Thursday, August 10, 2017

Heaven In Honesdale

My mother was suspicious. “Why is this camp so cheap?” She examined the brochure: “Oh, no pool.”

The dining room table was piled with glossies from Camp Hillel, Massad, and Camp Seneca Lake.

“All my friends are going!”

This wasn’t true, but somehow I managed to finagle myself to Camp Moshava, and I can tell you that back in 1975, there was no pool, no net on the tennis court or under the basketball hoop, no white outlines on the soccer field to indicate where the goals weren’t, no tether on the tetherball pole, and no ball, either. The food was lousy, and all we did was hike.

Best summer of my life.

What Moshava had, that no other camp had, was the “Shmutz.”

The Yiddish word for dirt, the Shmutz was the ultimate camp-out: five days and nights of wilding in the woods.

The minute you got to camp it was all about the Shmutz. When was it coming? (Third week, usually.) How long would the hike be?  (Between 10 and 15 miles) Who would you share your tent with? (Hopefully, boys!) And, in later years—What if I get my period during the Shmutz? (Happened to some girl, always.)

The young, strong and good-looking madrichim, counselors, were all preparing to make Aliyah to Israel the minute they finished college. They wore loose white shirts, big dirty boots and Kabbalistic expressions. Their eyes sparkled, their long hair, tinged with summer sun, swished like fringes of tzitzit, and the girls exuded an irresistible sweaty promise of earnest days of hard field labor, and earthy nights of fleshy, kibbutz kink.

The hikes were excruciating.  Uphill, downhill, uphill, downhill along the dusty roads. We would beg to stop, for a swig from our canteens. 

Laggards would be warned, first in Hebrew, then in English, then kicked in the tuches. Eveyone had to keep singing.

Sof sof, finally, finally, we would arrive at the site in the forest, which, we always found out, was never more than 2 miles from camp. Aargh!

The madrichim immediately set to work building zip-lines, ropes courses and tree houses, that they would never allow children on nowadays. They even created a “toilet” for the banot, girls; a square log-cabin box that you sat on, behind a tree.

If there was one thing in Moshava that saved this Queens girl-- who in her late teens shopped at Bloomingdales and still later moved to Scarsdale-- from spoilage, it was the following: I learned how to make my own tent.

Once you make your own tent, from the clean pink blankets your mother packed you for your bed that you have now spread on the leaves and dirt of the forest floor, buttoned together with stones and rope, draped over sagging twine between two trees, and staked down with sticks—your own tent that gaped and leaked as you slept under it on the damp, root riddled ground with a flat stone for a pillow-- you really can do anything.

And more important, you really can do without anything.

My friends Zimbo and Dov and I decided to use our collective charisma to create a “Super Tent.” We teased and flattered, and soon enough, our spirited friends were building us a five- room tent with a common area in the middle-- for the shul-shul party.

Meantime we three got to work, picking all the blackberries that were growing right on the edge of the forest, and hoarding them secretly in Zimbo’s sweaty baseball cap.

After that, our plooghot, groups, had to make dinner. We were divided into eight groups of six, and given a metal grill, a bag of raw chicken, and a bag of raw potatoes. And three matches.

We were 11.

We built a fire pit of large stones. We foraged in the forest and found dry tinder for the kindling. We built our tinder pile under a teepee of small dry branches.

We ignited the first match down the zippered fly of one of the boys (try it!) and got the tinder going. We packed the raw potatoes into a circle around the flame. We crouched down and blew gently until the small branches caught fire. Then we added larger branches and watched the fire get bigger and bigger. When it died down a bit, we set the grill on top. When the fire turned to coals, we laid the raw chicken on the grill.

We died from anticipation. We ate the chicken, half raw, then we poked into the fire for the potatoes and ate them, half raw, too.

Except for the fires, it was pitch black. You could hear screams from the girls as the boys tried to take a whiz too close to the tents. Or when they fell into the banot toilet.

Our midnight shul-shul party was a smash success, as everyone crowded into the tent to eat the blackberries, and touch each other in the darkness.

Our counselors were too busy in their own tents, coupling up, building a nation.

The next day was shul-shul day, as everyone who had eaten the berries got shul-shul, diarrhea.

Of course Zimbo, Dov and I had not eaten the berries. Heh. Heh. Heh.

I think of this, now, so many, many years later, as my friends kvetch about the summer price tag of their kids’ sleepaway camps.

No wonder; not only are there nets on the tennis courts, there are professional tennis coaches who coach and professional umpires who ump. Even for the 8-year-olds.

There are five story rock walls with safety harnesses. (Actually that’s a good thing.) There are ice skating rinks and bumper car arenas. There is gluten free and peanut free and balsamic.

Even Moshava has a pool now.

A few days ago, my 8-year-old twins were offered to go on a camping trip with their friend’s family, here in Maine.

The Dad showed me his gear:  French Press coffee maker, chairs that come with a cup holder for the pressed coffee, a campfire stove with a rotisserie, a fold out picnic table, a multi-colored hammock with protective mosquito netting, a generator powered fridge, and – wait for it-- a generator powered TV.

Pretty cool glamping, I thought.

Then he showed me the bright yellow kids’ tent from L.L. Bean with push out windows , a gothic style waterproof roof, and a rugged vinyl floor that would fit all three air mattresses.
I looked at my kids, who were jumping up and down.

And I felt sorry for them.