Bug Juice Revamped: Camp Take Two

by Hillary Wool | 6/29/07 3:30am

by Caitlin Kelley / The Dartmouth

While feelings of anticipation linger during the ten-month-long camp off-season, the bus ride up to camp was always a five-hour session jam-packed with obnoxious tone-deaf singing of camp songs interspersed with views of rolling green mountains whizzing by the window. Especially for those of us who arrived by bus (most of us hailing from The City or from tacky strip-mall ridden suburbs), the images of non-anorexic trees and rocks that had never seen a landscaper or a sidewalk seemed awe-awakening.

Driving up to Dartmouth to start 07X, I flashed back to my years as a camper. Having heard plenty of commotion about the Camp Dartmouth cliche, in my mind I pictured all the moments that made camp so special to me. The hours we spent chillin' on the ballfield or the unsuccessful attempts to sneak out at 2 a.m. to meet up with boys at the sailing shack. Maybe I'd get to do it all once again this summer in Hanover.

And then I realized that the beaming rays of summer sun in my eyes were actually from a Massachusetts state trooper car, blinding me through my rear-view mirror. My spiritual trance about summer camp had been abruptly interrupted, and realizing that I was driving 23 miles over the speed limit, I pulled over to the side of the road.

Despite being down $100, I tried not to let the speeding ticket spoil my excitement for sophomore summer. About an hour later, I crossed the bridge over the Connecticut and saw kids jumping off the floating docks. It was all too familiar.

Later that day and throughout the first week of being back, as my friends began to settle into various houses on West Wheelock Street and Webster Avenue, I was taken by a wave of nostalgia. Worn-down SUVs with Dartmouth stickers on the rear windows filled the little parking lots that lined the hill, as sweaty, 20-year-olds exchanged hugs and "I missed you!"s in between perspiration-drenching futon-hauling.

Moving in those first few days -- walking up and down the hill, visiting other half-decorated houses and showing off my own humble abode -- I couldn't help but recall fond memories of the Girls' Line of cabins at camp. The identical bunks were simple open-air style wooden structures lined up in a neat row. No windows. No electricity. Cold showers. Definitely no internet. The point being so that we could get in touch with nature and escape the confines of civilization and technology. One of my house's windows fell out the first day, and many of my friends survived their first few days without electricity or hot water at their houses -- not because they wanted to feel connected to nature, but rather because no one bothered to call the electric company.

Then there was The Wal-Mart Trip. It happens once a summer and consists of everyone you know filling shopping carts with necessities and un-necessities to last till August. Full-size comforter sets (yay for off-campus housing) and aesthetically heinous plastic storage drawers lined the shopping carts of my five gal pals and me.

And just like I couldn't have candy or hair appliances at summer camp, this time around some things are still prohibited.

The owner of one adorable puppy named Trooper found this out the hard way. Seeking to have her six-month-old canine close by, she decided to keep him at her off-campus house. Then one morning, after The Landlord became aware of Trooper's presence on one of her cherished properties, she awoke to the following blitz in her inbox:


At camp, there was this one weird girl who thought it was OK to bring little animals and insects she found outside into our cabin to keep as "pets." (She also never brushed her teeth if I remember correctly.) The stakes were lower back then, as Weird Girl was merely asked to take her makeshift under-bed newt-farm back to the wilderness where the critters belonged. And trust me, this summer's The Landlord is no 19-year-old New Zealander with a charming accent and glowing smile.

And then there's the Dartmouth activities front. In addition to the academic courses in astronomy and organic farming, there are P.E. classes like horseback riding and sailing. And it seems like half the people I know are either involved with some sort of youth mentoring program or are working an outdoorsy job. It's all very camp-ish.

I used to think that frat basements were a far cry from anything camp-like. I was proven wrong this week. The Alpha Delta basement, for example, packed with a mix of sophomores and Tuck "Bridgers," peculiarly evoked memories of camp dances, in which over-AXEd boys or Bonne Bell eye-glittered girls would awkwardly attempt to move to the hip sounds of "Baby Got Back." And at a point in my life when I never thought I'd see a peer of mine with devil horn-like stains on his upper lip resulting from too much bug juice, I was proven wrong the night that one frat served their signature drink -- let's call it "Orange." I thought my days screaming cheers as blue team captain were over -- but I think that part of me resurrected itself Wednesday night, this time as social chair at color war-themed meetings. And the Phi Delts sing something like a camp chat every now and again.

At first glance the whole Camp Dartmouth thing may seem silly, if not downright trivial. But a closer look reveals that there is an upside to viewing sophomore summer through the lens of camp. Take a step back from the GPA-grappling and rigors of corporate recruiting, and reflect on what summer camp -- or if you didn't go to camp, what the glorious naivete of youth -- meant then and still means to us. For me, camp was a community of friends who came together each summer to do the things that were at the core of being human. Camp was a place where it was safe to make mistakes and where your successes were celebrated. Where it was totally normal to laugh and be silly, but also acceptable to shed tears. Where you pursue your passions and learn lessons that really matter. Welcome to camp.