Summer camp isn’t for everyone. The letters my youngest daughter would pen during rest hour were rarely enthusiastic. One read: “Dear Mom and Dad: I have 34 mosquito bites. By the time you read this, I will have more.”
But me, I adored camp. For seven years I was a camper and counselor at the now-defunct Camp Northland for Girls in northern Minnesota. Each summer we swam and sailed, shot arrows at targets, put on plays, washed in the lake, sang at meals, used four-hole outhouses, and took canoe trips. Our bunk beds were lumpy, camp food mediocre, and yes, the mosquitoes horrendous. But still, at the end of the seven-week sessions, campers and counselors alike sobbed and held hands through the bus windows as the vehicles pulled away, taking campers back to civilization and ending our summer reverie.
If you, like me, loved summer camp, then you know those experiences left an indelible mark. And while it may not be possible to recreate those carefree weeks in the woods, reminders of summer camp can make the workday world just a little sweeter.
Camp is all about appreciating nature. A hand-painted sign that read “Mrs. Robin Says Please Don’t Peel the Birch Bark From My Trees” alerted Camp Northland girls to the importance of caring for the wilderness. Planting a garden or even nurturing a houseplant can remind you of your lessons in conservation. The eerie calls of loons across a lake may have nurtured your appreciation of feathered friends. Revive that relationship by hanging a bird feeder close to a window: you likely won’t attract loons, but Mrs. Robin and her cohorts will stop by daily.
Fans of arts and crafts can still make lanyards, candles, and clay pinch pots. For me, learning to embroider — we covered our chambray shirts and overalls with chain-stitched butterflies and flowers — became a lifelong skill. Sitting down with a hoop and floss today is as soothing as it was back then.
Speaking of chambray shirts, wear one! Pull out those hiking boots and bandanas and head out for an afternoon’s stroll. Donning my black-and-red lumber jacket and sitting by the fire pit on a cool fall afternoon reminds me of camp’s dressed-down aesthetic and evenings spent singing around the campfire.
It may not be possible to canoe or sail or swim in the lake during the winter, but surrounding yourself with artifacts of those activities can go a long way toward taking you out of your winter doldrums.
On a cold winter night, reread the journals you wrote while hiking the mountains or canoeing the lakes. Flip through scrapbooks that include lyrics of camp songs and recipes for blueberry pancakes. Surround yourself with photos of those special friends you made at camp.
Better yet, haul out the trusty pen and paper and write them. At Camp Northland, we’d spend rest hour penning missives to parents, siblings, and beaus in hopes of getting a coveted note in return. I still love to choose just the right wilderness-themed postcard or stationery to send my camp friends. And they write back! Reading an actual letter from your bunkmate at the end of a long workday will take you right back to the time when you short-sheeted her bed, and you’ll know she’s forgiven you.
If you’re like me, hefting a piece of beaver-chewed driftwood, singing a few bars of “Pruney,” or even hearing the whine of a mosquito reminds you of the sense of calm you felt when Taps wafted through your cabin window at the end of the day. When the snow is coming down and work is enervating, hold tight to those memories; camp made us who we are today.
What are your favorite camp memories?