Saturday, July 21, 2007

Summer Camp

Nice memories for most of us, as this story notes.

‘The Best Place in the World’
By Amity Shlaes Thursday, July 12, 2007
It’s summer camp, a phenomenon invented by a Prussian and now quintessentially American. AMITY SHLAES remembers Camp Martin Johnson and has the scar to prove it.

Our 13-year-old likes a lot of things: his Wacom Graphire set, a session of pick-up soccer on the street after dinner. But the thing he likes most is his summer camp. September, November, March are all fine months, but to him they are just wait time until he can get underwater in McWain Pond at “the Rock”—his camp, Birch Rock.

Visiting day his second summer he stood behind a large outdoor hearth and before a group of parents on log benches and told an embarrassing little parable. “My life at home is like life in a harbor. At home there’s candy, and there are video games,” he said. But Birch Rock had changed him, he told his audience. He had realized that “a harbor is not what a ship is for.”

I share his enthusiasm. I once crafted a whole radio commentary—ostensibly about teen employment, I believe—all for the sake of getting a single sentence onto the air: “Birch Rock Camp in Waterford, Maine, is the best place in the world.”

My son and I are not alone. Camps are important to Americans—so important that some are more loyal to their camps than to their jobs, schools, or churches. The American Camp Association accredits more than 2,400 of them, and many more are unaccredited There are day camps, weekend camps that offer hours in the batting cage, chess camps, weight-reduction camps, and family camps that teach togetherness by demonstrating the construction of s’mores. (Build tower of graham cracker, Hershey bar, and marshmallow; toast over campfire.)

In a few families, three or four generations have already known the experience of going eye to eye with those tiny “skeeter bugs” zipping across the water’s surface, of making their way across pine needles to a dark bathhouse, of sleeping in an odiferous cabin with, when possible, a raccoon underneath.

For many of us, sleep-away camp is the first and most important attempt at utopia, a better life outside of life. Some Americans become lifetime campers, smoothly transitioning from first-session newbie to archery instructor in a matter of eight or ten years. New England is home to a number of such people, many of whom have worked up and down the East Coast.