Monday, July 8, 2013

Rites of Summer: Camps and Camping

Youngest, posing under protest yesterday.

JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: In the past few weeks, we've talked about many of the rites of summer; travel, strawberries, weddings, and of course, reading, reading, reading. Yesterday, Ross and I summer ritual that's enacted by hundreds of thousands of families each June, July and August: we took our kid to camp. We've done this every summer since 2001, when we first dropped off our 9-year-old future Smithie. She, the Boy and Youngest have been visiting Bishopswood - alone, together, for one week to three - since then.

Bishopswood, a non-profit run by the Episcopal Diocese of Maine, is an old-fashioned camp. The kids don't make gimp lanyards and wallets, but they do archery, swim, canoe, hike, play goofy games and put on a talent show, in a collection of rustic turn-of-the-century buildings on the forested shore of Lake Megunticook. (I've tried to sell the director on the idea of opening up a week as a writer's retreat. So far, no success, but I'll let you all know if that changes.)

The very idea of kids spending summer playing in the woods and water is beginning to seem old fashioned. Nowadays, if your offspring aren't learning a language or polishing their sports and musical skills or adding an impressive good-works-abroad experience to their college application, what's the point?

As you can guess, I don't agree with that approach. I think enjoying "Harry Potter Week" or "Christmas in July" (to name two of the many silly themes at Bishopswood) is a valuable part of childhood. I hope my children will look back fondly on their time spent away from home. How about you, Reds? Have you sent your kids to camp? Do you have happy memories of your own summer camping experiences?

HALLIE EPHRON: I loved Camp Tocaloma, though I'm aghast when I think about how my parents sent me off for a month at age six. I went every summer until I was 16. Yup, we had Christmas in July.

All the campers took an overnight train from Los Angeles Union Station to Flagstaff, Arizona, where we were loaded (about 100 girls, ages six to sixteen) into cattle truck fitted with wooden benches -- so much fun and, in retrospect, so dangerous, but hey seatbelts had yet to be invented. Up the mountain above Sedona we went via dirt road to the acres and acres of camp.

I still have the riding trophy I earned for falling off a horse during the first week and winning the gymkhana the final week. I can still remember getting on that horse and psyching myself up for going around those barrels. I also learned to make lanyards and mosaics from pinto beans and peas -- more useful life skills.

 JULIA: Editing to add I found a site with some pictures and an early-sixties-ish brochure for Hallie's Camp Tocaloma! Just click on the picture to the right to be transported to the past...

ROSEMARY HARRIS: Sounds like fun! I never went to camp. I can remember asking my mother about camp once and she told me "you don't need camp, you have cousins." She had such a way with words.
She was one of eight and my dad was one of nine so I did indeed have cousins!

Of course now I realize we just couldn't afford it. I'm not talking Jeanette Walls but horses and gymkhana? Not in my yout'.

RHYS BOWEN: In England they don't do summer camp in the same way, possibly because we only have six weeks of summer vacation from school and thus not the same compelling reason to get rid of the kids for a while. I went to Girl Guide camp several times and LOVED it. My parents were not outdoor types so I really enjoyed hikes, cooking over a camp fire, singing songs, midnight feasts. And the camaraderie. Once it was glorious and sunny. Once it rained non-stop and the tent got flooded. But i liked it anyway.

My kids went to various sports camps. Our waterpolo playing daughter who was on the Junior National team at the time spent summers at the Olympic Training center in Colorado Springs or working with the team in Modesto CA. (hotter than Hades). I wished we could have afforded the real summer camp experience but they had become so expensive.

LUCY BURDETTE: Nope, never went to camp. I'm sure some of that was financial. But also my parents were very big into family vacations. So we'd trek across country in our station wagon or head down to the Cape Hatteras National Seashore with kids, dogs, cats, and extended family. I remember those trips very fondly--big games of Kick the Can and Pounce, days spent lolling in the sun, and lots of good food. Maybe that's why I get homesick easily--if I don't have my entourage with me, it doesn't feel right!

