15 thoughts on “Camping Out In the Cosmos

  1. Oh, I love the way you weave your themes! Learning independence through sailing, summer camp, or simply by growing up is one of life’s most important tasks. The second–its equal–is appreciating it. Why does that always come later (rhetorical)?

    I never went to summer camp; my family never really took extended vacations (friends would go to the shore for two-weeks; we visited my grandparents for one). But we did go camping on long weekends, in everything from a tiny metal capsule to a tent trailer that expanded our vocabularies because it was so difficult for our parents to set up, and finally in a Winnebago, a trip that cannot be described here.

    Those postcards are priceless. So is the photograph, which begs the question: which girl is you? (I have a guess, but I ain’t tellin’)

    As for the larger, philosophical questions, I suppose the only answer is “wait and see.” Wait. And see.

    Thank you once again for a wonderful, thought-inspiring post!


    As an indication of how much things have changed… My Dad worked for Maytag. Every summer they simply shut the company down for two weeks and everyone went on vacation at the same time! I’m told it was a midwestern version of Paris in August. It did allow for some longer trips – to Minnesota, Colorado, New Orleans, Kentucky. Oh, and the Corn Palace in South Dakota. It was amazing – everyone from the highest executive to the lowliest line worker, off for the same two weeks. It was a company town, for sure.

    I’m in the back row, second from the left. You probably can pick out the girl with the over-protective Mama, too. She kept her coat on for photos like a good girl, but when the camera or adults weren’t around, off it came. We covered for her.

    Learning independence, claiming independence – so much in our country mitigates against it now. Parents try to keep children dependent, and our government tries to make children of us all. It’s really a shame – it’s the bumps, scrapes, hurt feelings and fears of childhood that helped turn us into adults, not to mention those up-close-and-personal experiences of cause and effect. Deny those to a kid, and coping stays pretty far down on their list of skills.


  2. You always close the circle! What a writer’s gift that is!

    And again, I am warmed by your memories of camp, the stories, and your crystal clear observations of the next generation of campers!

    I was never a camp kid. In fact, camping is so definitely not my thing. Maybe that’s what happens when you’re a cottage kid — still on the lake, in the woods, doing all the activities, but snuggling into a cozy bed in a dry house! Rick is a camper, and the boys went to summer camp as teens. I remember Greg’s first time — Scout camp — he didn’t make the week with homesickness. Part of me thought his mother should have had him stick it out; and part of me wondered if I would have called home, too. Can’t judge till you’re there, and maybe you shouldn’t even then.

    The things that hit the greatest chord in this post for me was the reference to the postcards. Yes, even cottage kids do those! And I wish I had them still. There is a rich, colorful history in those cards, with their lake scenes or woodlands or little towns. I now collect cards from the area where my cottage is, and some are even of cottages I know! It’s fun to read the backs, to hear about life back then. I think about what a rich legacy of memories has been lost to the quick text message or email that kids would have access to today. What goes in the memory box that parents save? I miss that.


    Oh, I don’t think you need to lay in the dirt to be “really” camping. There are some traditional camping activities – the fire, the marshmallows, the scary stories and songs and the night-time walks through the woods – but where you lay your head hardly matters. It’s the break from the routine of life that counts (and even kids have routines). It’s new experiences, and being away from home, and learning how to deal with it when people you can’t stand want to be best friends and someone you admire thinks you’re a dork!

    And isn’t that true about the postcards, the letters and scribbled notes? There’s something about a tangible message – fragile, fragrant and redolent of history – that will never, ever be matched by a text or saved email. I fully understand how useful our electronic communication is – but it can’t match a handwritten letter or a small bundle of postcards with smudged ink and tiny fingerprints for sentimental value.

    We still can be sentimental, can’t we? ;-)


  3. I would never know that there is a deeper meaning to camping if I didn’t read further. I enjoyed this one immensely even though I was never a camper.

    Back at elementary, joining the Girls Scout wasn’t necessary but important if you’re aiming to catch some medals. And so, I joined, and camped twice (in the woods!) and I never liked it! Oh, the hardships! The tears, the hard sleeping area, the not so elegant bathrooms! It would’ve been fun if I was at my age right now where I know have learned how to take care of myself without my parents.

