Let me set the scene:
A slight chill in the air that brings color to your cheeks and a sting to your ears. Shiny, sharp rays of sunlight slipping through the trees and heating up small spots on your face. Hoards of kids running up and down the grass, talking to one another in excited voices, eager to get on with their day at camp.
Thursday morning greeted Ithaca with the first morning below 60 of the season. Campers at Primitive Pursuit showed up to morning drop-off with pants and sweatshirts and hopped from one foot to the other to try and adjust to the cooler temp that September brought.
Summer camp has been in action since June and Thursday marked their second to last day. It seemed quite fitting for the change in weather, as if the cool breeze was blowing summer away.
There was a familiar ease as the counselors checked the campers in after drop off. No need to glance at the lists in front of them because the staff knew each smiling face’s name without a reference. The familiarity and comfort the campers had with their counselors was easy to see, especially with how fast they jumped out of their parents cars and ran to find their flocks.
The day started in a morning-circle where the campers were running around in free play until the morning activities began. I was entertained as I waited for the counselors to take over by the campers playing and interacting with each other. Two campers were sitting in front of me singing a song they learned at camp and playing a drum between them. I was slightly baffled by how lovely they sounded and how well they played the drum. They asked one of their counselors to help them with the song, and I realized that this was something they have been learning and doing throughout their time at camp.
Before I had any time to feel nervous in this new setting, one of the campers saddled up next to me and told me about anything she could think about from the thunderstorm the day before to the new pants she was wearing.
When it came time to sit in circle-time and begin the morning, the campers first instruction was to listen to the wind. With their eyes closed, I watched as the young six to seven year olds sat still and allowed themselves to be in the moment with nature. They had spent all morning running in circles and shouting, but in this moment they surrendered themselves to the nature around them.
Primitive Pursuits’ website publishes a mission to teach cultural intervention that will give students a healthy relationship between themselves and nature. Each activity and adventure the campers partake in moves the campers one step closer to finding a comfort and sense of self in the outdoors.
Camp at Primitive Pursuits is broken into smaller camps that focus on different goals. They are organized by age groups and are broken up into themes from Forest Village Camp, for first-time full day campers to Bow Making and Hide Tanning for older campers looking to take their skills to the next level. Within each camp, smaller “flocks” are often set up to keep the groups small, intimate and focused. There is a large variety of camps allowing any child to find a place that peaks their own personal interests.
One group I spent time with was Raven’s Camp, a camp very focused on “celebrating the arts.”
I followed the Raven’s Campers to the Hemlock trees where they jumped right into an interactive story that had been progressing all week. The campers were incredibly invested in the fourth chapter of a saga about a scientist and a raven that had traveled back in time. The counselors acted the it out while the campers watched and cheered from their spots on the ground. From the song the two girls were singing during circle time to this interactive story, I was able to see how Raven’s Camp sets up a uniquely fun and entertaining space for campers to blend creativity and nature together.
Though the Raven campers did’t know yet, they were about to begin preparing for a play they would perform for all of the other campers on the last day of camp. I almost let the secret slip but was saved just in time! The campers were all eager to tell me about all of the stories, games, crafts and adventures they had been up to all week long.
In my time floating among the various groups, I was impressed to see how well the counselors related to each camper and particularly how they wove a respect for nature into every activity they led. I really enjoyed seeing how comfortable the children were within their woodland campus at 4-H Acres.
Laughter was the background sound of the day. No matter where I went, I could hear campers shouting and giggling throughout the woods. No one I spoke with was not happy about camp coming to an end, and based off of my morning at camp, I would feel the same.
A little about me:
I’m Julia DiGeronimo, a junior writing and environmental studies major at Ithaca College. Over the past three years I have found a love for creative nonfiction writing and like to combine this with my passion for the environment and environmental change. I’m originally from New Jersey where I live during breaks with my parents and younger brother. Moving to Ithaca introduced me to a different type of wild nature that I am not used to seeing back at home. At school I do research with the apiary on campus and am learning how to work with bees. I am hoping that I will get to be the head bee keeper on campus this summer. I’m an avid reader and tend to gravitate towards fantasy novels, specifically ones with faeries in them. I have never worked with an outdoor education organization before and am very excited to see what I learn.