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: OH, camp. I was so--timid, and shy, and camp was the good news, because people in your cabin HAD to like you. Girl Scout camp, certainly, and I was assigned to the "Romany" tent. We had a song: "Romany, ROmany, R-O-M-A-N-Y, Romany, Romany, love til I die.) We made lanyards, absolutely, and told ghost stories around the campfire. Linda Katzenberger told us the WHOLE story about Invasion of the Body Snatchers, in great detail. And we didn't sleep for the rest of the time. Archery, I learned to love it--now THERE"s a skill you 'll never need. But it was cool at the time.

Then I want to another camp, kind of a--different kind of camp. And on day one they told us blue-eyed campers didn't have to do chores only brown-eyed campers did. ANd they were testing whether all of us brown-eyed people would stand up for ourselves and rebel. Seriously. I would have rather done archery.

Now my grandson is headed off to camp. And he has brown eyes. But it's soccer camp so it shouldn't matter.

DEBORAH CROMBIE: I went once for Girl Scouts, two weeks, I think, when I was about twelve. I don't remember that I particularly enjoyed it. There were loads of mosquitoes, snakes, and horrid latrines. In fact, I think I probably quit Scouts after that.

My family were NOT campers!!!! But they loved car vacations, so I saw a great deal of the US growing up, stayed in weird little motor courts, and had super  roadside picnics. I loved it. Remember Burma Shave? :-)

I also did a camping/hiking Jan term when I was in college, in Arizona. It was led by one of my biology professors, a lovely man, and that I did enjoy. The only downside was a slip in some mountainside scree that permanently screwed up my right knee.

My hubby loves to camp, so I am a huge disappointment. Sigh.

 ROSEMARY: I think Julia meant camp - color wars..lanyards...Marjorie Morningstar..

JULIA: I'm not even getting into that kind of camp, Ro.  How about you, dear readers? Share your summer camp adventures with us!

I don't usually plug things other than books, but if any of you, dear readers, live in New England, I can recommend the ACA-accredited Bishopswood whole-heartedly. Though run by the Episcopal Diocese, Bishopswood accepts kids from all denominations, or none - and doesn't try to proselytize. The counselors, many of whom were once campers there themselves, are terrific. And best of all? The cost is only $415 a week, half the rate of most other camps in Maine. Now, if we can only get them to start that writers retreat...


  1. While the girls went to Girl Scout day camp a time or two, there’s not really much "camp" in our children’s growing up years [and none in my own]. Most summers, their dad would go flying off with the Navy and we would desert California for the Jersey shore to visit family. We’d do the Girl Scout day camp thing if Mom had been volunteered into being a camp counselor for a week or two; otherwise, we spent our time visiting family.

  2. I went to Girl Scout camp, Camp Drake, in the Santa Barbara mountains every summer from age 8 to 13, and loved it. They always gave me the smallest horse, we rarely had to shower, we hiked, we made good friends, we sang, and had so much fun. We even did the flag ceremony on horseback, flipping the flag. I still get choked up sometimes singing in a group. Sigh. My sons went to a co-ed Rotary camp complete with lake and loudspeaker ("Junior boys to the lake!") and one son ended up being a counselor for a few years. Fond memories!

  3. I am aligned with the car vacation people. When I was a kid, if there was a rocket or six flags over a place, we were there. Also arrived by station wagon, after X number of hours playing the games called "He's looking out my window" and "Mom, make him stop touching me" and "We just stopped at a gas station bathroom seven hours ago!"

    My own sons went to scout camp and several day camps, every summer. They must have enjoyed them, because they always begged to go back.

  4. I had two camp experiences, one was traditional, Camp Laurel up in Maine, and one was non traditional, an arts camp setting. I would say I was a big fan of the non traditional. But then again, it depends on who the other campers are. My new book takes place in a camp, so I have been thinking about this quite a lot. Great summer topic.