    I don’t know but my camping experience lacked the things I want to learn like crafting or sewing and such. Maybe I would’ve liked it to be a sea camp. I never knew there was such!


    If you go to one of my entries about Hurricane Ike, you’ll see a photo of some of the Sea Scouts who sail out of the same marina where the kids have their camps. Scroll down about halfway – you’ll spot them. Sea Scouts is a wonderful program – and they have their equivalents to that hard ground you slept on! Just across the bridge at the edge of Galveston Bay is Camp Casa Mare – House of the Sea – which is a Girl Scout Camp.

    When I was growing up, we had another great opportunity – the day camps that were held at all the grade schools. For two weeks each summer, you could go in the morning, afternoon, or both, and do all kinds of things – arts and crafts, weaving, collages, painting. It was such fun. If you got bored you could play dodgeball or Captain, May I? – and I guarantee I’m showing my age by mentioning those!

    One of the best parts of day camp was lunch – we all brought our sandwiches and fruit, but the KoolAid and graham cracker/frosting sandwiches were the Camp Program’s contribution. I found a clipping online that showed the city budget for one of the years I went to day camp, and the line item for the camps was – $300! How things have changed!


  4. I never went to camp as a child, either, but this post reminded me of how long summer vacation used to be. I remember getting out of school on that last day and the months of July and August lay before us like some vast, unexplored territory. And then there was that little extra cushion of a few days at the beginning of September, that long Labor Day weekend to savor fresh corn on the cob and maybe one last swim.

    Now the summer flies by so quickly we hardly notice it, I think because we spend too much time looking ahead, and not enough time just looking around. Thank you for the reminder, beautifully expressed and illustrated. Once again, you have found just the right words!


    What a perfect expression – “looking ahead, and not…looking around”. Isn’t it the truth? I just reminded someone elsewhere of one of my favorite quotations from Walker Percy. He put it equally well when he said, “To live in the past and future is easy. To live in the present is like threading a needle.”

    What I remember about those summers, more than anything else, is how empty they were. They were pure potential – there was camp, or Vacation Bible School, or family vacations and trips to the grandparents’ to fit in, but there were great chunks of time when we really didn’t “do” anything. We looked at clouds. We rode bicycles and played jacks. We read books. We climbed up in the cherry tree and just watched people walk by. If I had to put up with the summer schedule of some kids I know, I’d revolt! Every minute is scheduled. There’s no time to “be”, to let events – or a personality – unfold. Pity.

    Thanks so much for stopping by, and for reminding me of the taste of corn. On the basis of your comment, I brought some home for supper tonight, and was back in Iowa for just a bit!


  5. Interesting analogy… Life as a camping trip, and everyone of us can write our “Camper’s Progress”.

    I join your other commenters in saying I didn’t go to camp as a kid, either. I’m a bit surprised at that. I thought I’d be the only one who didn’t have any childhood camping experience. But I made up for it as I went on my first ‘real’ camping trip as a teenager, recent arrival to Canada at that time. I never received any postcard from my parents, but yours, Linda is so moving. Thanks for sharing it with us… what an endearing father-daughter relationship you had with your Dad.


    Dad and I did have a great relationship, and rather an active one. We always were doing things together and it shows in our photos – raking leaves, shoveling snow, cutting wood. And of course there were our famous “explorations”, when we’d just get in the car and go, with no destination except to get out and “see what was what”. Pure fun, and a pretty good way to nurture a child’s natural curiosity.

    Many of my friends didn’t go to camp, either. None of the farm kids did, that I can remember. Of course, they had their 4-H projects, and the county and state fairs which took a good bit of their time during the summer. Those projects and fairs did for them what camp did for us town kids – camp was our exposure to the natural world they lived with on a daily basis.

    I did participate in a town 4-H group, and wished the whole time I could have been in a “real” group. While my farm friends were doing cool things like currying cows and raising pigs, I produced the most atrocious piece of sewing you’ve ever seen – a skirt gathered on to a waistband. Eventually, the thing got turned into cleaning rags. Very satisfying. ;-)


  6. I have to join the ranks of those who never went to camp, either. At least not the organized kind. But that doesn’t mean I didn’t go camping as a child. Mine, I think, was the best kind.

