Though the summers of my adulthood bear little resemblance to those of my youth, the season retains the alluring aura of possibility that accompanied it throughout those earlier years. Even when summer weather is anything but, even when I find myself engaged in the most un-summerly of activities, the months continue to lend a certain mindset, one where memories of summers past exhort new action. Opportunity knocks — won’t you answer?
Part of this attitude is surely rooted in my summer camp experience, the gradual accumulation of summers spent first as a camper and then as a counselor in a number of different settings. If asked, I would describe my camp experience as “great,” which surprisingly places me somewhere in the middle of the camper satisfaction index. As an adult, I’ve talked with dozens of friends and acquaintances who, like me, had the privilege to attend summer camp. Many conversations revealed not only pleasant memories, but also signs of lasting inspiration: Camp didn’t just make summer better, camp made the camper better. This candid enthusiasm was striking in and of itself, as if the camp experience struck a chord untouched by other aspects of contemporary American life.
I wanted to understand what made such lasting enthusiasm possible. I wanted to try to put the magic of summer camp on paper and see what the effort might teach me. So I read, I thought, I talked with friends, I wrote and rewrote drafts, and I asked lots of questions.…