- The Washington Times - Friday, August 24, 2001

VERMONT. — As much a part of late summer here as tender corn, crickets and the faint but startling snap in the mornings, is the sudden desolation of the summer camps that ring the pleasant lakes and ponds of this scenic state. Those seasonal hives of youthful activity are just about emptied now by the convoys of shiny family cars come to retrieve all campers, bringing the summer season to an end again too soon.
No more do the campfire sounds of African drums carry across the cowfields; no more do the smells of communal vegetarian meals catch the breeze at twilight. Alas, the interactive workshops on gender issues, world hunger, globalization, and environmental degradation are over now. Even the treehouse on the pine-covered hill in Hartland where Buddhist monks Brother Clint and Brother Michael from the nearby Maple Forest Monastery once led campers in a rousing round of chanting, is quiet. Homeschool Political Activist Theater Camp is over for another year.
Sigh. You might say the old New England idyll isn't what it used to be. In fact, it's tough to imagine even Robert Frost bringing this sort of material back to earth. ("The Road Not Taken to the Recycling Center" … ?) Not that terra firma is necessarily the preferred destination. While most kids lucky enough (read: sufficiently affluent) to go to camp in Vermont take home the same Calamine-coated memories of archery, boating, and hiking familiar for generations, there is a new contingent of campers for whom "world issues" and "community building" trump woodlore and camaraderie every time.
At Homeschool Political Activist Theater Camp (can't wait to hear the song) happy or, rather, "concerned" campers arrive "with world issues that tug at them," co-founder Nancy Theriault explained to the Valley News, "mega issues like environmental degradation, saving the whales and living in a violent society."
These mainly local kids also have "personal concerns," she added, such as "discrimination against teens" which was a new one on me. No wonder their campfires are never wasted on mere s'mores. These enlightened teens use a "crackling campfire to bring up a world issue of personal importance and a song, poem or a work of art that speaks to the issue."
And what, pray tell, does it say? The story goes on to describe a12-year-old girl who "stands in the firelight and sings a song for a dying whale in her clear voice." (No mention on whether this made neighborhood cows nervous.) Another camper reads a poem "that expresses the pain of growing up in a perilous world" very painful while another "quietly strums her guitar in counterpoint." Dying whales, pain and bar chords: Clearly, a good time was had by all.
There is nothing new, of course, about summer camps with social consciences. Homeschool Political Whatsis may be only two summers old, but Camp Thoreau in lovely Thetford Center, for example, is a local institution. In addition to expounding on the glories of its private lakeside setting, Camp Thoreau's literature sets forth its mission, in part, as helping campers overcome their "prejudices such as racism, sexism, classism, and homophobia" as they "participate in and appreciate the value of collective work." Good old collective work. No wonder Camp Thoreau is nicknamed "the Commie camp."
Then, of course, there's the real McCoy. The New York Times recently ran a sentimental-journey-to-the-land-that-time-forgot-style memoir about Camp Kinderland, a camp in Massachusetts for red-diaper babies who have, presumably, outgrown the diapers. (Tantrums, however, have been known to recur. Two years ago, during a UPS strike, a hapless delivery man was roundly condemned by counselors and campers as a "scab" for bringing in packages from home.)
Founded in 1923, Camp Kinderland, after struggling through the dark days of the Reagan administration and the fall of the Soviet Union, is now actually "booming" according to the article's author, Ivy Meeropol Kinderland alumna and, whaddya know, granddaughter of Ethel and Julius Rosenberg.
Vermont has never had that kind of pedigree historically, that is. Now, however, the transformation from Green Mountain State to Green Activist State is all but complete. This is hardly news, given that most people know that Vermont has long put the nuts in granola (think of the state's redistributionist Act 60 and civil union).
Still, there remains something shocking about the change, about all those slender white church spires, forest-banked rivers and Holstein-dotted fields having become little more than a backdrop for a population lurching left faster than any known laws of evolution.
It should come as no surprise then that, come spring, Homeschool Political Activist Theater Camp hopes to be taking its show on the road to Cuba. Which is a pity. Camp Kinderland is so much closer.


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