Tuesday, August 23, 2011

More Vamping about Camping


Writing my last post about going to day camp and sleep-away camp also got me thinking more broadly about camping.  When I was a kid that was the main thing we did on summer vacations, despite my desperate dislike of bugs, outdoor toilets, and getting my hands (much less my body) dirty.  Though I complained at the time, I have a rosy glow of a stream of summers driving in gorgeous New England mountains, swims in lakes in New Hampshire and Maine, and picking blueberries at our campsites to go into my mom’s pancakes made on the propane stove. Meals camping also included Hickory Farms beefstick, a summer sausage which my mom would fry up instead of bacon with eggs for breakfast, instead of bologna for lunch, and, well, I’m sure we had it for dinner, too, in lieu of something!

Perhaps the most Norman Rockwell camping trip was in 1969, when my dad and mom and younger brother and I sat amidst dozens of other families one night at our campground watching on a small T.V. screen as men walked on the moon for the first time. It was fitting that we were not isolated, each family in our own home, but out there under the stars, from all over the country, in community.

One of my last family camping memories, dragged along at 14 or 15, was to Fundy National Park in New Brunswick, Canada. There was a gorgeous park with a huge bowl of grassy lawn where I hung out with other similarly parentally-inconvenienced teenagers.  I developed a huge crush on a long-haired, guitar-playing, soulful older boy (I’ve always been a sucker for musicians) and created an elaborate fantasy of how we could see each other after summer was gone, since he, too, lived in Massachusetts.  Of course he was completely clueless and of course I never saw him again, but decades later I’m still unable to hear Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young do “Love the One You’re With” without thinking of him.     

When was the last time I went camping, anyway?  Perhaps it was in Taiwan in my early 20s.  I traveled with a friend Chen Chiung-ling from Taipei down to central Taiwan where she had friends in college. We hiked around some beautiful scenery but the most amazing thing about that trip was the amount of food they carried and the feasts they prepared just on campfires.

I didn’t take my son camping when he was growing up, though I gave him opportunities to do so with others.  He wasn’t a fan, though he has become very outdoorsy as a young man.  Good for him.  But he accepts the fact that as far as his mother goes, the closest I get to camping is staying in a motel instead of a hotel.  Because I’m just not a happy camper. 

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Camp Complains-a-Lot


Earlier this year when asked to recall memories of sending my son to camp,  I was amazed at the floodgate of memories that opened and washed right over that more recent time, flowing all the way back to my own childhood experiences of camp. 

I went to Camp Featherfin, which I liked fine, except for the fact it was outdoors and there were bugs and dirt.  My main memory was setting up the camp fire and making goulash which was pretty tasty.  Campers went swimming in Lake Winthrop (even when not in camp I took swim lessons there in the early morning in what felt like sub-zero temperatures)—as an adult I learned subsequently the lake was be contaminated with dioxin.  No point even beginning to ponder the implications of that for me or the thousands of kids and adults who spent their summers in those waters!

I also remember when I was around 8 years old, in one of my many young volunteer activities as apprentice to my uber-volunteer mom, packing lunches for a camp for underprivileged kids.  The most fun part was that the Hostess factory from a few towns over delivered packages of Hostess CupCakes to my house in big metal racks, stacks and stacks of them in our carport—but not for me, for the campers, but still there was something heady about it.

I did go to sleep-away camp on my own one time and all I remember is how much I hated it and complained about it. I never was big at going outside my comfort zone, physically at least, and that included having to put up with a scary environment over which I had no control, and kids who saw an insecure, unathletic, braces- and glasses-wearing girl who was developing early as prime bullying material.  I sent frantic postcards and letters home but was unable to convince my parents to come and take me home. 

Let’s see, other heartwarming camping memories…How about getting lost in the woods at night at a Girl Scout sleep-away camp (my mom was a troop leader) next to some kind of huge detention center/jail, which I discovered finally arriving at a barbed wire fence.  Or idealistically heading to New Hampshire one summer to be a camp counselor for troubled inner city youth, and freaking out, whether unable to hack the pressure or homesick or both, I’m not sure, and bailing out? 

Of course, camp is not what camp used to be.  If I was looking at camps now I could study newspaper writing or website design or yoga or learn Italian, I could stay in an air-conditioned cabin in the mountains, or on the beach in a yurt.  My delicate tush need never touch the rocky, buggy ground, I need never stumble in the scary dark to an outhouse, and my food need never come with pine needles in it.  For that matter, I could have stayed home. But then where would I have learned to make goulash, macramé a friendship bracelet or sing “Row, Row, Row Your Boat” in rounds?