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