As with many young people, my life changed at camp, not just for a few weeks, but for a lifetime. Today I think I know some of the reasons why.
Sun, wind, rain, stars at night--things that are often mitigated and ignored in a civilized world of alarm clocks, air-conditioning and electric lights--all are part of our camp memories, and for good reason.
My memories of camp remind me that even routine things, if undertaken in a spirit of adventure and with good friends at one's side, can be fun.
Memories of summer camp . . . on these hot July afternoons they come rushing into my mind the way 30 years ago we used to rush the swimming pool at afternoon free time or the mess hall at dinner time. With effort these thoughts can be delayed, but they will not be put off.
Sooner or later I'll find myself daydreaming of a big palomino quarter horse named King, a favorite spot on the south rim of the Palo Duro Canyon we called West Point, or a cute archery instructor named Charlotte. King carried me on most of my camp exploits, including daily visits to West Point, where, overlooking the grandeur of God's creation, I made decisions that still affect my life, one of which was to ask for a hand in marriage belonging to a certain archery instructor.
I attended a variety of camps as a preadolescent--Boy Scout camp, church camp, a private camp in the New Mexico Rockies where I first learned that strawberries grow wild--but my best memories come from my late teens and early 20's when I worked as a wrangler and riding instructor at Hidden Falls Ranch, a nondenominational Christian youth camp on the Palo Duro. As with many young people, my life changed at camp, not just for a few weeks, but for a lifetime. Today I think I know some of the reasons why.
Hidden Falls Ranch is located in a fairly remote part of the Texas Panhandle, but all camps, even day camps held in city parks, share in common an exposure to the elements of nature. Sun, wind, rain, stars at night--things that are often mitigated and ignored in a civilized world of alarm clocks, air-conditioning and electric lights--all are part of our camp memories, and for good reason.
Face-to-face confrontation with nature is part of the pedagogy of camping. It produces both gratefulness and awe. It brings both self-awareness and self-confidence. It builds both resourcefulness and endurance. And while modern technology can soften young people, summer camp hardens them. My days at Hidden Falls Ranch helped prepare me for the normal struggles of life.
And, of course, one of the most important resources we need to face these struggles is something we also find at camp, good friends. Lifelong friends come from many sources: family, childhood playmates, college roomies. Most of mine come from my days at summer camp. There is a reason for this. Close friendships are formed from shared adventure and adversity--things such as a long hike in search of Indian arrowheads or an overnight campout interrupted by a strong thunderstorm--experiences you find in abundance at camp but which are hard to fit into our 30-minute lunch breaks and 10-minute phone calls with adult acquaintances.
I hear from too many midlifers who no longer find pleasure in their routine, especially their jobs. But summer camp was fun even though it included a lot of non-glamorous work: emptying trash, hoeing weeds, raking manure from a corral. My memories of camp remind me that even routine things, if undertaken in a spirit of adventure and with good friends at one's side, can be fun.
What we need is a summer camp for midlifers. Hey, if you build it, I will come.
My Articles about Hidden Falls Ranch (and its people)
It's Her One Time Around
Happy 30th Anniversary
Lost in the Palo Duro
Memories of Summer Camp
My Sister, My Advocate
To Uncle John and Aunt Betty: A Tribute
Hidden Falls Ranch: A 40th Anniversary Tribute
Respond to this column on Best Years Blog.
View others' responses to this column before January 2004.