Nature-Deficit Disorder

Richard Louv, in his best-selling 2005 book Last Child in the Woods, coined the expression nature-deficit disorder. He is careful to remind the reader that this is not a medical diagnosis. The term describes the effects that nature deprivation can have on people. Recent studies suggest that alienation from nature appears to have the following effects: increased attention difficulties, higher rates of both physical and emotional illnesses including depression, and a higher crime rate. Representative of the situation today is the comment made by a four-grader: “I like to play indoors better because that’s where all the electrical outlets are!” Children today prefer playing indoors rather than outdoors. There is no doubt that television and computers encourage this situation. Parental concern about child safety outside the home is another contributing factor.

In his book, Louv identifies and discusses the many causes of nature-deprivation present in our society. He asks the question, “Should we be concerned?” He responds strongly in the affirmative. And finally, he calls for action – in education, in individuals, in families and in communities.

Where does camp fit into this model? Obviously, summer camp is not a complete and comprehensive solution. Campers head off to camp for sessions between a week and two months. If camp is the only time a child experiences nature, the effect will likely be only short-term, but if camp arouses the sense of wonder in the child to the natural world that surrounds him or her, if it provides experiences that lead to personal growth, the effect of summer camp can be life-changing.

At Camp Nominingue, campers travel two hours north of the Montreal. They roll into camp down a kilometre long road through a pine plantation. Set on the shores of Petit Lac Nominingue, the camp site covers 400 acres of woods, fields and tree farm. Nominingue offers an outdoor experience to campers between the ages of seven and sixteen. All campers live in tents, a wall tent set on a wooden platform with beds and mattresses. After lunch on arrival day, campers are asked to turn in their cell phones and I-pods to the office. That is part of their experience at Nominingue. During the course of their stay at camp, campers will have the opportunity to go further into the wilderness on a canoe trip. The youngest campers travel on an overnight down the lake; 10 to 13 year olds will travel for three to five days in Parc Papineau Labelle, located a few kilometres south of camp; while 14-16 year olds will travel two hours further north to Parc La Verendrye for a seven to ten day experience.

Over the years, I have spent 26 summers at Camp Nominingue. The best and most-vivid memories are sensory memories: listening to the haunting cry of the loon on a cool evening sitting around a campfire; lying snug and warm in my sleeping bag with the rain pouring down on the tent-fly, with the rumble of thunder overhead and lightning flashing in the distance; listening to the dip of the paddle as it glides through the clear lake-water on a calm, summer morning; hearing the cheers from the dining hall; watching the glowing embers of the camp fire at the conclusion of a haunting story; the sense of weightlessness after putting down a pack or rolling down a canoe at the end of a long portage; the list is endless…

The camp motto, taken from a quote by Henry David Thoreau, sums up Camp Nominingue’s philosophy:

Rise free from care before the dawn and seek adventure. Let the noon find thee by other lakes and the night overtake thee everywhere at home.

We want our campers to feel at home in the outdoors. We teach them outdoor and canoe tripping skills, and offer experiences that we hope they will want to repeat outside of camp with their parents and later, with their own children.

Going to summer camp in itself will not ensure that children learn to love the outdoors, but given the right experiences, it can encourage a life-long love affair with nature, camping and canoe-tripping.

Sharpe’s Rifles

Richard Sharpe…if you have never met him, you are missing something! I first met Richard Sharpe, the British Rifleman, on the History Channel with Sean Bean playing the role of Private then Sergeant then Lieutenant then Major Sharpe. I was hooked by the humour and the drama. I started reading the series of novels by Bernard Cornwell this fall, after stumbling on the books on the shelves of the Camp Nominingue equipment room library. I have now read 18 novels, beginning with Sharpe’s Regiment and finishing with Sharpe’s Siege, with Sharpe’s Rifles, Sharpe’s Tiger, Sharpe’s Escape, among a number of other titles.

I owe my fall reading schedule to Bruce Gray, Nominingue’s middle camp director, who donated the series to the camp library. My only complaint is why there are at least two novels in the series missing! How could he leave me hanging like this…

Richard Sharpe begins his career in the army as a private, after joining up to avoid hanging for murder. Over the course of the series, Sharpe travels from India to Portugal to Spain and finally France. His service coincides with British imperialism in India and with the Napoleonic wars in Europe. His service follows the campaigns of Lord Wellington, the man who finally vanquishes Napoleon at Waterloo in 1815. Sharpe meets many scoundrels, both within the ranks of the British army and among the enemy. He proves himself in battle, time after time, and he is rewarded for his bravery as he slowly rises through the ranks, in an army in which officer commissions are typically purchased by the well-to-do and the upper classes. He meets a number of women whom he woos through his courage, his honesty and his sense of honour. He wins fortunes only to lose them, to women, to folly and to scoundrels.

What stands out in each novel are the friendships that Sharpe makes throughout the challenges he faces. There is Sergeant Harper, the Irishman who hates all the English, becomes his constant companion and best friend. Or Major Hogan, an engineer and spymaster, who values Sharpe before all others. These friendships are built out of mutual respect and trust, forged in battle and harsh trial. Richard Sharpe recognizes the importance of these friendships and values them far more than his wealth or his military duty. He is willing to give up everything and anything for his friends.

 At Camp Nominingue, the friendships that are forged on a long portage or around a campfire or sailing in a high wind or leading the Radisson brigade to victory in the Voyageur Games or by sharing a tent over a number of summers are like no other. Friendships that are made at camp are special. Frequently, these friendships last a lifetime.

Campers who return to Nominingue for a number of summers will frequently ask to share a tent with other friends from the previous summer. Campers will also request to go on a five, seven or ten day canoe trip with campers with whom they have shared a previous trip. With campers coming to Nominingue from across Canada and around the world, tent-mates and canoe tripping companions have different backgrounds and often speak a different language, but through the games, the challenges and the fun at camp, strong friendships are forged. A camp friendship is definitely one aspect that makes summer camp and Nominingue special!

Welcome

The purpose of this blog is to share some of my thoughts about Nominingue, about camps and, I guess, about life. I enjoy reading and I plan to mention a number of books in this blog.