  5. Camp was a luxury we couldn't afford, but I did go twice. First to a Girl Scout camp when I was about 10, where we had to choose a new name. I wanted Mustang, but that was taken. Instead, for a week or two I was called Bookworm. We had to wear bright yellow swim caps in the pool, slept in tents on platforms, and hiked a lot. I remember getting a mosquito in my eye. I was also very good at the rope bridge.
    My second camp experience was when I was 17, the Kettle Morraine Youth Conservation Camp. I worked for the Wisconsin Dept of Natural Resources. We were paid minimum wage for working at various state parks. 50 boys, 50 girls, all teenagers, with a strict no physical contact policy. (One couple, caught kissing, had to scrub out a dumpster together using toothbrushes.) Five days a week we pruned white pines, graveled the paths at High Cliff State Park, tried to eradicate purple loosestrife using curved blade corn knives, and picked up litter endlessly. Out cabins were expected to be meticulous. We mopped and squeegeed the painted cement floor every weekday. My job was lining up shoes under the bunks and spacing all of the clothes hangers exactly the same distance apart, shirted in order by sleeve length, all buttons fastened. In the morning they played Reville and we had three minutes to get 25 girls through 4 bathroom stalls and 4 sinks, before cleaning our cabins and heading off to breakfast before crew. Weekends were fun, games, field trips to baseball games and mushroom farms, hikes along the eskers (a glacial formation) to another park for a picnic. At the end of the month I hated to go home.

  6. Wow, re-reading my comment tells me I either need to cut my fingernails or get rid of that darn flat keyboard! "Our cabins..." "shirts sorted..."

  7. Hi Julia,

    We always seemed to live where other kids went to camp, and when we didn't, we had the family camps on the Cape and on the Concord River. Our family always shared. For a few difficult years we lived in my great-grandmother's summer camp year round. It was wonderful but very cold in the Massachusetts winter with no insulation or central heating.

    When we lived in Marblehead I went to Mariner Scouts day camp and learned all about sailing and navigation. That was a lot of fun. I also went with my band and orchestra mates from Marblehead High to the University of New Hampshire Summer Youth Music School. I was grounded most of the time I was there for leading the others astray. It was great.

  8. Hoo boy, did I EVER love camping when I was a kid. Our Girl Scouts usually went on weekends in the spring and fall—and the proceeds from the cookies I hauled all over town in the basket of my bicycle helped buy the land for the camp my daughter attended 30 years later.

    Once her very high-maintence (male) cousin was visiting for the summer when we took her to the camp. His nose curled when he saw the platform tents and fire circles. He turned visibly pale when Erin ran back from a quick trip to the john and announced, "We've got HOT water this year!"

  9. I loved camp and cabins as a kid. Great memories. Somewhere along the line, I grew to prefer bug-less hotels and crisp, clean sheets. But, yes, great memories and I can archery, canoe and red-rover with the best of 'em.

  10. Camp! I went to the Ulster County 4-H camp from the summer after 6th grade through the summer after soph year in COLLEGE! It was set up so you went on Sunday afternoon and went home Friday night. The sessions were only a few weeks (we had to focus on the county fair in August), but I loved it.
    Later, I worked two summers in a camp for kids with dyslexia.
    My own children have not done so much camp -- maybe because I pushed the idea so much!

  11. Girl Scout camps -- first Tall Pines day camp at 8 or 9, then Timbercrest from 10 on -- were a big part of my growing up. I even went through the counselor training program and worked there in h.s. and college. Loved, loved, loved it. Still have a weird song for every occasion and great fire-starting skills! (Call me "Eagle" and I'll probably still respond!)

  12. I pleaded and begged my parents to let me go to camp, but they never did. When I was in college, I spent one summer as a camp counselor/horseback riding instructor. Best summer job ever.

    My cabin had no electricity since it was one of the original cabins from the 30's and we had to hike to the bathrooms.

    There were themed weeks too. The ones I remember were 70's disco and mystical/fantasy. I should mention this was the summer of '96.

    My favorite part was the prank war between the guy counselors and girl counselors. We pranked each other and the director all summer. I was a bit of a double agent, pranking both sides depending on which friend asked me to help. I was the sweet girl no one expected.

  13. Two weeks every summer at Girl Scout camp (what my parents could afford), the best my parents could afford. It was in the beautiful Adirondacks, facilities were vary basic,and I loved every minute. The routines,sleeping in tents, campfires and songs,the nature activities. I had mad camping skills by the last summer and canoed in the (big) St. Lawrence River. That girl is not at all who I am now, but good memories.

