I just finished reading a book by Michael Eisner simply titled, Camp. It was fitting to read about Eisner’s formational years while we dove into Disney and experienced the success and productivity that resulted from Eisner’s development of work ethic, dreaming big and persistence in the face of adversity. (I have only read a little about Eisner’s controversial exit from Disney, but I personally believe it was vindictive hype and he bowed out gracefully, and fortunately for us, began to write this book.)
Camp is a memoir about a special place called Keewaydin, where many kids spent weeks in the summer being challenged and formed by the setting, program and staff. The author says it better than I could…
“[Camp] is God and humans teaming up to provide nature’s ultimate playground, where survival in the woods becomes an exercise in training for life’s real-world, man-made challenges; where young people can develop their physical and natural skills while also maturing and growing socially.” p. 172
Although the book leaves me wishing I’d had more such formational experiences as a growing child, I realize that I did have camp adventures that are a part of who I am today. The most significant was Girl Scout camp.
The adventure of camping would begin many weeks before we’d actually embark. Our Leader insisted that all planning would be done by the troop, with his watchful eye overseeing the process. (Yes, my Girl Scout leader was male. Long story, but very beneficial for those of us who were lacking male approval and attention in our lives.) From meal planning to grocery shopping to packing gear, we all worked on the community project that would take us to some natural spot for fun and learning for a few days.
Fun was the cover for learning. Most of the time, we didn’t realize we were learning. Learning about ourselves and our inner capacity to overcome fears and obstacles. Learning about teamwork and its synergy, plus its struggles. The fun was the main draw. We knew some work would come along with the fun, and we complained some at the time. But the work was crafting us into women who could get the job done.
Once, we arrived at our destination to find that the afore-promised supply of firewood was not left by the venue staff. (Or was this one of those crafty and carefully planned schemes of our leader, designed to stretch us?) Up a wooded hill we went, hacksaws and hatchets in hand, not a minor thing for this girl who was previously vexed to be within a few feet of any sharp blade. A few hours later, we emerged, beaming through the sweat and filth with our booty of firewood that would warm us through the chilly nights and cook our delicious campfire recipes.
Evenings were a special time of fellowship and reflection, in addition to bizarre stunts and inevitable potty humor. And the dancing! Our leader made a deal with us early on in our camping times together. On Friday night, he would tune the radio hung in the rafters of the pavilion to our pop/rock station. In exchange, (like we had a choice) on Saturday night his choice of music would prevail… solid gold oldies from the 60’s and 70’s. We moaned and complained, but my taste in music was drastically and permanently changed. I am the only person my age that I know who idolizes Franki Valli and the Four Seasons. Our leader showed us the dances of the time and insisted that we take in the cultural lesson we didn’t know we were learning. He never said much about his time serving in the military. His fierce sense of patriotism said all we needed to know. We didn’t know what a hippie was at the time. But the wedding photograph of our leader and his wife in which she wore a micro-mini wedding dress and thigh-high gogo boots was a tipoff that we were being exposed to another time with unique tastes and trends.
I recall one time I was invited to take a late-night shift on fire watch. I’m not sure if the fire actually needed watching, but I was up for the challenge. As our leader strode off into the dark toward his tent, I wondered if he usually stayed up all night, or the few early morning hours between 2 am and 8 am, when we slept. I had never thought to consider this before. The night took on a magical quality as I relished what solitude really was. I think it may have been my first taste of truly being alone and quiet. A life-long obsession for this luxury began that night. It felt like hours that I was entranced by the glowing orange embers. My mind cleared as I breathed in the anointed night air. I think I probably processed some of the conflicts and insecurities that I was facing back home in a family that waivered on the brink of stability.
I think children are very busy between the ages of 6 and 13 becoming who they are going to be for a very long time, yet unaware of the foundation stones that are being placed. As a parent now, I try to instill some of these same camp experiences and challenges in the lives of my children. Yet, I am suspicious that certain types of growth and development cannot be done with a watchful parent nearby. I’ll be enrolling my oldest daughter in Scouting this Fall. I doubt her experience will be the same as mine. I only hope some of the basics are there, like finding inner strength, embracing responsibility, and enjoying the quiet of the evening.