For many kids, camp is the only time they find themselves in a less structured environment. (photo from pixabay.com)
I remember the days when going to camp was the annual ritual, part of the summer holiday agenda. In our Winnipeg Jewish community, camps were standard practice. It seemed to me that all of my friends were going to be there, but there were always new faces. Some of them would prove to be the companions of my growing up.
Camp was there to free us from the constraints of everyday life, school and parental supervision. For some of us, being out there, in a natural setting, was the only time we ever found ourselves in a less structured environment, as most of us were city-dwellers. And there were always elements of Jewish culture to be shared.
But what I remember most of all was the consciousness that I was alone in a way different from the ordinary. I was in a cabin or a tent where most of my companions were strangers, at least at the start of the summer. Parents were far away. There was a counselor, but he or she was more like a referee than a parent. Whatever issues might arise between my companions and me, resolution would require direct negotiation without intervenors.
Here was an opportunity to test out our interpersonal skills and discover whether we would be leaders or followers, and in what areas did we have knowledge we could share. Here we could discover what issues might be important to us in person-to-person relationships. It had a different feel than our relations with siblings but with the intimacy of living together. We might even have to get into a physical fight if a conflict were grave enough. Would we allow someone to bully us? I certainly had to develop my capacities in these areas in my home environment.
In my case, I went the whole route: camper, counselor, program director. I can honestly say that the camping experience was my personal proving ground for skills I would hone and embellish throughout my life. In retrospect, I realize how important these occasions were for me.
I had the good fortune to attend a camp in my teen years that included subsisting for a few days in a wilderness environment. We hiked. We canoed. We even spent some time in a lake waiting for rescue when our canoe foundered in a sudden storm. I actually have started a fire by rubbing two sticks together. I have slept several nights in a forest with my companions listening to all the mysterious night sounds. We never saw a wolf or a bear, but we got to use copious amounts of mosquito repellent. I have lugged in the groceries and I have cooked food over an open fire. Potatoes are easy, but eggs are more difficult. The experiences were unforgettable.
Max Roytenberg is a Vancouver-based poet, writer and blogger. His book Hero in My Own Eyes: Tripping a Life Fantastic is available from Amazon and other online booksellers.