A Spiritual Schlep: Summer Camp for Grown-Ups

Image Credits: Iron & Lace for Camp Climb

Summer camp for the young me was this: wet socks drying on hickory branches. Cold Dr. Pepper from the canteen. Legs dangling from the top balcony of Amity Hall, lost in a continual conversation with stars and the dirt beneath.

Add Walt Whitman and replace Dr. Pepper with kombucha. A few 30 years later, give and take. There were friendship bracelets, Palo Santo sticks, journal entries in longhand. Kayaks in the dock awaiting adventure, rest. Souls awaiting the same.

This year has been a season of deep renewal for me, and also for my family. We’ve trekked through marshes at sunrise, caught frogs with our hands, slipped on wet limestone rocks, kissed bloody knees, carried each other home. I left social media behind for the better part of it, choosing fuzzy memories over sharpened photos. Perhaps a commenter last month said it best: It’s so good to see you! I’d forgotten you existed.

(There are seasons I’ve spent having forgotten the same.)

In truth, I’d come here to speak. As it always happens, I left having heard.

Moment after moment, I witnessed campers stuffing hope in their Herschels. Over PB and rhubarb, I met a grieving woman who hiked Ireland in honor of a late father. While forest bathing, a woman whispered to me that she was newly pregnant after a 14-year journey through infertility. On the last night, a woman suffered a panic attack in the top bunk; the collective words of healing cabinmates coursed through her veins when a forgotten Celexa couldn’t.

The beauty of summer camp is this: you show up with sneakers ready for a getaway. But instead, you encounter a get-in.

You come for rest, for rejuvenation. You think it might be a nice bonus to meet someone with an answer to what’s weighing on your heart. Maybe you’ll bump into her at the pool, or roasting S’mores, or on a wooded horseback ride.

What happens is this: you depart realizing she’s you, and has been along.

(You promise to keep in touch.)

Here’s the thing: rest is not void of risk. It takes great risk to slow the heck down, to dig our heels into mud and commit to standing still for a second or two. It takes great risk to stop a world you believe you’re responsible for spinning.

But still it spins, and after a long weekend, new friends exchange email addresses, zip duffel bags, walk the gravel pavement to cars and buses and vans – each with a question heavy on their minds: How to retreat from a retreat?

I unlock my dusty minivan to return to my own, and I overhear a woman giving directions to an Uber driver:

Just head to the trees, you’ll find the way through.


  • Your writing somehow leaves me breathless even while it reminds me to breathe. Thank you.

  • Your words speak to me every time. I didn’t attend the camp you wrote about but I did attend a camp where I was one of the craft leaders. Among 90+ campers and 20+ adults I also found what I didn’t even know I needed. Laughter, tears, paint messes, quiet, and new friends. Thank you for sharing your experiences. Camp as an adult is a gift.

  • Summer camp for adults- what a brilliant idea!! Your words and these photo’s make me hungry for a retreat and for rest…. this hasn’t been a very restful year for our family but im hoping and praying and trying to carve out time this fall even just a weekend. Thank you for sharing these heartfelt words Erin.

  • Yes Erin. I too have missed you and your words this summer. This essay made it well worth the wait. Your last line affirmed what I just shared with my newly birthday’ed (and final of four) 16 year olds. “Everything is going to be okay.” He doesn’t get this at the moment, but he will. Thank you so much.

  • Oh how I enjoyed reading this. I too left social media behind this year, “choosing fuzzy memories over sharpened photos” – that is it exactly, though I never knew to choose those words. Thank you for sharing, Erin!

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