Camp WaWa

The dudes in the next cabin are stuttering tired. But they just won’t shut up. They’ve been swimming, playing basketball, paddle boarding, making and eating s’mores, dissing each other, and talking up the girls in the next cabin. I’m forced to use my dad voice. On the tenth attempt to enforce quiet I use the bomb: we all drive home tomorrow if we can’t get to sleep.

We rented Camp WaWa in the Berkshires. They canceled their regular summer season but opened their space – mountaintop lake, 1920s lodge with kitchen, cabin bunkhouses and bath house, firepit circle, ballfields – to interested families who could prove themselves Covid-free pods. We jumped at the occasion. Being friends of the camp directors, who grew up in the free-school world we inhabit, we got special treatment.

Three parents and twelve kids. Camp Covid, you could call it. No stovetop so we’re grilling everything. Brought a ton of snacks and sugary drinks. Teen heaven …  and a situation approaching parental hell at times. But the site is truly special. I’ve hiked up a nearby hill to where there’s a tree under which you can find the Internet.

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I went to several camps as a kid. My best, an artsy socialist work camp in Vermont, opened my eyes to new worlds that changed my life. Years later, Woodstock writer Tad Wise and I figured out we were there the same summer, bunked on the same floor, and appeared in the same production of Eugene O’Neill’s Ah, Wilderness. We determined the memory was shared because we each could describe the same teen girls we cared for.

Could this podded rental camp be a post-Covid educational utopia? I’ve seen the idea gaining traction in news stories, and hints of approval from the current administration’s education folks. But I’ve also seen worrying pieces that equate such a move with the surge in private schools that opened after schools started integrating with new busing protocols in the early 1970s.

Our group is diverse: one third White, one third Black, one third Latino. But it’s also rare, like an engineered liberal community guided by ideals. Camp’s best as camp, a rare activity one looks forward to for a few summers and remembers for a lifetime, its hard surfaces smoothed by fond recollections of camaraderie and survival.

I don’t wish that on our society at large. I wonder how we retain what works with what doesn’t and decide what we all want, and need, moving forward.


Read more installments of Village Voices by Paul Smart.