I recently re-read a news article from the Wall Street Journal that focused on camps that are springing up around the country to cater to kids who are growing up accustomed to the easy life and expecting more comfort.
One camp in California built a million dollar dining hall with big picture windows over-looking a lake, to go along with better air conditioning in the cabins because, according to the director, “We have to keep the kids coming back.”
A camp in Maine installed private showers in each cabin and features advanced classes in water skiing because children need “more stimulation.”
Another camp in Maine upgraded its program and now has an enormous picnicking tent complete with handcrafted tables and benches because “the kids were having to eat on the grass.”
At Hummer Camp in Utah, teens can drive Hummers on off- road trails during the day and play games of paintball at night while wearing expensive night-vision goggles. As one camper said, “It’s way more fun than your average camp.”
In Pennsylvania a 67-year-old camp added a 25 meter outdoor pool. The owner explained, “To a lot of these kids, a lake can seem like a mucky bottomed thing with fish in it."
At Night Eagle I see happy boys, living simply, as they gather around Slack-Em stumps or play Sticks and Crack About with reckless abandon. I see boys covered with mud and remember the excitement in their voices as they tell of their camouflage and “swamp romping” adventures. I see boys building rafts in the lake or tree houses in the forest.
During the year I travel around to various camp fairs and have the opportunity to talk with parents and their sons about camp. It’s not unusual to hear people comment on how different Night Eagle is from the other camps they have been looking at. Many of the parents go on to say how young people today need a place like Night Eagle in order to reconnect with the earth and with themselves. Yet, some of these same parents, even though they completely agree with our philosophy, still opt to send their sons to summer camps that offer computers, day trips to amusement parks, expensive water sports, intense athletic competition, and anything else designed to entertain campers.
These activities can be fine for children. They are all fun, and children like them, but they are not camping and are not the things that make camping such a rewarding and rich experience.
As Wes Klusman (director of camping activities for the Boy Scouts of America in the 1950’s) said, “When I think of real camping, I think of small groups living together and sharing duties and responsibilities. I see young campers facing some of the basic problems of living in a community, being involved in and concerned about shelter and food, protection and social living, and all the things that together make up life. I see camps doing something to extend the teachings of outdoor living. That doesn’t mean just playing games; it means doing something that has a relationship to the lives we lead.”
Night Eagle is probably as close as anyone is going to get to Mr. Klusman’s ideal camp. Our campers are given the opportunity to learn to live with one another as they learn more about themselves and the world surrounding them.
They learn that it’s not all about them, and that a community is based on mutual responsibility, cooperation, and respect. They develop an appreciation for others and for what they bring to the community. And it’s not long before they realize that a lack of respect for nature and the environment soon leads to a lack of respect for humans as well.
Perhaps some boys don’t attend Night Eagle because it is so different, and they are not sure how they will react to being away from the comforts of home. Whatever the reason, they are missing out on an amazing experience!
At Night Eagle we’ve proven that, not only can we be happy with less, we can thrive! I truly feel sorry for boys who won’t take the opportunity to discover what we already know.