Circus Camping in Vermont

Listening to the loons on Ricker Pond at daybreak.

Growing up in Britain, my only experience or impressions of summer camp came from a song I had heard on the radio; “Dearest Mudder, dearest Fadder, Here I am at, Camp Grenada…”  I remember wondering what poison ivy might be.  As a parent, summer camp was never really on my radar but my family’s love of circus changed that.  My children are almost 9 and just 7, of age for the 2 day with sleepover  Smirkling program Circus Smirkus offers in Lyndon Center, VT.   Green and beautiful Vermont with circus arts – what could be better?  As I signed the children up for camp, my spouse  retrieved his machete and mosquito net from the barn with another kind of camp in mind.  In June we strapped the canoe to the roof of the overstuffed van and headed north to a lean-to on Rickers Pond in Groton State Forest, about 45 minutes south of Lyndon Center.

We all roused early from our sleeping bags on the first day of camp.  A quick rinse in freezing water to remove the various odors of the outdoor life and we were off.  I have never dropped my children off at a place I have never seen with people I have never met to perform who knows what acts of daring or desperation.  As we drove up Rt 91 some feelings of trepidation began to stir but the welcome in Lyndon was warm and immediate.  Red shirted counsellors jumped and waved at the turning, directing us toward the registration area and a sea of purposeful people.  There were counsellors everywhere; friendly, helpful and fully engaged.  No feeling here of the dreaded baby sitter who needs money but is itching to catch up on some texting.  I had a feeling of happy recognition that this was the same reliable, professional and fun team I had experienced at Smirkus shows and while hosting troupers.  My feeling was confirmed as we went along the check in line.  There were over 70 kids, Mary decided to guess which two she had in front of her.  Wallace and Grommit?  Not Mac and Cheese… no 3rd sibling so not P,B & J…  But she and Megan didn’t need the files to recognize my son as that kid who wanted to spend his time upside down.

Historic Peacham, VT

Suddenly childless in the sunshine, two days and a night seemed a long time.  We  love exploring the path less traveled and Vermont is a paradise for back road adventures so off we went.  We found a roadside stand loaded with baked goods near the picture perfect village of Peacham.  Delicious wholewheat applesauce doughnuts.  A little further on a maple shaded cemetery with graves dating back to the Revolutionary War, peaceful neighbors to the caramel colored cows grazing among sun-drunk buttercups.  Stopping in Marshfield for a cup of coffee, we discovered Rainbow Sweets – definitely an off the beaten track experience!  Bill is in his 36th year as owner, pastry chef extraordinaire and straight-faced vaudeville act.  He treasures the uninitiated visitor so I won’t spoil it beyond saying he’s right when he tells you that you haven’t bought enough of the ‘dental diagnostic tool’ also known as chocolate butternut crunch.  We thoroughly enjoyed a full lunch with dessert and brought the children back for pizza night after camp.  In the little town of Groton we ambled into Artesano, an elegantly contemporary meadery.  Mead, wine made from honey, is mankind’s oldest fermented drink though Artesano’s refined use of spices such as cinnamon and chili is certainly modern.  We sampled and bought then visited the work room where the mead operation happens.  A delicious strawberry aroma wafted from the next room where artisanal ice cream was being made, you never know what you’re going to find around the corner in Vermont.

Next afternoon we returned to collect our campers and watch the performance of new skills and a pie throwing extravaganza.  It was a wonderful afternoon.  Everyone had been working hard and was pleased with the results.  The relationships between the counsellors and the kids and within the groups were clearly happy and strong, everyone was having a blast!  The pie fest was mannerly, as choreographed as any circus skit but the lack of chaos did not diminish the kids’ joy in pie-ing their counsellors, parents, each other and even themselves.   The experience, like my photos of it, was a bright, colorful blur of movement and laughter.  But my enduring impression is of a clear eyed, focused group of people who helped my daughter discover her inner clown and trusted their own competence enough to allow my son to safely climb 20 feet up a rope without head to toe bubble wrap and a lawyer in the wings.  This gift of confidence to my children comes from Smirkus Spirit; a willingness to greet life with enthusiasm and work hard in celebration of circus life and its inhabitants – all the talented, bruising, ridiculous glory of it.

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