    Until I was 12 we lived outside of Boston. On the last day of school my mom and dad would be waiting outside…my mom in our Ford woodie station wagon (wouldn’t you love to have one of THOSE today?) and my dad in the Chevy panel truck he used in his catering business. Behind the truck was a small travel trailer.

    We’d then take what was a three hour drive to Nickerson State Park in Brewster, Mass., out on Cape Cod. There we’d spend the entire summer until the day after Labor Day. My mom and dad lived in the trailer and my brothers and I in a tent nearby about 20 feet from the edge of Flax Pond and my beloved 8 foot pram. You can’t do that any more. There are no longer reservations at Nickerson and max stay is two weeks. The catering business went into hiatus during the summer but my dad opened a restaurant at Nauset Beach in Orleans which the family ran for 35 years.

    When I was 12 we moved full time to the Cape and I went to work at the restaurant (48 hours a week for 25 cents an hour. Taxes withheld, too.) ending my camping days.

    There were lots of camps, still are, in Orleans and Brewster. Most of them sailing camps. The sailing camps Wono for girls and Monomoy for boys over in Brewster have long ago been merged and are “fat camps.”


    Well, I had to google “fat camps”. I had a vague idea, but didn’t realize it had become an industry.

    There’s value to both kinds of camping, of course. To do the sort you’re speaking of requires parents who enjoy camping, and my mother didn’t. Doesn’t. Won’t ever. Which is fine, but it meant I had to get my first experiences of camping elsewhere.

    I may know one of your neighbors from the Nickerson days. A friend who grew up in Brewster and who is our age lived in the area for a while after finishing school. She says,

    “When I was older, first out on my own, rentals tended to be expensive, so what I used to do was get a cheap winter rental and then camp out in the woods all summer. I had a few spots near a source of water where I could camp in peace without disturbing anyone and it saved me lots of money. For over a year, I lived in a 1952 Ford school bus that had been converted into a camper.”

    It was a lot easier to be independent in those days.

    As for your woodie – well, yes. The most appealing thing I ever saw, automotive-wise, was a woodie station wagon pulling a woodie teardrop trailer. It’s like your puddleducks – small is beautiful!


  7. I’m so glad you identified yourself in the line-up! Fun to see the little Linda.

    I have my own memories of my first camp experience. Terribly shy, sitting alone on the bus in the morning, listening to the gang sing:

    “Hello Muddah, Hello Fadduh
    Here I am at Camp Granada
    Camp is very entertaining
    And they say we’ll have some fun if it stops raining!”


    “Be kind to your web footed friends,
    For that duck may be somebody’s mother.
    She lives all alone in the swamp,
    Where the weather is cold and damp;
    Now You may think that this is the end,
    Well it is but to show that I’m a liar,
    I’m going to sing it again,
    But this time I’m going to sing it higher.”

    I did learn the words to the song, but never had the courage to join in at that age…..

    Now I do join in, however, whenever the opportunity arises, and I do “accept without bitterness or regret the hard reality that there will be one, and only one, chance to camp out along the banks of time.” It makes me sad to think about it, being definitely past the half way point, so I try not to! Like you, I have also found that the simple pleasures are certainly the most important.

    Poignant analogies, as usual, Linda.


    The songs were the best, weren’t they? I started remembering and could hardly stop: “White Coral Bells”, “Barges” (we Camp Fire girls stole that one from the Scouts!), “Sarasponda”, “Kookaburra”. But now I know almost exactly how much younger you are – “Hello, Muddah” became a novelty song after my camping days were over – I was a junior in high school when it came out.

    I do think about the time I have left now and then, usually in the context of a question: “If I have 20 good years left, what do I want to do with them?” Given that I’m over sixty, twenty years is nothing. It doesn’t exactly make me sad to think about it, but I do worry a lot less about dusting the house and missing out on the latest and greatest phenomenon. I just quit Facebook, for example. With only 20 years, who wants to spend an hour (or more!) daily on a “social networking site”? I’d rather head down to the local cafe and chat with a fisherman. ;-)


  8. Well I did go to camp. Yep… I too, was a Camp Fire girl and though I had some misgivings, as my watched my Mom disappear from the frame of my bus window, I had a grand time once I arrived. I came back so full of songs and stories — and a little more self-confidence. I had gone to camp without knowing a soul.

