Crackling camp fires and wayward hikes. Tipped canoes in placid lakes. Simple cabins in the woods. Watching campers on TV in the 1980s, I wanted to sign up alongside Hayley Mills in The Parent Trap. A camp job in college taught me devious teens and relentless heat can be interesting and exhausting when you’re in charge in the middle of nowhere. My nostalgic affinity for camp led me to Netflix and Moonrise Kingdom. I sorta wish there had been more summer weeks growing up to attend a place as orderly as its Camp Ivanhoe. But, real life is unruly. As I pitch a tent of discovery and accept my ration of visual impairment, I learn living with vision loss reminds me of camp:
- Find your tribe. Assigned like bunkmates or organically through activities, tribes will form. First impressions can be wrong and resistance may occur. (I’ve never seen her in my life) When you find others who understand your struggles, lean in with support. (Miss Inch says untidy ladies don’t go to the dance) Surviving camper setbacks–bug bites, uneven romances, and camp raids can be like dealing with blind spots, light sensitivity and riding public transit. Encountering adversity with others builds lasting bonds. (Let’s get together yeah yeah yeah)
- Try new things. Using a white cane and learning alternative ways of doing everyday tasks can feel like jumping in an algae-infested lake. The future looks murky. But you can start with the life vest of O&M instructors and rehab professionals. With practice you’ll be merit badged up and freestyling.
- Watch your step even on designated paths. Despite your best efforts, hazards like temporary signage and distracted humans will pop up like pesky poison ivy and rattlesnakes. Worst case, whistle for help on a cell phone.
- Be prepared to trailblaze. Authority figures and cultural norms can feel stifling. It’s tempting to believe plans solve every challenge vision loss creates. Not exactly. Watching Moonrise Kingdom, I wanted to belong, but then reconsidered. Sleep in smart plaid tents. Play with the camp dog, Snoopy, a wire fox terrier. Even the camp bugler wore an eye patch. Love, it was. Alas, surely I would incur a fire code or uniform violation in the ladies equivalent of the Khaki Scouts of North America. With low vision I need accommodations, my difference to be embraced rather than intimidation to conform. Instead of aiming to “pass,” be yourself and choose your own adventure
Long after the campfires are extinguished, your authentic friends will laugh at inside jokes, share candy stashes, and lend a shoulder to cry on. Give yourself permission to break out the epistolary technology and stay in touch with your camp pen pals. No one shall ever hike in the National Park of Disability alone.
What is your experience with summer camps? Do you love any camp movies? Have you been lost in the woods or tipped a canoe? How do you make the best s’mores? Tell me about it.