Count Me Out for Camping!

 In Inspirational

Empty metal lockers stand like sentries protecting the vacant hallways and the school bells are once again silent. It is summer vacation for teachers and students alike

During this time of year we often dust off and reinstate family traditions for another season of memories. Adults and children return to rental houses at the beach or re-book vacations at familiar resorts in the mountains or at favorite lakefront hotels. Everyone is a year older and sadly with the passage of time, sometimes there is a vacant chair.

I know that my father was a Boy Scout in his youth and that my mother used to go on camping trips with her brother and her parents, so it was only natural that my three sisters and I were introduced to the Girl Scout Camping experience at an early age. Their rustic campsites have always held true to the basic tenets of an outdoor living experience. Most are complete with stone-ringed campfire circles, distant settlements of pungent wooden outhouses, and narrow, worn down dirt trails meandering through the dense foliage leading to six person platform tents.

Minnetoska was the name of my first Girl Scout Camp. I was told that the name came from one of the local Native American tribes who inhabited the area around Lake Otsego in upstate New York and about whom James Fenimore Cooper wrote his many tales. The rustic four unit campsite was nestled on the densely wooded steep slopes to the north of the village of Cooperstown, camouflaged and hidden from civilization. It provided all of the traditional activities known to seasoned scouts: morning “polar bear” dips, floating lunches in a huge flat bottom wooden rowboat, the cooking of soggy dough-boys over an open fire on crudely whittled sticks, and of course, the singing of numerous camp songs which echoed across the narrow lake. There were clever caper charts hung in each unit for morning chores and a waterfront buddy board at the shoreline, flanked by cardboard boxes of colorful rubber caps for our swim lessons.

I hated it.

“Camping is nature’s way of promoting the motel business.” (Dave Barry)

I dreaded my two week stint each summer and tried to convince my mother that I really, really did not like group living in a musty tent with no running water or electricity and that I despised the sugary sweet “bug juice” and ground up cold hot dog and pickle relish sandwiches that we carried in paper bags on long hikes up to Natty Bumppo’s Cave. For each of my five seasons at camp I tried, to no avail, rubbing any shiny leaf in sight all over my body in hopes of contracting poison ivy. I figured that I least I would get to stay in the infirmary cabin, which had electricity and a warm shower! Like a bear coming out of hibernation, every summer, the predictable battle began as my mother started laying out our camp clothes and initiating the propaganda.

“Oh, Kim, you will have so much fun!” she enthusiastically declared each year.

Often crying and vehemently pleading my case, I usually offered to stay at home and do everyone’s chores for two weeks. One year I even said that I would stay in my room for the entire two week stint and not even come out for food. But alas, each July she won and off I went in defeat dragging my mess kit and bedroll behind me.

So why then did I perpetuate this unpleasant tradition myself when I became a mother? As I got older did I feel that this unfortunate torture helped to build my now strong character and it was a rite of passage that my children should experience? Did the by-gone years actually erase the severity of the situation and cloud my judgment?   Weren’t the awful memories of lying awake on my cot at night while listening to the crickets and plotting an escape to the nearest roadway still strong enough? Was I feeling a need to highlight my childhood in order to linger in the safety net of nostalgia? Or was I just blindly holding on to tradition and hoping for a better experience for the next generation? I am not sure.

“Family traditions counter alienation and confusion. They help us define who we are; they provide something steady, reliable and safe in a confusing world.” (Susan Lieberman)

“Oh Samantha, there is so much to do at camp. You will have so much fun!” I verbally coaxed my reluctant eight-year-old daughter as I prepared my innocent child for her first Girl Scout adventure.

Here I was, oddly drawn to this familiar, traditional rite of passage. I was pushing my unsuspecting first born out of our comfortable home in a feeble attempt to foster her emerging sense of independence through tough love. By the end of her second summer camp fiasco, my determined fifth grade daughter told me loud and clear that she did NOT like rustic living and that she was NOT going back! As she described to me all of the familiar “fun” activities, I was jolted back to reality by a vivid flashback to my own camping misery. I didn’t push it any further.

Hmm-m-m- like mother like daughter. Maybe we both had to pass though that summer gauntlet to firmly establish what we did not like. Maybe we had to experience outdoor living for ourselves so that we would never have any regrets or feel left out when we heard of other childhood adventures and suspicious pleasant memories. We both did it, and we would never do it again.

Samantha has a daughter who will be two on the 4th of July. Do you think in a few years this same conversation will be replayed in her household?

“Oh Charlotte, camping is fun. You are going to love it….”

Should I step in and break the cycle or let tradition take over? I still have a few years to think it over.

Is anyone camping this summer?


(P.S. Today, June 9,2012  one of the Girl Scout’s centennial celebrations, “Rock the Mall”, is taking place in Washington D.C. One hundred years of camping “fun”!)



