Fond memories of Camp Lord of the Flies

The world is filled with responsible, safe summer camps for children, and my sense is that if I had spent another decade and a half under my parents’ roof, they would have found one for me. Instead I spent a portion of three summers at a sleep-away camp in Connecticut that boasted crafts and canoes and a terrifying wooden fire lookout tower, then dormant, that was the boys’ urinal.

Boys and men, trust me: You have not peed in the woods until you have done so from the top of a 50-foot-tall fire lookout tower. You know that rhetorical question about whether bears do their business in the woods? Trust me, it’s the reason they live in the woods.

Obviously, the 10-year-old boys there were not supposed to be climbing the old fire lookout tower, but it was an irresistible attraction. And, in all fairness, what the camp lacked in supervision, it made up for in neglect. Consequently, I have nothing but fond memories of Camp Lord of the Flies.

My wife, meanwhile, was going to one of two camps here in Vermont, where she would ride horses. Both camps are still thriving. The first, Teela-Wooket in Roxbury, is now the Windridge Tennis and Sports Camp. My wife recalls the place fondly whenever we drive past it, and how one summer she lived on candy from the Roxbury General Store. She was a city kid and had never in her life seen anything quite like a real Vermont country store. She would sit on the wooden porch steps inhaling the store’s sugary Pixy Stix the way Al Pacino in “Scarface” inhaled — never mind.

The second camp, Kiniya in Colchester, is now part of Camp Dudley YMCA. Among my wife’s happiest childhood memories is riding horses into Lake Champlain on hot summer days to give the animals (and riders) a chance to cool off.

In any case, soon summer camps across the country will start welcoming their charges. I have nothing but respect for the young adults who were my camp counselors. Really, is there anything more terrifying than a bunch of poorly supervised elementary school boys with bows and arrows? At Camp Lord of the Flies, we never took out anyone’s eyes during archery, but once we replaced a camper’s toothpaste with craft paste. We filled the old-fashioned sleeping bags (or “mummy bags”) with beads from the craft tent, which made it all but impossible to sleep. We convinced one camper in our cabin that a cut on his lower back that he couldn’t see was badly infected and he was going to die of lockjaw. And our games of “Capture the Flag” made rugby scrums look like tea parties.

These days, summer camps seem to be more specialized than when I was a boy. They focus on theater or lacrosse or ultimate Frisbee. If you live near Charleston, S.C., you can send your young ones to the Charleston School of Protocol and Etiquette’s sixth annual Summer Etiquette Camp. The “Civil Savvy Camp for Children” runs from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. for five days, costs $1,195, and you can bet your 11-year-olds will have first-rate handshakes by the end of the week. Nor will those young ones ever again confuse the shrimp and the salad forks!

I will always be a fan of summer camps, whether they are of the sleep-away variety or the kind where children get to come home in the evening and share their new expertise with (for instance) cutlery. As parents, we know that summer camps help our children mature and gain confidence. After all, what doesn’t kill us, makes us stronger.

Besides, what better places are there for our kids to go when school’s out than those small worlds where they can indulge their passions and, just maybe, pee off a 50-foot fire tower?

(This column originally appeared in the Burlington Free Press on June 5, 2011. Chris’s next novel, “The Night Strangers,” arrives on October 4, 2011.)

Chris Bohjalian

Chris Bohjalian is the author of nineteen books, including his forthcoming novel, The Sleepwalker. His other novels include the New York Times bestsellers Midwives, The Sandcastle Girls, The Guest Room, and The Double Bind.