First night at camp! It really is like we never left. Grilled cheese for lunch.
Sitting across from one of my best friends last weekend as she ate a peanut butter and provolone sandwich (“not cheesy enough”), this quote from my 2010 journal felt more relevant than ever. We hadn’t spent more than two days together in two years, and that far surpassed the amount of time I’d spent with any of my other camp friends since 2013. But, as I’m sure anyone who has ever attended camp, or has ever maintained a long-distance friendship, can attest, time is essentially irrelevant when it comes to close friends—it only matters if you let it.
The ability of friendships to exist outside of the barriers created by time is a phenomenon I’ve experienced since I was ten years old and first began attending sleep-away camp. I had been looking forward to camp for over a year and a half before the day I finally unloaded my trunk in June of 2007 and told my journal three days later: “I <3 camp! I love kayaking and swimming and going on hikes and all that cool stuff!” My anticipation had begun on a rainy Sunday afternoon a few years earlier, as I sat in my mother’s lap at a presentation for Camp Waukeela. This was among the final steps in a long and arduous process of selecting the perfect environment for my sister, who had recently deemed herself mature enough to graduate from day camp to sleep-away camp, to build lifelong friends and a relationship with the outdoors.
I sat patiently, watching an old man with white hair click through an endless slideshow of smiling girls surrounded by pine trees, narrating with an impossibly slow Southern drawl. While the other attendees shifted in their seats and my father’s eyelids grew increasingly heavy with boredom, I sat, captivated, overcome with a desire to pack up my tiger print journal and stuffed animals, dreaming of escaping into the mountains of New Hampshire.
My heart broke as my mother informed me that I was already committed to my Jewish day camp in Rockland County, New York for the summer, but it swelled with excitement and anticipation at her promise that I could attend sleep-away camp the following summer. A year and a half later, armed with my sock monkey and writing materials, I arrived at Camp Waukeela ready to make friends like the ones I had seen in the slideshow. I fell head over heels for everything about camp and for the next several years, the four weeks in June and July that I spent in New Hampshire were the pinnacle of my year. I thought about camp constantly and beginning around March, an unshakable sense of restlessness would set in, dragging my attention away from lessons on grammar and Ancient Greece and towards the crisp air of the White Mountains. Though I have always loved living in New York, my desire for swaying pine trees and the icy lake far surpassed the joy of my urban reality.
Though a massive portion of my mental energy was dedicated to thoughts of camp, I rarely spoke to my camp friends throughout the year. Busy schedules and miles of distance were oft-employed excuses for why none of us kept in touch, but for me, I think the lack of a drive to communicate came from the strong associations I held between those friendships and the physical space they existed in. To bring those friendships out of the realm to which I was accustomed felt unnatural for my young self , like bringing a favorite book character into the real world—I simply couldn’t reconcile my two realities. And so, aside from birthday messages or an occasional email to update on a major life event, our interactions remained confined to the pine grove where we joyously reconvened at the end of every June.
Returning to camp was like stepping into a time capsule summer after summer. Isolated from outside factors and essentially devoid of social pressures, those friendships were able to flourish each summer and then remain static, fossilized, and preserved like relics for the other 11 months of the year. As I got older, however, and camp gradually began to occupy less of my mind, the sense of disconnect that I experienced between my time at camp and the rest of my life grew smaller. Waukeela was no longer the shining beacon at the end of the tunnel that it had been throughout my elementary and middle school years. Though I still looked forward to my summers there with wistful excitement and a craving for pine needles beneath my Tevas gripped me around early May, my increasing levels of freedom at home somewhat quelled the eagerness with which I awaited the six-hour car ride up to New Hampshire.
Different friendships serve different purposes. There are relationships that require maintenance and upkeep, built around expectations of consistent dedication and maintained through constant communication. The friendships I made at camp stand apart from any other in my life. As with most of the relationships established when we’re young, they require little effort to establish and even less to maintain—their very nature ensures complete devotion when we’re together without demanding any superfluous attention when we aren’t. As my relationship with camp changed and my friendships began to evolve beyond the seasonal space they had formerly been confined to, I no longer experienced a sense of discomfort at seeing my friends outside of the pine grove. Rather than feeling like I was forcing two distinct worlds to mesh, every reunion now feels like a return to that place of childhood innocence where we were able to connect without concern or judgment.