  14. Oh yeah. My older brother and I did summer camp; not my younger siblings though for some reason. My first experience was an Episcopal camp somewhere on Galveston Bay; I remember being homesick for my big brother! Then a one week camp with the CampFire Girls somewhere in central Texas; we took the train from Houston and the counselors picked us up. After that I was a girl scout and went to Camp Arnold for 2 week session for a couple of summers. Can you imagine living in a tent in the east Texas Piney Woods in the summertime? Hell on earth. Of course we didn't know any better. We would go hiking and the counselors always carried a hoe in case we met a snake. And a rather aggressive coral snake got hoed to death once. That was exciting. I learned not to be afraid of daddy longlegs; they lived inside our tents up on the canvas. We canoed and swam and usually earned a red cross swimmers badge of some sort. Usually. One summer the instructor was cranky as hell and some of us decided we would do our own thing with her blessing. So no badge. I would have taken training to be a scout camp counselor once I was in high school, but my family moved next door to Louisiana and that was that!

  15. I loved Summer camp. I went every year for two weeks in Richmond, NH. I got to be a waterfront instructor for a YWCA camp in Denmark, Maine. It was a great summer adventure. My daughters did YMCA camp in Oregon but they would say the best was the Surf Camp for a week in San Diego while they were in high school.

  16. I'm loving everyone's camp stories! (Although I'd just as soon skip the Psychological Experiment on Unconsenting Youths Camp that Hank went to.

    Youngest's two weeks are themed Renaissance (?) and Bishopswood Stock, where they all get dressed up as "hippies" and, I don't know, play pin-the-tail-on-Dick-Nixon? Amazing to think the Sixties are as far back historically to these kids as the Jazz Age was to us when we were girls.

  17. Hi Julia,

    Like Lucy, no camp for us. Probably because of money, but more likely because it was the 70s in Marin, and we children were left to the neighborhood. I remember summers being languid, dried-out, and fraught with kid turmoil.

    In 6th (or 7th?) grade, I went to Outdoor Ed, school-mandated so probably doesn't count. I pretty much detested it. Enforced camaraderie isn't my thing. :-) Plus some of the girls had acquired acute cases of Mean Girl Syndrome.

  18. I'm not looking for a writers retreat, but just a lovely location with served good food (healthy) as a get away. The bonus would be interesting people. We could do a mixed arts retreat: writers, painters, musicians, whatever.
    Sign me up!

  19. Yes, adult summer camp! That's what I want!

  20. I just edited the post after finding a site with pictures and an old brochure for Hallie's camp. I encourage you all to click on the link and take a look!

    Also, I should have mentioned that, with the exception of the newly-added picture of Camp Tocaloma, all the photos in the post are of Camp Bishopswood.

  21. Marianne in MaineJuly 8, 2013 at 1:50 PM

    I went to Camp Pesquasawasis (why do I remember the spelling after all these years) in Maine for 2 weeks when I was about 10 and loved it. I was signed up for a month the next year and wanted to leave before the first two weeks were over. I can't remember exactly why. After that I went to Girl Scout day camp for a few years. Then in High School (and still a Scout) we ran weekend camps for younger scouts.

    I drove by a summer camp yesterday Naomi, it was actually Camp Laurel!) and the lake was full of colorful sailboats. I think an adult camp for a week or so would be wonderful!

  22. I didn't get to go to camp as a kid. Probably due to finances and having a twin. One could not do something that the other could not, not allowed. But, as an adult, I became a Girl Scout leader and did it all with my girls. We camped as Brownie, Juniors, Cadettes, and Seniors. We did day camp. I was the camp director and the girls came along as Junior counselors. My daughter and two sons got to go to Girl Scout day camp for six years, then they became cooks helpers and waterfront staff after I retired. We all loved every minute of those years. I shot archery, skeet, hiked, canoed, row boats, and cooked on everything from a camp fire, to a wine box oven, to a tin can stove, to solar cooking. Amazing how those skills come in handy when your oven decides to quit on Christmas or Thanksgiving...or both or it's over 100 degrees and you can cook meatloaf, baked potatoes, and green beans in a wine box on your back steps. Yep, I learned a lot, taught a lot, and never regret a minute of those wonderful years.

