NEW FARMER JOURNAL: North Country School, Lake Placid NY

Watchless in the Adirondacks
How one camp counselor keeps track of “time.”

By Laura Rickard
Posted August 16, 2005


Laura Rickard recently graduated from Brown University with a degree in environmental studies. She is currently in the middle of a 12-month farm/garden internship at North Country School/Camp Treetops in Lake Placid, New York. For more information on North Country School, visit

July, 2005. No child at Camp Treetops is allowed a wrist watch. To spend a summer as a camper here is to live by lunch bells and lifeguard whistles and the occasional rumble of thunder. As I water the tomatoes to the tune of a Czech composer’s concerto for two saxophones and orchestra, NPR’s Robert Siegal intermittently breaks in with three-minute updates on what’s going on outside Adirondack Park. During these polite interruptions, where I learn of terrorist bombings, Supreme Court rulings, and the latest summer box-office hits, I marvel at the difference between so-called current events and what makes “news” in my world. I could tell you about the recent infestation of potato beetles in the eggplants and the prolific growth of the coreopsis. I could report on the number of heads of lettuce we have harvested since April and the approximate weight of compost spread on the annual flowerbed last week. I could attempt to distill the past month of my summer into a spreadsheet of facts worthy of reporting on nationally-broadcasted radio…But then I wouldn’t really be telling you about my life at Treetops. In appreciation of being watch-less, barefoot, and slightly grimy—which is how I plan to spend the next month-and-a-half—I offer this journal entry as the anatomy of a summer day (I guess in true Treetops fashion, the reader should imagine a couple of guitars, a drum circle, and a pack of barefoot kids to sing the following lines to the tune of a Joni Mitchell song…):

A bit after the birds start calling: Roll over and glance out the window to assess the weather situation. Has Hurricane Dennis bestowed upon us a vinyl rain suit morning? A breezy flannel shirt beginning to the day? Apply copious squirts of bug dope and SPF 50, in either case.

As the children trickle out of their tents and onto the grass: Stroll down to the garden. Cut several heads of green Romaine and red leaf lettuce with a few campers and counselors. Pick strawberries. Eat the strawberries. Wash the lettuce. Hose off feet.

Fifteen-minute bell (large bell rung by the kitchen staff): Meander to the Junior Camp kitchen to drop off the produce and check in with Paulette and Rose, who keep us fed and happy. Make a note to myself that Paulette requests mint, parsley, and fennel for her tabouli salad and spinach pie. (Said note now resides in a small spiral-bound notepad that most Treetops staff members refer to as a “brain.”)

“Little bell” (small cowbell rung by a camper): Breakfast time. Cross my fingers for something involving strawberry-rhubarb sauce and/or this season’s maple syrup.

Post-breakfast: Compare “brains” with John, my boss. (See above note.) Compose list of urgent to-do tasks for the morning. In the past two weeks, such tasks have included mulching our 435 foot-long flower bed, pruning the tomatoes, declaring war on the potato beetles, spraying the Brassica plants with Bt, and hand-weeding the carrots while contemplating the meaning of life.

Fifteen-minute bell: Make my way back to the dining room for a much-needed respite. Scrub hands vigorously to remove the dirt that isn’t yet semi-permanently tattooed in my skin.

“Little bell”: Lunchtime. Hope for a really good salad bar.

As the sun climbs overhead and the black flies draw blood: Post-lunch hangover. Steal naps behind the sunflowers while weeding the annual flowerbed. When awake, greet various pedestrians and passing cars. Contemplate the worth of organized religion while eradicating red-rooted pigweed and lamb’s quarter.

The sun is reminiscent of mid-day Ecuador: Re-apply SPF 50, generously. Consider jumping in the lake. (A few weeds later) jump in the lake. Drag myself up the lake hill for juice and crackers.

Thunderclouds; a passing rain shower: Meet a group of kids and counselors for pre-dinner garden chores. Spend the next half hour or so directing the group to frolic around a newly-planted field of hairy vetch and oats—a kid-friendly version of covering the seeds.

Fifteen-minute bell: Greet John and our new flock of Boer goats.

“Little bell”: Dinner. I am dreaming of some variety of gooey dessert.

As the sun sets over the lake: Assess the likelihood of a frost by consulting the Internet and/or flipping a coin. Battle with crumpled sheets of Remay to cover the basil and annual flowers. Curse the Remay. Curse USDA Zone 3b. Curse the no-see-ums.

Goodnight, Moon: Fall asleep to the occasional bleating of lambs being weaned. Dreams of broccoli and tomatoes donning Remay cloaks to declare war on vicious tribes of potato beetles dance like children in a freshly-seeded field in my head.