There is not a damp spring morning that I don’t reminisce about the 6 summers I spent in the Ozark Mountains at a Christian sports camp. I recall the way spring morning light would burn the excessive moisture off the ground and the air would feel thick but clean.
I do not see a lightening bug without remembering the month at Camp Friendship outside of Charlottesville Virginia, and the way the bugs would light the path to the girl’s cabins at night after evening activities.
I don’t see a white horse without thinking of Mr. Bojanges, the large gentle giant I often washed, cleaned and rode at Mulford’s Day Camp outside Centerville Virginia as a child.
I regret not asking my counselor at Nature Camp, more questions about his Native American heritage. What tribe was he a member of? How had his people lived the last few hundred years?
I still can’t go camping without thinking of my first girl scout camping trip and the embarrassment of learning I kept my entire tent awake throughout the night telling stories about bears in my sleep.
I want to go back to these places, bare cabin walls, rusted iron beds, and enjoy the simple blessings of summer. I want to relish in the excitement of making new friends, of being outside all day, of group meals at large wooden tables, of learning who I wanted to become without the watchful gaze of parents. I vividly remember the sense of accomplishment I felt the first time I got up on water skis and repelled down a large wooded platform.
This week I saw a friend and asked what her 11 year old daughter was doing for the summer. “Nothing,” she explained. Her daughter had all out refused to do anything, including camps, opting instead to stay home while her parents worked, and play on her computer, safely protected in a bubble of air-conditioning connecting to others only through electronic communication.
In all honesty, this was very upsetting to hear. Are kids not allowed or encouraged to be adventurous anymore? Are outdoor activities limited to back yards and photos online?
I realize that money is an issue. I also realize that some kids simply don’t love the outdoors, but as I expressed my concerns to a friend who runs a day camp for kids in Roanoke to learn about healthy eating and garden to table food production, I leaned most camps have scholarships available are still looking for kids to fill their beds or seats so to speak.
Furthermore, with church camps and other civic organizations getting into the Camp business, many of these adventures are subsidized in part so that kids will have the opportunity to go, get dirty and learn new things.
I am not yet a parent, but as an adult, I am so grateful for the experiences I had at summer camp. I know they shaped who I am and as a teenager, defined who I wanted to be.
Every May I wonder if next year I could take the month off and go back to the Ozarks. Maybe they need someone to teach canoe or kayak, make cinnamon rolls on Sunday mornings, smile as young men and women learn to love, respect and appreciate the unending gifts of nature.
Maybe I could open my own camp someday or revisit the places that have meant so much. Although I remain uncertain as to how I can fit this outdoor living into my desk job as an attorney, I will keep contemplating it and encourage others, even strangers, to send their kids to camp. I know they may resist when they learn no email, no cell phones and no laptops allowed in the teepees, or tents, but in the long run, unplugging and connecting elsewhere may be just what they need.
You may even get a real letter addressed to Mother and Father, sending greetings from Camp….
For more information:
Camp Mulford (Centerville, VA)
Camp Friendship (Palmyra, VA)
Kanakuk Kamps (Table Rock Lake, MO)
Happy Healthy Cooks (Roanoke, VA)