Off in the Vasty Green


I was brought up in a barn. No, really: when I was a kid, my parents bought an old farm in Massachusetts as a weekend project (!) and most of my weekends as a child were spent ferrying to and from New York City, helping my parents turn the barn into House Beautiful. As a result some of the more usual rites of childhood passed me by, among them, summer camp. Who needs to go to camp when you’ve got a summers-long project in the Berkshire mountains?  At least that was my family’s take on things.  I never felt the lack of summer camp in my life until I met and married my husband.  Because in marrying him, I was marrying into Killooleet.

That’s Killooleet, in the photo above.  300 acres of Vermont hillside, field, and lake. Arts, crafts, sports, horseback riding, drama, hiking, rambling, giggling, singing, reading and playing board games and staring into the flawless Vermont sky.   My husband went to Killooleet for four years; his younger sister went there; his two east-coast nieces went there.  And when, in the fullness of time, we had kids, it was a given that they would go to Killooleet. And so they have.

When we lived in NYC this was not difficult: at the beginning of the summer you take your kid to Grant’s Tomb at Way-Too-Early-In-The-Morning a.m. to meet the bus, and most of the campers pile on with their backpacks, their sack lunches, their iPods and books and stuffed animals that were too sacred to be trusted to the dufflebags that went on before.  And eight weeks later you return to Grant’s Tomb and retrieve your child, who has now had a whole summer of experiences you can only be told about.  It’s a crash course in empty-nest syndrome, and it’s good for both parties.

Since we moved west, however, the whole process has become hugely more complex, since it involves airplanes, shipping those duffle bags a week early by UPS, and the inevitable plaints about how everyone else’s parents are coming to visit but you guys aren’t (because we’re, like, sending you away, and we can’t afford to send us away, too, sweetie).

So why, if it’s expensive and a complex process, do we keep doing it? There’s the tradition aspect of it all, of course: there’s something kind of cool about the fact that my kid can go into one of the cabins that her dad helped build, and find his 13-year-old-boy autograph scrawled on one of the joists; or her aunt’s name written on the wall of the drama barn, or her sister’s inked somewhere else. Killroy has nothing on the kids of Killooleet.  There’s also the various skills and pleasures she gets out of it; this year she’s improving her work on the pottery wheel, taking a role in the musical, and training for her Level 6 Swim card (the precursor to Junior Lifeguard, I’m told). Playing softball (and getting hit in the head by a line drive) and participating in the this-isn’t-a-tradition-we-just-do-it-every-year rites of the camp.

And no one does esprit de corps like the kids at this camp. Years later the parents who are also alumni meet at Grants’ Tomb as if they themselves only got off the camp bus last year.

People on the west coast, where summer-long camp is a rarity, look at me in horror when I tell them my daughter is in Ontario summer camps for eight weeks. But, having sent her to a bunch of 1 and 2-week Girl Scout camps the summer before she started at Killooleet, I can tell you, the start-and-stop routine is harder on a kid. Just when they’re getting over homesickness and settling in, *BAM*, back home again. At an eight week camp the kids master the homesickness, build bonds, start heading toward autonomy. I used to say sending a kid to camp was a little like sending away a bar of soap and getting it back at summer’s end with some of the child-part whittled away, revealing the physical and mental shape of the adult that’s coming.

But really, what I love, having spent my camp-less summers in the Berkshire mountains, is to think of my girl in all that deep, redolent green. Even if she is getting hit in the head with a softball.


Madeleine Robins blogs at Book View Cafe every 7th and 21st of the month.  A graduate of the Clarion Writers’ Workshop, her story “La Vie en Ronde” is this week’s Saturday Special.  Madeleine also blogs at Running Air.


About Madeleine E. Robins

Madeleine Robins is the author of The Stone War, Point of Honour, Petty Treason, and The Sleeping Partner (the third Sarah Tolerance mystery, available from Plus One Press). Her Regency romances, Althea, My Dear Jenny, The Heiress Companion, Lady John, and The Spanish Marriage are now available from Book View Café. Sold for Endless Rue , an historical novel set in medieval Italy, was published in May 2013 by Forge Books


Off in the Vasty Green — 5 Comments

  1. And so many good tasks can be done while they are away! Defrost the fridge! Rearrange the furniture! Vacuum everything! Cook vegetarian food!

  2. Although I will note that I have stubbornly refused to be as virtuous in this regard as I ought to be. The kid’s older sister’s room (now more or less vacant) still needs to be mucked out, and I have not dealt with it. I’ve got two weeks to find the sweet spot of virtue.

  3. It helps if you have evil designs upon the space. I am invading my daughter’s bedroom and turning it into my office. Bwa ha ha!

  4. Actually, Daughter #2 has the evil designs, but if I let her clean out her sister’s room when she gets back, 1) it won’t get done, and the top floor will gradually fall in on itself, and 2) the resulting warfare between Daughters 1 and 2 would probably cause the West Coast to fall into the ocean.

  5. I did a five week camp in Michigan in my early teens. Being a homebody, it was probably good for me. Also was a camper-leader and a leader there. Applied to work in the Vermont site, but I hadn’t considered airfare. Even with them offering me $100 as a stipend (it was clearly a nonprofit thing on leader account — I’m not THAT old) I didn’t think I could make it to Vermont. But perhaps I should have — over my head but still swimming. I would probably be a different person today if I’d gone to Merrowvista VT, which was a lot more primitive camping.

    I am a different person than I was by attending Miniwanca in Michigan. We were second generation, and had hordes of cousins attending with us. Not that we ever were in the same age group or anything.

    I remember an acquaintance from California who told me her parents sent her family here because it was cheaper than them staying in CA! She had six bathing suits, so I suspected the culture was very different.

    I think it’s now 1 and 2 week sessions. A pity — it was indeed a “testing the trajectory for empty nest” sort of experience.