Before I began to write this blog, I visited Mainecampexperience.com and clicked on “The Maine Difference.” My intention, of course, was to read about the allures of Maine from a perspective other than my own. I found that when the site termed Maine summer camps as “The best kept secret in the country,” they were remarkably accurate. What I didn’t expect was to see a picture of the summer camp that I attended as the title photo. The photo was not labeled, it did not say, “A picturesque view of the shards of light as they glint of Lake Sebago at Camp Mataponi.” It was an unlabeled photo that hurled me to this past summer, to the sun on my skin as I was sweaty from a game of soccer and headed to lunch, and happened to catch my breath as I glanced at the lake.
To describe camps in Maine as “America’s best kept secret,” is to say that there’s nothing about camp in Maine that can equate with reality in American society. In a contemporary age bogged with technology and exhausting everyday demands, the happiness and simplicity procured by camps in Maine almost exceeds comprehension. Almost. Camp has remained a flawless, untouched cache in society that will fundamentally escalate the self esteem of thousands of children just this summer, just in Maine. And these children will carry this empowerment, love and the strength of their camp friendships out of their youth and apply it to their entire lives. I know this firsthand, and not just from my eight summers as a camper nor my four summers as a counselor but from my friends, my campers, my parents and cousins who have all been exceptionally, miraculously lucky to have been a part of the camp experience.
There are no brochures that accurately depict the way my dad’s face lights up, even still, when he sees his camp friends. Like they’re all still teenagers and sporting their previously unworn Converse All-stars for the end-of-summer basketball game. Now that my campers are nearing adulthood, I see it in their eyes as well – something that I know will never fade. That moment when they see each other, right before the reckless abandon when they fly laughing into each other’s arms, it’s a sort of euphoria that can only be felt and not described. My camp friends understand me more completely, and with a completely different vibrancy than any of my other friends possibly could. This is simply because my camp friends grew up with me, played tug-of-war with me, laughed on the docks until our stomachs hurt, and cried with me at the end of every summer while we watched the silhouette of the year burn. We have reached the brink of hysteria together and we’ve held hands and swayed while the sun set over the lake and we sang the camp alma-mater.
No matter how long it’s been since we’ve seen each other, we always fall right back into our roles, always pick up exactly where we left off. We always know how we fit with each other, even if we don’t know how we fit with the rest of the world. That’s why four of my friends flew into Philadelphia for a visit over winter break, why camp friends across the country don’t hesitate to purchase a plane ticket when they hear that something is wrong.
While my peers had internships making coffee and pressing buttons on copy machines, I spent my summers teaching my campers to fold their clothes, to score a layup, to believe in themselves. Where else on the planet can a group of forty fourteen-year-olds write three songs and scream them to an audience of five hundred? Where else can the camper that sculpts the best pot, that sings with the most gusto in the camp musical, be heralded as highly as the one who climbs to the top of the rock wall, who scores a goal in lacrosse, who tells the funniest stories before bedtime? Any child would be unspeakably, incomprehensibly fortunate to go to camp, where they will be loved, cherished and valued for nothing other than being themselves. Silliness is regarded as a quality as valuable as chocolate chip cookies, on the wonderful day they’re served for snack. Any child would be lucky, infinitely fortunate, to attend camp. And then they’ll be let in on “The best kept secret in the country,” and it’s a secret that they’ll never, ever be able to forget.
Written by Sara Sherr