Thoughts on Camp, Revolutions and Nothing Unattainable
Forty-three years ago this week, I was away at summer camp. It was a pretty ordinary camp set on a picturesque lake. There were cool counselors and cabins, crafts and canoes and communal meals shared in a northwoods lodge style dining hall. The favorite snapshot I carry in my memory bank is one familiar to generations of summer camp goers; a harmony of voices at day’s end, under a sweet summer moon, singing sentimental songs around the evening campfire.
That I recall this specific date and time is a testament, not to the particular camp, but to that historic week’s seismic change to the world in which we lived. It was the summer of 1969. On the last day at camp, the end of a magical time, my mom came to collect my sister and me along with our smelly sleeping bags and even smellier laundry. We held tight to our precious lists of addresses for the new best friends with whom we vowed to never lose touch. Camp, then, as now, being notably a place to boost adolescent self-esteem, we both also clutched a fistful of “sew on” patches awarded for our various lauded accomplishments at camp, hitting a bulls eye on the archery target and swimming a very long mile in a short 30 ft. pool, among them. We brought home with us memories to last a lifetime.
I remember the path away from that innocent moment as a long and winding road, (note: first Beatles reference). Competing with the noisy crunch of gravel under the car tires was a background of discordant music crackling on the AM radio. The Beatles were playing, and the song was “Revolution”, which actually seems really fitting now that I look back on it. I recall thinking I couldn’t wait to get home to play the 45 on my record player. I didn’t understand much about Revolution, I just knew that on the “A” side of the vinyl disc was grooved my more favored hit of the time, “Hey Jude”. And to that apt musical score, mom drove us back to another world, one having been altered forever by a different sort of Revolution. Before we had even turned on to the two lane blacktop headed for home, before all the camp stories had begun to be distilled and edited for the telling, I saw it, the news that had changed the world during my short time away at that camp. There on the wide back seat of the family Chevy was a stack of magazines and newspapers; Time and Newsweek, Life, Chicago’s Tribune and Madison’s Capitol Times all heralding…that a man, an American, actually two of them, had walked on the moon…. So it was, the moon was not made of green cheese after all. It would be hard to quantify the parallel changes of that time, for both me and my world. Though I didn’t see the television coverage until years later, I think little was lost for me having missed first hand that long studied Walter Cronkite report in grainy black and white. I know for certain that the reading, re-reading and savoring of those pieces of news ephemera saved for me by my mom contributed a great deal to an ongoing love affair with print and to my early life calling as a newspaper journalist.
When I first wrote about my recollections of camp and the Apollo moonwalk, it was three years ago, on the 40th anniversary of that summer revolution. I recounted my story in a newsletter piece to friends and neighbors in Porter Beach, Indiana, the beloved Lake Michigan Dunes community I’ve called a second home for nearly 30 years. It was an attempt to weave together a connection between summer camp and the moon and our beach. I recounted in the newsletter as had been reported all over the world, that there was dancing in the streets for THE moonwalk, one famous long before Michael Jackson’s. I noted that Ken Trainor, a columnist in my local Oak Park Wednesday Journal observed on the 40th anniversary, that in Chicago’s Comiskey Park nearly 40,000 Jehovah’s Witnesses observed the lunar landing as a “sign that our universe is in its last days.”
Ken also recalled that a Trib editorial titled “Ad Astra per Aspera”, published the day after the landing, proclaimed: “It is certainly a day for generosity and aspiration, and all of us chained to this planet must now be able to see, with fresh eyes and insight, that we are brothers in spirit and that we should be reaching out to validate what the moon journey has so convincingly demonstrated: that the unattainable no longer exists. In that sense of unity, let us go forward together.” In my newsletter piece, I held that there just is no explaining the celestial pull of the Lake and the Dunes on our collective psyche. And that draw is just as strong for the short timers, those with, say, only 30 years in residence, than for the ones whose life in Porter Beach is charmed with a familial history connecting to generations of Dune lovers past. I pointed out that it seems all of our summer memories are colored with tales of time “at the lake”, either THE Lake, as in Michigan, or any other lake for that matter. It is just a known fact that the long days of mid-summer are utterly different than the other days of the year, and we ought to always honor that somehow. I could clearly see the camp connection and wanted them to see it too. I told my tiny audience that I like to think of our shared time in Porter Beach as our own personal summer camp. Days begin with revelry of sunrise, each morning revealing a sandy shoal of windswept renewal, different than the day before. Yesterday’s sandcastles are a memory, swept away with the rolling tide. Each day is an opportunity to start fresh, like the early morning beach. The days are leisurely, filled with water sports and hikes, languid afternoons beachside, trading stories and the latest good beach read. They end with an evening salute to another day and another glorious sunset, and long after the last marshmallow is toasted, the sweet summer night breeze carries with it the smoky smell of campfires glowing in the dark. The beach is a really a strong metaphor for renewal. I challenged the community to view that as an offering, a chance for second chances. Revere the beauty all around, share it with others. Do those things so precious to summer before the creaking screen doors of our cottages collectively slam to signal the end on the season.
So, in a tribute to campers and revolutionaries everywhere, I am thinking I will ask my beach pals to honor the anniversary this weekend, it was 43 years ago on July 20th that Apollo landed on the moon. After the sun has set, when the fireflies light along the shore, the last verse of This Land is Your Land is sung and wood smoke from a campfire fills the night air, I will ask them to look with me to the night sky, gather close under the Dune Moon, remember to take chances and concede once and for all that the “unattainable no longer exists”.
Jamie Hogan is a career realtor and writes for her sanity. She keeps her inner farm girl close and listens to old episodes of “A Prairie Home Companion” on her regular commute from city to country between her suburban Chicago home and Indiana Dunes beach cottage. New and a little reluctant to blogging, but known along the Lake Michigan Riviera as an observant chronicler of beach community life and history, she has been a feature writer and reporter for daily and weekly newspapers in some unlikely small towns in the Midwest.