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Showing 10 comments
  • Sam

    I think I would have liked camping in better circumstances. The counselors made me sleep in my sneakers because you (rightfully) designated me a “bed wetter”. They would wake me up, drag me to a dirty outhouse, in the dark, each night. All I wanted was unlimited s’mores, which was not an option.

    • Kim K Meredith

      Perhaps chocolate would have gotten us through at least a few days!

  • Holly J.

    I am so glad I found this article! Now I don’t feel so guilty. My daughter just finished her first week of girl scout camp here in Massachusetts, and it was only day camp. She hated it! She hated the murky, dirty lake, the latrines, being devoured by mosquitos, etc. I hated seeing her getting off the bus so sad. I decided to cancel her second week, but was feeling like a terrible role model. I don’t want her to be a quitter and have a bunch of friends who are campers and love it. Your article just made me realize that it’s one thing to insist your kid practice their piano or stay in a school club they insisted they join, and another to force them into “having fun” in a situation that is just NOT for them. Like you, I never loved camping either, and I only went a couple of times as a kid. Thanks for posting this!

    • Kim K Meredith

      You should never feel guilty when you follow your heart. Good call!

  • Sally

    Hi Kim —
    I came across your blog while searching for Camp Minnetoska. I, too, went there. I, too, hated it.

    In the following summers, I spent weeks at 4-H camp which I loved.

    Minnetoska was negative enough, though, that I never pushed any of my kids to go to camp. Two have asked to go, gone for a week, and then never wanted to return.

    Camp isn’t for everyone. Sometimes finding the right camp helps.

    • Kim K Meredith

      Thanks for your comments Sally. It is amazing how childhood memories can stay with us and influence our adult behavior. I am working on a new project and it includes more Camp Minnetoska memories! Stay tuned!

  • Pamela

    I too went to Minnestoska and from the minute my Mom and Dad drove away, longed with all my heart to go home. I wrote this woeful letter to them after the first day, and unbeknownst to me they came right up to camp to get me. But the staff didn’t let them see me and convinced them that I was adjusting and it would be best for me to stay the whole week. They turned around and went home and I got to tough it out, counting down the remaining hours of that endless week and developing a grit-my-teeth stoicism that has been one of my operating principals, for better or worse, ever since.

    I have always thought it was homesickness, but your post and the comments lead me to believe there was more to it than that. Would it have been better for the camp administration to let me go home with my folks? After all these years, I still say, “absolutely yes.” My childhood innocence started to slip away that week. Too early I got my first lesson in how to harden my heart.

    • Kim K Meredith

      Thank you for sharing. It always amazes me what an impact childhood experiences have. I think those camping weeks began to teach me in a way to know that I could get through something tough. Then as I grew up I was faced with more challenges and my confidence grew. It is a good thing. When I was widowed I needed as much inner strength as I could muster. Perhaps I would have gotten to that point anyway but I will say that I still do not like camping!

  • Jo Ann Cole Kaufman

    Interesting…I always loved Camp Minnetoska – Living on a beautiful lake, swimming, water skiing from Cherry Point, canoeing to Petrified Museum, campfires, the overnight someplace different (although I admit I didn’t care much for tuna casserole with peas). We cleaned the out-houses everyday – so there wasn’t a problem with them smelling. Drawing the short spoon at dinner to see what after-dinner chores we would have. Swimming contests – if you came in last, that meant you ate your dinner in reverse order, dessert first! (Or at least that’s how I remember it.) Eating the wild raspberries along the paths. I only wish I could have spent one season at Sherwood Forest – the cabins. What were the five units? Tanchamar, Sherwoods, Cherry Point, and what else? And I think I still have the booklet of songs. I was at camp 5 times – 1963-1967, I believe. My father said it was originally the boy scout camp, before they moved to Crumhorn Mt. And I believe now it has reverted back to the Clark Foundation. Would love to visit and rewalk those trails…Cooperstown, to this day, is still my favorite lake-front community.

    • Kim K Meredith

      Thank you so much for sharing your memories!
      I believe the units were Tantremar ( platform tents) and Sherwood ( I thought this was also a tented unit) on the one side of the road, Birches and Highlands ( both cabins) on the other side of the road and Cherry Point for the CIT’s down at the far end of the property on the point. You have a good memory! Your details are exactly correct and don’t forget the cold ground up hot dog sandwiches with relish and “dough boys” cooked on a stick over the open fire and then filled with jam. They were good!
      Cooperstown is still one of my favorite places and as I continue to visit my childhood village each summer, I always fit in a meal at the Otesaga and admire the lake. My father built Glimmerglass State Park which is at the opposite end of the long lake from town. I agree that it is a beautiful lake, I just resisted the camping experience. I guess I would have preferred to be on the porch of the Otesaga. ( site of my 1977 wedding reception) My father told me that the land is back in the Clark Foundation and there are few traces of the old camp site. Fisher Tower, the destination of the floating lunches,is accessible.
      As I get older, the edges of my memories soften. But I still do remember plotting my nighttime escapes.

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