To camp as a child is to live with permanent nostalgia as an adult. One of my earliest memories involves my purple bike and a weekend retreat at a camp I would later consider my second home. From seven to twelve, I attended each summer for a week, and at fourteen I upped the duration to nine weeks. The yearly stint stuck for nearly a decade.
And now, nearly a decade since then, every mid-June I feel endlessly antsy. My soul wants to be set to the rhythm of camp life.
A few weeks ago we stayed at a Maine Huts and Trails Hut for the week as a family. For those not familiar, we were a couple of miles into the woods on an unpopulated part of a very large lake. There’s no part of our stay that could be called roughing it; the whole week felt like a lake first thing in the morning – still, serene, calm, inviting.
I had the pleasure of thinking without interruption for several days in a row, and the whole time we were there, I kept mulling over the joy of camp, and the emphatic need for it. I’m thankful our boys are familiar with many camps already – our family’s camp, hand-built in every possible way by many of my family members; Living Waters, the aforementioned camp that is so tightly entwined with the formation of our family; now the Huts system; and an occasional stab at tent camping (which we’ve now vowed will wait a few more years).
All camping must involve water. One of the best things about youth summer camps is that it’s a place where children experience what the world usually reserves for the privileged and well off: life on the water. But it’s children who know how to appreciate it. They splash and swim, boat and dive. Kids enjoy the water the second they have access to it, even when the ice went out only a few weeks prior.
There’s a certain bravery in the elements at camp, an appreciation for all weather. It doesn’t matter the forecast, everyone is outside, defying the days that usually send us indoor. And your wardrobe arsenal simplifies. You must locate a few items: flip-flops, sweatshirt, bug spray.
At camp you see the morning, the sun streaking through the trees making light seem palpable. At night you see the stars. Thanks to the far away nature of camp, darkness delights. There’s no fake luminosity to drown out the stars, to delude the fire, to disallow the use of flashlights. When darkness arrives, stars are seen, lightning bugs captured.
At camp there’s connection, a presence that is absent in our day to day. We experience our small world with more rhythm, more awareness. We talk with our comrades at camp – actually talk and play games and pass the marshmallows and ignore the lack of shower. We even work side by side, doing dishes, making food, chopping wood, whatever. Work at camp isn’t quite work: it’s just part of the experience, part of the restoration.
Camp is about heaven on earth, about living on the edge of divine. Restored community, beauty, even work. There’s a reason there’s so much nostalgia about camp. Even if it isn’t a religious camp, camp life is spiritual in nature.
This is what camp is: the paradox of busyness and stillness, community and solitude. It’s having the wherewithal to hear the birds chirping, to see the light-show of the daily rising and setting of the sun. It’s hearing the water lap against the rocks, feeling the coolness on your toes. It’s permission to live inside your head a bit and a grounding in where you are. Oddly, then, going to camp becomes the feeling most associated with going home.
Where is your favorite camp?