    I liked your story of the young Boy Scout. My husband was an Asst. Scout Leader and faithfully attended most summer camps with our boys. They and the boy in your story were the lucky ones — it made me wish that all children could be so.


    I’ve had that story of the boy and his dad tucked in my files for a long time – over a year, I think. I’ve cut it out of two posts – further proof that Annie Dillard’s right when she talks about how critical it is to know what to take out of a piece of writing. Her point is that nothing’s ever lost – we just have to find the right home for it. It’s rather like finding the right setting for a jewel.

    I think about Camp Fire once a year, regular as clockwork – when the Girl Scouts show up with their cookies. We sold candy – assorted chocolates in one pound boxes. It was some of the best candy ever – far better than those cookies, in my totally biased opinion.

    I had the chance once to work with a group of city kids who’d never been to a camp of any sort. Their “camp” was a series of day trips into the country. They picked blueberries, learned how to shoot milk into a cat’s mouth, sat on tractors. It was wonderful watching their eyes grow big and their horizon expand. No wonder you husband was faithful about going to camp – I’ll bet he enjoyed it as much as they did!


  9. Aw, you make me nostalgic for the summers of my childhood and, at the same time, when I recall the vigorous swimming tests we had to pass at summer camp in what seemed like a lake just barely thawed, very glad I’m now a grown up!


    We had a pool rather than a lake, and it was plenty warm by the time we showed up. But there were diving boards that presented their own sort of challenges.

    The best part of Bluebirds and Campfire was that we didn’t just get patches for all those achievements like your swimming tests – we got wooden beads, too. We sewed them onto our vests in creative patterns. I don’t have a clue what happened to my vest – it’s just gone. Someone, sometime decided it wasn’t worth hanging on to. Probably me, although I don’t remember. But I did recently find a couple of patches and three beads – I wonder which test I passed to earn them?!


  10. Linda,
    I didn’t go to overnight camp, but I did go to day camp. It was great. I loved the crafts and games and swimming in the river. You’ve drawn an interesting analogy here.

    “one chance to camp out in this Cosmos”

    And the further along the trail I get, the more I ponder those important questions that you’ve posed here.



    And it just struck me between sips of coffee – as with any camp, there are good counselors and bad counselors. I know a few “couselors” right now who deserve to have their beds short-sheeted.

    Anyone who’s taken a bunch of kids on a trail walk has seen it happen – they start out full of chatter and adrenalin, but eventually they settle down and start listening and looking. That’s when the questions start to come. I suspect it’s the same for us. ;-)


  11. I was a Campfire Girl, too! (While everyone else was a Brownie, and then a Girl Scout, it seems I’ve always been choosing a different path.)

    I love your story of the boy appreciating his very first camping trip, and that he had his dad to share it with. I’m used to camping alone; so much was done independently of our parents when I was a kid.

    But, I’m also considering my own camp out in the cosmos. Am I loving others? Hopefully, God willing. Am I having fun? That might be a department which needs more work. Such responsibility, for so long, as if it was up to me to make everything better for everyone. As if I could.


    WoHeLo! Actually we had no choice – there were Boy Scouts in town, but no Girl Scouts. I imagine great summits where the officials of both groups poured over maps, drawing lines of demarcation, but it probably was just accidents of history that gave us one organization rather than the other.

    “Fun” is interesting to me. Subconsciously, I think I’ve always associated it with childhood. Adults can “enjoy” things, or “be content”. But fun? It’s always sounded somehow shallow, frivolous, transient. But even more interesting is what you said – that you might need to “work” at having fun.
    There was a period in my life when I approached “fun” the same way – pretty earnestly.

    Today, I wonder if the key to fun isn’t simple self-forgetfulness. It seems to be the clearest link between the fun I had at camp and the fun I have today when I’m doing things like writing. Perhaps the only possible answer to the question, “Are we having fun yet?” is “No”, simply because the very act of asking the question means we’re still focused on ourselves.

    In any event, you’re dead-on that we can’t make everything better for everyone. Trying to do so is no fun at all!


