It was the smoky summer of 2003, and we needed to get away from the heavy black clouds of ash caused by forest fires and go somewhere we could breathe. I was also coming to the realization that it was time for our children to experience Summer Camp.
I had grown up in England where my only experience of Summer Camp had been watching Hayley Mills in the original version of The Parent Trap: how I wished I could have gone to one too! My husband had been sent to a series of summer camps, but his favorite no longer existed and none of the others really seemed right for our children. I turned to the internet: we live in the mountains so I looked for a camp that would give our children a different experience, and the one I found that looked like it would fit the bill was located on one of the San Juan Islands in Puget Sound north of Seattle, a day’s drive away.
We decided that checking out the camp would be a great opportunity to get out of the smoke, and after calling to make sure a visit was in order, we loaded up the minivan and headed west. It took us several hours, but we finally got out of the smoke and into clear skies, an auspicious omen! The sun was shining and the sky was blue as we drove onto the ferry at Anacortes: we didn’t know it then, but for the next ten summers our children would be boarding ferries at Anacortes in happy anticipation of four weeks of gypsy magic.
The camp entranced us – we had barely been there five minutes when, walking down a dusty path under the madrona trees to explore the main lodge and dock, my husband asked if grown ups could go too! The water sparkled in the sunlight as happy campers worked sailing boats and kayaks, and others played energetically on the sports fields; we could hear music and singing from the craft courts as we watched children busy painting and being creative; the clip clop of hooves announced the arrival of horses as we checked out the gardens, where a group of campers sat in a circle under a tree among the flowers. Campers – or gypsies, as they call themselves – have been returning to this eighty acres of heaven for over eighty years, and before we left we enrolled our son for the following summer.
Eleven months passed, and we returned to Seattle with two bulging duffle bags full of bedding, clothes and equipment, all carefully labeled. We stood awkwardly in the parking lot as other families drew up to put their children on the buses. The joyful whoops of reuniting campers made us feel a little easier, and all too soon we were waving our goodbyes. Four weeks later we were back: camp is an electronics-free zone (yes!!), and written communications had been sparse (“Hi parents, I am happy, bye parents”), so we hoped that no news meant good news. The buses appeared and eagerly we crowded round the doors. Eventually one rather browner (from the sun or dirt, it was hard to tell!) son emerged behind a broad smile: as he hugged my husband the first words out of his mouth were “sign me up again for next year – and Em has got to go too!”
We did sign him up for next year, and her too. Ten summers have passed and they are signing themselves up now: this summer they will return as counselor and trainee counselor, each eager to pass on the gypsy magic to a new generation of campers. Our escape from the smoke that prompted us to visit that summer camp not only turned out exactly as we’d hoped, it far exceeded our wildest expectations.