In an era where technology has connected kids to a lot – but disconnected them from nature – Camp Grier reminds them to occasionally look up from their screen and stare at the clouds.
Every year, there’s a theme for the Old Fort summer camp. This year’s theme: “The Peace of Wild Things.”
The line comes from the title of the famous, 11-line Wendell Berry poem. It begins: "When despair for the world grows in me/and I wake in the night at the least sound/in fear of what my life and my children's lives may be,/I go and lie down where the wood drake/rests …”
“We leave technology behind,” said Jason McDougald, executive director. “Kids find they can actually enjoy not having every second programmed. There’s a different pace here – a different rhythm to being without a screen.”
And there’s lots of nature to explore at this Asheville-area camp. “We have amazing rivers, summits, rocks and cliffs,” McDougald said.
Thanks to the Charlotte Observer Summer Camp Fund, 34 children who wouldn’t otherwise get to go to camp are headed to Camp Grier this summer. Those kids are among more than 500 going to 33 camps because readers donated to the fund.
Camp Grier fosters in kids from second through 12th grades a love for outdoor labor – and celebrating the fruits of it. The camp is on a working farm – one that maintains five beehives for honey, and McDougald reports the farm keeps growing.
Campers pick vegetables that end up on the salad bar (or at the local senior center), gather eggs from the flock of 40 chickens and feed pigs. Kitchen scraps go back to the barn to feed the animals. “Nothing goes in the Dumpster,” McDougald said.
Campers work outdoors, but they spend a lot of time playing there, too. Mountain biking, white-water paddling, hiking, swimming – camp activities make the most of the mountain venue.
“My favorite thing is to see the wonder on a child’s face,” McDougald said. “As we set out on a paddling trip on whitewater, they might turn to me with a look that says ‘I don’t think I can do this.’ But then, with the help of a partner and the encouragement of the group, they somehow manage. Seeing the pride on their faces never gets old.”
Camp Grier is affiliated with the Presbyterian church but welcomes children of all faiths.
Given this year’s theme, campers will explore stories from the Bible about the wilderness. “People throughout history have sought solace in nature,” McDougald said. “They’ve always looked to nature as a quiet place to reflect.”
Nature is still a salve – even for kids who don’t realize they’ve OD’d on technology. Their smart phones will be waiting for them at the end of the camp. In the meantime, campers experience the exhilaration of fresh air, sunshine, tall trees and rolling water.
The Berry poem begins with despair but concludes peacefully: “For a time/I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.”