Lights Out: The Brilliance of Darkness at Camp
May 26, 2016, by Jake
Lights Out: The Brilliance of Darkness at Camp
May 26, 2016, by Jake

When your child travels to camp for the summer, they will experience many firsts. For some it will be their first experience sleeping away from home, their first time making their bed, or their first encounter with some of the unique activities Maine camps have to offer. And for many campers, they will have an entirely different first – their first experience with the beautiful, still darkness of a Maine evening. And this is an invaluable experience for every child to have, because darkness can be difficult to come by these days.

For those who live in a metropolis, like me, there exists an ever-present peppering of light that permeates the atmosphere, and the presence of luminescence is almost inescapable. Even those who spend their springs a comfortable distance from the city will almost certainly have their evenings interrupted by illumination – whether it’s the manufactured brightness of an iPhone, the technicolor radiance of the television, or the simple shining of a ceiling light. We live in a world in which everything is visible, and the power of the unseen has been lost.

Darkness has the power to transform any familiar geography into a world of the unknown and undiscovered – the sounds of running water or running engines take on a unique significance when they are deprived of the streams and vehicles that emit them. The shapes and shadows of trees or trails transform when the eye lacks the certainty of visible identification. Darkness is a world of imagination, a world in which anything can be because nothing can be seen. And this imagination, this mystery, this magic, has slipped away, no longer available to the modern child. Unless, of course, they are at camp.

While “lights out” may just appear to be another structural element of your child’s camp schedule, designed to keep them well rested and prepared for the next day’s activities, it is far more than that. When Taps has been played, and campers have returned to their cabins, lights out signifies a shift in the stratosphere – lights out is the time when stories are told, when dreams are shared, when mischief is imagined. In the darkness of a cabin, illuminated solely by headlamps and flashlights, the mystery of childhood reigns supreme.

When I was a camper in Maine, whichever counselors were On Duty would spread themselves out about the campus, attending to their assigned posts with flashlights, books, and Crazy Creeks to ensure that we weren’t making too much noise, that we weren’t sneaking between bunks, and that we weren’t turning the lights on. However, in the bunks, campers had the opportunity to exist in an adult-free habitat. We played countless games of cards, talked about our crushes, and let our imaginations carry us in the way that only children can.

Outside of the bunks, we experienced the majesty of Maine’s darkness at the many ceremonies and gatherings lit solely by a central fire. These campfires, accessed by a trail of torches in which every step brings you closer to this supernatural world, are synonymous with the spirit and majesty of camp. The darkness provided a forum to tell stories, and moreover, provides a forum to connect with each other and with the place we called home for the summer. And the stories we were told, the tales of Native American lore and camp tradition, could only exist in the stillness of a dark Maine evening. The reality of an outside world ceases to exist in the crackling fire, the shining stars, and the surrounding blackness that amplifies each story told, and each song sung, until the connection we feel is as tangible as the soil beneath our feet.

Michael Chabon once wrote that, “Childhood is, or has been, or ought to be, the great original adventure . . . “, and I firmly believe that the crux of adventure is the notion of discovery. Perhaps it is this that the darkness provides – by dimming our vision, the perfection of night allows us to rediscover the world around us. Children today may not have access to the unsupervised wilderness of their grandparents – today’s society dictates that they are constantly chaperoned, attended to, and bubbled from the surrounding world. In the darkness, however, on a still Maine night, children have the chance to explore once again, to connect with their imagination, and to seize the adventure of childhood. And in the darkness, on a still Maine evening, surrounded by friends and immersed in the mythical, beautiful blackness of night, a child may just find that the world is truly illuminated.

Maine Camp Experience Resources & Tools

Looking for the perfect Maine camp for your child?  Try out our helpful tool where you can select a camp by choosing: type of camp (girls, boys or coed) and session length (1-8 weeks).  It helps to narrow down a few camps to a manageable list that includes rates.  Then you can research these camps in more depth.  

Next, be sure to contact our Maine Campcierge™ to discuss these camps as well as for free, year-round advice and assistance on choosing a great Maine summer camp for your child.

You can share your own Maine camps memories & expressions of gratitude on our Memories of Camp section of our website.


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