Departure Day (Vermont ~ by Ethan Mitchell)

Today we say goodbye and see you next year to our campers. This is a quick guest post by longtime staffer Ethan Mitchell.


I have been getting up fairly early all this session, and so on the last morning of camp, I meet a handful of campers in reverse: they have stayed up all night to wring out the last drops of their camp experience.  I am also a little amused by this, since at 6:30 in the morning, it doesn’t look like that that experience is much fun. I felt glad that I had gone to bed early.

The last day is short on the schedule, but in fact it is an enormous day for all of us, full of camp-wide clean-up, meetings, travel logistics, and the shock of re-entry to the rest of our lives.  Many of the staff, myself included, are embarking on major life transitions. Some of the campers are setting off on 18-hour bus rides. I can’t imagine doing all that without having slept first.

With that in mind, the last day of camp always makes me reflect on a pair of observations: and I’m not alone in that, as they are usually being discussed by the bleary-eyed folks who have stayed up all night.

On the one hand, Not Back To School Camp “aspires to create a sanctuary” from much that is wrong in the wider world, and I think it generally succeeds, for a week or two. The community we form at camp reaches such a high standard of freedom, respect, openness, and acceptance that it often makes our lives at home seem superficial or intolerant by comparison. The previous evening, we have gathered to share our intentions for our return to the world at large, and many of those intentions amount to carrying some of these communal values home with us.

At the same time, it seems clear that the experience of being at camp is not a sustainable one. This is particularly clear on the last morning, as we work busily to clean up the enormous and multi-layered mess we have made in only eight days.  We are all exhausted, a number of people are sick, and we are most of us increasingly aware of things left undone in the outside world. As delightful as it sometimes sounds, we cannot quite live like this all the time. There is too much else to be done; the winter is too cold, and there is not enough pake (our yearly pie-cake).

But we can, and should, reach for the very same freedom, respect, openness, and acceptance that we enjoy at camp. They are never unsustainable. And it is with that hopeful thought that I pack my car with lost and found, and drive off down the valley.

I want to close with a quatrain written by an old teacher of mine, Nancy Willard:

My adventures now are ended

I and all whom I befriended

From this holy hill must go

Home to the lives we left below