  12. Oooh, loved this one and hearing some of your memories and reading your dad’s postcard! Weren’t we good at postcards back then? It was kind of a duty, to write home. I loved camp; loved it even more when I looked back at it each end-of-summer. The punched tin lanterns! the lanyards! the woodburned boxes and sewn wallets! the skits and campfires! the songs and hikes and songs we sang as we hiked!

    I know this ties in to our collective camping in the cosmos, but truly, if you were to write more about your summer camping trips, I’d love to hear/ read about them. And wonder what else I would recall in hearing them?

    This is a delicious summer treat (and tons less calories than ice cream!)

    More, I say – encore!
    (happy summer!)



    You know what you made me recall with that throw-away line about ice cream? The camp Trading Post! Every afternoon it was open between 2-4, and we could buy ice cream, candy, stamps, postcards – little things. Everyone had the same amount of money deposited in their account – I think it was $5, a huge sum – and when it was gone, it was gone! Everything was a lesson to be learned – even budgeting!

    We were good at postcards, and we learned it from our parents. I have a small collection of cards written by family members to one another, mostly 1910-1940. They traveled by train, and communicated by post. Life was slower then, by necessity, and qualitatively different. I’m tempted to say it was lived on a more human scale, but I’d need to think about that a bit more.

    Maybe I’ll think about it while I put my feet on a porch railing and watch the clouds!


  13. Absolutely delightful.

    The contrasts and comparisons, your use of words, all go to make a magnificent piece of writing. I particularly liked your: “They’re as interested in the social seas that surround them as they are in the water, and they’re learning to navigate both.”

    Thank you,


    How kind of you to stop by and leave a word. My camping days were (mostly) delightful, so it pleases me that my sense of delight in them communicates itself.

    We all have seas of one sort or another to navigate. Blessed are those who begin learning the art at an early age!

    I see you’re in South Africa. I spent a few years in Liberia and there’s some of that experience scattered through here, too. You might enjoy my story of Zero, our tennis-ball fetching chimp. ;-)


  14. “My eyes are dim I cannot see
    I have not brought my specs with me.
    In the Quartermasters Store.”
    (One of the camp songs I recall from a long time past.)

    Did you have ‘kraftstrip’, that brightly coloured plastic flat string that could be woven into so many patterns, to make absolutely useless items? OR, weaving a ‘woggle’ of leather strip as a knot for the mandatory neck scarf? (Recollections from cub/scout camp.) But they were good times if memory is accurate: we got to sail, swim, bathe in the lake, roll in poison ivy, have camp fires, tell scary stories, eat terrible food and write corny letters/postcards to home.

    Years later (as crazy Canadians) a 3-day scout camping trip was organized in the middle of winter. We were delivered by station wagon with whatever gear and supplies our 5 man troupe determined was necessary for survival in well below freezing temperatures. Somehow we managed to survive, and even had fun in the experience.

    I taught my kids to enjoy primitive living at our ‘cottage’ on the Rideau waterway. (no water, electricity or plumbing) They went onwards to enjoy canoe/camping trips in Algonquin Park with high school organized trips. I like to believe they learned some survival life skills which may help them in future endeavours.

    The trip continues to be enjoyable, despite its rocky paths, for there is much still to be learned and explored.


    1. Rick,

      Oh, my yes – I still can see the key fobs (?) we made with that stuff. I think we did coin purses, too, but I can’t swear to that.

      I don’t remember the crafts as much as the singing and the “overnights”, when we went out into the woods and made perfectly terrible dinners out of hamburger, potatoes, carrots and onions. We wrapped all that in aluminum foil and buried it in the fire. They tasted like haute cuisine – nothing like an appetite to make a diner appreciative.

      I don’t remember your song, but there was “Sarasponda”, “John Jacob Jingleheimer Scmidt”, “White Coral Bells” and a host of others, including a nice “Day is Done” that was sung to the tune of taps. I see I noted some other songs up above.

      All of this got included in those letters home, of course – many of which I still have, thanks to my mother’s inability to toss anything. A lot has been culled now, but I still have one of the classics of camp literature: “Dear Mother and Daddy – Valerie got thrown out of our cabin for bad words. I don’t know where she’s gone. I don’t care. The best thing about camp is going to the Trading Post and buying candy….”

      Ah, childhood!


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