A few weeks ago I visited two of my kids at Camp Trinity on the Bar 717 Ranch, where both of them were campers and are now employed during the summer. Hannah works as a counselor and, apparently, a walking advertisement for the floral industry. Here she is with flowers on her dress and in her hair and in her hand. I don’t know why her charges are wearing grass skirts.
Satchel works on the kitchen crew. He scrapes plates, and does most everything else, with a smile.
People think it’s weird that I shipped my children from Massachusetts to California every summer. Not just to California, but the middle of nowhere in California, nearly 300 miles north of San Francisco in the Trinity Alps. I tell them it’s the best thing I did as a parent. Camp Trinity was founded in 1930 on land that was homesteaded in the late 1800s, and it’s basically frozen in time. Kids swap their gadgets and social networks for pastures and square dances. Everyone lives and works as part of a pioneer ranch family. And they sing, all the time, in the morning and in the evening, anything and everything, from folk songs to Lady GaGa. Singing is not an “activity.” It just happens. I know because I was a camper there, too.
A lot of the songs from my camp years are still in heavy rotation: “Thirsty Boots,” “Pack Up Your Sorrows,” “Green Green,” “Seven Daffodils.” I can’t remember my dentist’s name but I remember the words to those songs. I sang them this summer until my throat was hoarse and my heart was exploding because nothing had changed except 40 years had gone by and everything was different. You know the woman in “People’s Parties” who says that laughing and crying are the same release? It’s true. This is also true: time folds in on itself. And this: music is an acceptable form of identification. I watched a middle-schooler croon “Fly Me To the Moon” accompanied by three friends snapping their fingers. I saw a kid scrawl some words on a piece of paper, pick up a guitar, choose a few chords, and sing his new song. Nobody at camp is judged for their taste or skill or cool quotient. They sing because it feels good. They sing to share the piece of themselves that lives in a song. They sing to connect with each other. It works.