As a young boy, I had the privilege of attending summer camp for eight weeks every year for five years. As for many of us who had similar opportunities, this was my first time away from home. I remember so much from that time as though it was only yesterday. The camp was Pemigewassett, located on Lower Baker Lake in Wentworth, New Hampshire. As an eight year old, being thrust into an environment with total strangers, no hot water, and no en suite facilities was a surprisingly enjoyable experience. I loved every minute of it, and am happy to report the camp is alive and well, being managed by the same families that have owned and managed it for over 100 years!
I gravitated towards the Nature Lodge, where activities centered on collecting, identifying, and even breeding everything from Luna moths to Fern fronds to rocks and minerals. I also enjoyed canoe trips down the Connecticut River, climbing the Presidential Range of the White Mountains, and many overnight camping trips. Although these activities were far from a boot camp like experience, they were opportunities to learn about respecting the natural environment – both its awesomeness as well as its fragility. We learned to leave a campsite in better ‘nick’ than when we arrived. Gaining a working knowledge of pitching a tent, building a campfire, and digging one’s own ‘toilet’ were all a part of these formative years.
There is no question in my mind that learning to respect our natural surroundings as well as our fellow human beings enhances our enjoyment of life. Climbing steep mountains carrying a seemingly heavy backpack to enjoy the view from the top was a foreign concept to me as a small boy. I doubt seriously if I would have enjoyed the experience as much were it not for the patches of wild mountain blueberries we stopped and munched along the way. We were careful not to take them all, not to trample any of them, and most importantly to savor where we were at that moment. Learning to appreciate all of what was immediately around me was very rewarding and has stayed with me my whole life.
Eventually we had to stop for the day and pitch tents or lay hemlock boughs on the dirt floor of an open lean to where we would sleep in our sleeping bags. We hiked in small groups of about a dozen, a counselor leading the way, and each of us carrying our fair share of the load, which consisted of enough food for the whole trip, assorted paper products, cooking pots, pans and utensils, a first aid kit, and a lot of candy bars. The more we matured through the summer months and enjoyed weekly outings; we couldn’t help but be in awe of the natural world.
Granted we learned best with the reward system of cleanest campsite gets the candy bar. But the main thing is that we learned to understand what stewardship means, why it is important to follow the rules, and how to do both of these things well. Perhaps having an appreciation from a young age of just what a responsible outdoorsman is sparked my keen interest in conservation.
Cleanliness is next to godliness in the woods, too. Today’s guidelines are far more stringent than they were 50 years ago. The principle remains the same. Leave your footprints with care; plan ahead, leaving no stone unturned in your planning; and take away every scrap of trash and pick up any that comes across your path.
From a pure etiquette point of view, follow the “when in Rome” rule. Before heading into a park or down a marked trail area, be sure to stop and read the signage explaining what hikers and campers may and may not do. This is important for our own safety and for the protection of the wilderness inhabitants. And, don’t forget to stop and smell the roses. The quiet that the deep woods afford can become alive with an orchestra of night sounds. This mingling of voices is magical. We are responsible to ensure these wonders of the natural world are here forever.