Mists rise slowly from the mountain valleys adding to the chill of the early morning air, that, washed clean by last night’s shower, is enough to cause the early rising camp staff to hurry to the lodge and put another log on the smoldering embers in the great stone fireplace. Their arrival has already been preempted by the kitchen crew, hard at work shaping breakfast for the soon to be clamoring group of eager and hungry campers, who meanwhile, are still sleeping in the comfort and safety of their cabins. The smell of baking bread made from meal ground from the produce of the camp’s own farm, is just one of the many invitations that is evident as camp comes to life for another day of adventure. The morning mists will evaporate long before the sun warms the corners of the swimming pool and the overnight hikers, their fleeces draped across their shoulders, head towards the out bound trail. But for now, the great stone fireplace offers a very warm invitation of its own.
Soon, the first noisy peal from the old iron bell next to the dining hall will signal wake up time and the woodland sounds of birdsong will be joined by the equally noisy music of a hundred or more young voices as they too awaken to the expected adventures of a new day at camp. For millions of young children across America, this scenario will unfold during all the magical span of summer and, as a result, their lives will be enriched in a manner that will never be forgotten.
There are, of course, many ways to describe the meaning of summer camp for children and youth. Breakfast is a good way to begin. Here, there are no heavily sugared and fat laden foods. Nutritious, tasty and portioned for the growing needs of active youngsters, camp meals are a meaningful introduction to healthier eating that will follow the young camper home. But healthy eating is not all that takes place in the camp dining hall. Respect for the presence of others as the day’s activities are outlined, responsibility for cleaning up and appreciation for those who prepared the food are all subtle but important portions of living to be gained from a meal shared at the camp table. Too, depending on the particular focus of the camp, appreciation for the sanctity of creation and the creator can be a simple but profound part of a blessing for the food provided.
A healthy part of camp living is learning to care for one’s own space by cleaning the cabin and tidying up the beds.
Throughout the day, activities and gatherings allow for plenty of exercise (hiking, mountain biking, scaling up the climbing wall, kayaking on the lake and riding the zip line) as well as artistic expression (pottery, tie dying, painting and writing), and the development of new friendships. Bugs are discovered, tree leaves identified, wildflowers enjoyed, frogs apprehended and harmless snakes handled without fear. Clouds and blue sky replace city views, games on the green are expressive, energetic and non-competitive. The nature hut, pottery shed, farm fields, horse stables and barnyard provide windows through which children see amazing connections to the simple things of life so often missed when days are spent in front of a TV screen or playing a video game.
A restful after lunchtime nap provides a brief interlude before the rest of the day is spent in learning new skills, writing stories and listening to the wisdom and absorbing the lore of other people and other times.
By the time evening has come, campfire songs repeated, and flashlights and stars have guided them to their cabins, a tired but quite pleased bunch of youngsters will snuggle into the comfort of their sleeping bags, memories of a day well lived the subject of their dreams.
Summer camp is a marvelous institution. With the support, encouragement and protection of counselors and staff, children are ushered into a place where connections to better eating, physical activity, creative thinking, appreciation for the abundance of nature and respect for others are the common standards. Interestingly enough, those standards more often than not become the guideposts by which children live into adulthood. And those guideposts mean a richer and healthier life for all.
Finally, with lights out, children asleep, night sounds tuning up, it is time for a few of the counselors to drift back to the lodge, put one more log on the fire and relish the rewards of spending one more day forever shaping the life of a young child.