Why do we send children weaned on video games into the woods with knives and kindling? A perplexed father considers the beloved American tradition that is summer camp.
This summer, millions of American children will leave their homes in the cities and suburbs and embark for the nation’s hinterlands. Following the seasonal migratory patterns of summers past, they will travel along crowded interstates and thruways, down winding rural lanes and over dirt roads that lead through piney woods to the shores of quiet lakes. They will arrive, at last, at that peculiar province of American summerhood known as sleepaway camp.
The custom of sending kids off to camp is not exclusively American. The French and the Russians, among others, embed large numbers of their youth in the woods each summer. Even in the United States, the tradition is not all that widely observed. According to the American Camp Association, enrollment in summer camps is about 10 million, a fraction of the nearly 74 million Americans under the age of 18. But it was in America that camps first took root, and it is here they have flourished for nearly 120 summers. If camp attendance never became universal in this country, as some early promoters hoped it would, the lore of camp, at least, is inescapable.
To read the rest of this article, please consider becoming a WQ subscriber, which allows online access to the current WQ issue as well as archive content. Other access options are below.
Research, browse, and discover more than 35 years of articles, essays, and reviews by preeminent scholars and writers. Our searchable archive of back issues is free for WQ subscribers.
Jim Rasenberger is the author of America, 1908 (2007) and High Steel: The Daring Men Who Built the World s Greatest Skyline (2004). He is a frequent contributor to The New York Times and has written for many other publications, including Vanity Fair, American Heritage, and Salon.more from this author >>