’s crazy,” Doc Daneeka said. “He has to be crazy to keep flying combat missions after all the close calls he’s had. Sure, I can ground Orr. But first he has to ask me to.”
“That’s all he has to do to be grounded?”
“That’s all. Let him ask me.”
“And then you can ground him? Yossarian asked.
“No. Then I can’t ground him.”
“You mean there’s a catch?”
“Sure there’s a catch,” Doc Daneeka replied. “Catch-22. Anyone who wants to get out of combat duty isn’t really crazy.”

There was only one catch and that was Catch-22, which specified that a concern for one’s own safety in the face of dangers that were real and immediate was the process of a rational mind. Orr was crazy and could be grounded. All he had to do was ask; and as soon as he did, he would no longer be crazy and would have to fly more missions. Orr would be crazy to fly more missions and sane if he didn’t, but if he was sane he had to fly them. If he flew them he was crazy and didn’t have to; but if he didn’t want to he was sane and had to. Yossarian was moved very deeply by the absolute simplicity of this clause of Catch-22 and let out a respectful whistle.
“That’s some catch, that Catch-22,” he observed.
“It’s the best there is,” Doc Daneeka agreed.
(Heller, Joseph.  Catch-22 . Simon & Schuster Paperbacks: 2004, p. 45-46.)

The protagonist of the novel is Yossarian, a bombardier during WWII, operating from an island in the Mediterranean. Yossarian is not a dashing or romantic hero, but he is a hero nonetheless.

As I read the novel, I began to wonder if at Camp Nominingue, we ever put a camper or counsellor in a catch-22 situation. For example, at Nominingue we canoe trip using cedar and canvas canoes. These canoes can get rather heavy on a 7-10 canoe trip, as water seeps into the wood. Our counsellors are expected to portage these 16 ft. canoes on portages from 200 m. to 2000 m., and sometimes over longer distances. Counsellors who have been at Nominingue for a number of years take pride in being able to complete these portages without putting the canoe down as well as ensuring that all packs and canoes are transported over the portage in a single hike. Does this expectation put undue pressure on our staff to live up to these standards? If a counsellor was injured, would he say anything, or would he risk further injury by completing the portage without complaining?

Campers who return to Nominingue every year are impressed by the exploits of the counsellors who carry such canoes over long portages. As they become bigger and stronger, campers will often ask to portage a canoe or will test themselves to see if they are able to carry a canoe. Should they be allowed to even try? Is the culture of the camp teaching them to push themselves beyond their limits?

Challenging campers to go beyond where they have been before is an essential contributor to the personal growth that campers experience at Nominingue. However, this must be balanced out with a concern for the health and safety of both campers and staff. The example we set for the staff and campers goes a long way towards the culture that stands for Camp Nominingue.

Sharpe’s Rifles

Richard Sharpe…if you have never met him, you are missing something! I first met Richard Sharpe, the British Rifleman, on the History Channel with Sean Bean playing the role of Private then Sergeant then Lieutenant then Major Sharpe. I was hooked by the humour and the drama. I started reading the series of novels by Bernard Cornwell this fall, after stumbling on the books on the shelves of the Camp Nominingue equipment room library. I have now read 18 novels, beginning with Sharpe’s Regiment and finishing with Sharpe’s Siege, with Sharpe’s Rifles, Sharpe’s Tiger, Sharpe’s Escape, among a number of other titles.

I owe my fall reading schedule to Bruce Gray, Nominingue’s middle camp director, who donated the series to the camp library. My only complaint is why there are at least two novels in the series missing! How could he leave me hanging like this…

Richard Sharpe begins his career in the army as a private, after joining up to avoid hanging for murder. Over the course of the series, Sharpe travels from India to Portugal to Spain and finally France. His service coincides with British imperialism in India and with the Napoleonic wars in Europe. His service follows the campaigns of Lord Wellington, the man who finally vanquishes Napoleon at Waterloo in 1815. Sharpe meets many scoundrels, both within the ranks of the British army and among the enemy. He proves himself in battle, time after time, and he is rewarded for his bravery as he slowly rises through the ranks, in an army in which officer commissions are typically purchased by the well-to-do and the upper classes. He meets a number of women whom he woos through his courage, his honesty and his sense of honour. He wins fortunes only to lose them, to women, to folly and to scoundrels.

What stands out in each novel are the friendships that Sharpe makes throughout the challenges he faces. There is Sergeant Harper, the Irishman who hates all the English, becomes his constant companion and best friend. Or Major Hogan, an engineer and spymaster, who values Sharpe before all others. These friendships are built out of mutual respect and trust, forged in battle and harsh trial. Richard Sharpe recognizes the importance of these friendships and values them far more than his wealth or his military duty. He is willing to give up everything and anything for his friends.

 At Camp Nominingue, the friendships that are forged on a long portage or around a campfire or sailing in a high wind or leading the Radisson brigade to victory in the Voyageur Games or by sharing a tent over a number of summers are like no other. Friendships that are made at camp are special. Frequently, these friendships last a lifetime.

Campers who return to Nominingue for a number of summers will frequently ask to share a tent with other friends from the previous summer. Campers will also request to go on a five, seven or ten day canoe trip with campers with whom they have shared a previous trip. With campers coming to Nominingue from across Canada and around the world, tent-mates and canoe tripping companions have different backgrounds and often speak a different language, but through the games, the challenges and the fun at camp, strong friendships are forged. A camp friendship is definitely one aspect that makes summer camp and Nominingue special!