  23. Lily Dodd, this might be the spot for you:

  24. It was intriguing to me, when my son was small, to realize how very differently the regions of this country approach camp. Here in Ohio and nearby states like Michigan and Indiana as well, kids go away to a week of Scout camp or church camp or a specific sport or something, but it is almost unheard of for a kid to be shipped off for weeks at a time. But on the East Coast, I understand it is rather typical. I first became aware of this when I attended camp fairs at some upscale private schools in the area. I was taken aback by the longer camp offerings and in talking with the reps they told me about the regional difference. Then I heard it reiterated by my childhood best friend, who grew up here in Ohio but raised her kids in Boston. You guessed it: they went off to three to six weeks of camp every summer. She said people there just thought it was normal.

  25. I groaned when I read about the girl scout camp. I think we went to the same one...ugh. I always wanted to go to a nice, fun sleepaway camp. but all I got was 2 weeks of a miserable time-- horrid latrines galore, mean girls, swimming instructors that didn't teach you how to swim, a scraped hand that got infected, a bruised knee......
    sandy gardner

  26. ps I meant Deborah Crombie's post on girl scout camp that I related to! sandy gardner

  27. Hi Reine!

    Outdoor Ed is a week-long environmental/nature program organized within school districts. Kids are shipped off for a week of "camp" during the school year. I seem to remember that it was mandatory, but that might not be true...It was horrid. :-)

  28. Lisa... sounds like a Berkeley thing. xoxo

  29. The reason I never went to "kid" camp is that my parents liked to camp, too. So every summer for a few weeks we piled into the car and went camping in the Colorado Rocky Mountains or Yellowstone and the Tetons or just about any national park within driving distance. Some of my fondest memories are of the crisp mountain air, waking to the smell of coffee since my dad got up at dawn. Crawling out of the tent and going to a cold mountain stream to wash my get the picture.

    I camped with husband and then we took our son camping when he was young. The result? He hates nature! We sent him to some "kid" camps and he would have none of it. He wanted to be at home just hanging out. What happened?

  30. When I was young, I use to camp with my neighbors and loved it.

    We "camped out" in the back yard, sleeping bag, no tent for years

    In HS, there was a spot in the woods a mile or so behind a subdivision called "2nd falls" it was the spot to camp, always a bunch of people up there, you could go up alone and know you wouldn't be alone, it was safe, that was 40+ years ago, don't think I'd do that or sleep in my yard in a sleeping bag these days.

    35 yrs ago DH& I spent 6 weeks on a lake in the middle of God's country in Saskatchewan at a very very small campground, a tent, a canoe, fishing poles and very little money, what an awesome experience that was. 28 sq mile lake with 2 very small campgrounds and an indian reservation, nearest town was over an hour away

    It's been 30+ years since I have camped in the wilderness of Colorado, that was my last "outdoor, roughing it" camping trip.

    I'd be happy to camp now as long as I have solid walls, indoor plumbing and air conditioning :)

  31. I didn't get to camp as a child but I have lots of great memories of camping with our kids and friends every year... all over California and on a coast to coast trip in 1976. We still laugh about the time a motorcycle rider camped next to us in Kings Canyon. He stood on a picnic table to tie his food bundle to a rope between 2 know, to keep it safe from rummaging bears during the night. Unfortunately, he didn't think to move the table so a huge bear came in the night, stood on the same table and pulled down his pack of food. We were sleeping out under the stars and woke up very quickly, let me tell you.

  32. Yes, we camped out in our back yard, too! It was the BEST! Because we could come inside when it got buggy or scary. Which it did pretty quickly...

  33. Ahhh, camp! I went to day camp every summer starting when I was six, sports or nature or something. Overnight camp for two weeks every year starting when I was nine. The best summers, though, were the four years from 12-15 that I spent as a camper and CIT at Sunapee Arts Camp in New Hampshire. It was a non-competetive arts camp where we wrote our own plays and musicals, everyone went barefoot except for in the dining hall, someone was always playing guitar for sing alongs, and the staff left the camp in the hands of the 14 and 15 year old CITs every weekend (we did have adult supervision, just . . . Very limited). I made the most amazing friends and had the most amazing experience. I wish I could go back and do it again. I *loved* camp.