What Happens to Camp During the Winter?

By Alex Gelman, Assistant Director

Last week, Aaron, Beth, Brett, Howard and I made a visit to camp. I’ve made the drive up to Camp Harlam countless times over the last twenty years, since that autumn day in 1993 when my parents packed my older brother and I into our Ford station wagon and we drove along Interstate 78 out to Kunkletown. Usually, I’ve got shorts and a tee-shirt on, and arrive to a camp of endless green fields, leafy trees, and blinding sunshine. On this day last week, I stepped out of the car wrapped in my parka with a wool cap pulled down to my glasses, my breath vaporizing before me (it was at this moment that I really wish we made Camp Harlam insulated snow pants). Rather than the verdant campgrounds of the summer months, I saw before me an icy landscape blanketed in snow. High in the distance, the place where we come together to celebrate Shabbat on Friday nights looked more like the Matterhorn than the Chapel on the Hill.

photo-2As our caravan made its way around camp, checking out the progress of the construction on the girls camp cabins (sidenote: THEY LOOK AWESOME ALREADY!!!) and saying hi to Larry and his crew, we revved our way up to the Chapel on the Hill. While we were taking in the beautiful wintertime view of the Mahoning Valley, I noticed something in the area around the Chapel. Going from the last row of pews, down towards the iron flame sculpture in the middle, and up along the wall where the CITs sit were tiny footprints. Thanks to my extensive environmental knowledge, as well as considerable time spent at the Teva campsite, I soon realized what they were: deer tracks! This discovery led me to two eye-opening realizations: 1) Gee, I really wish I was there to see those deer walk along the CIT wall, and 2) When it’s not summer time, the environment of camp moves on without us.

For the vast majority of us, Camp Harlam is a place of eternal summer, forever captured in our minds as a shimmering landscape of green grass and blue skies. But being there in the depths of winter drove home a point that it’s taken me years to realize: Camp Harlam – its buildings, its fields, its pools, even its Chapel on the Hill – is just a place, a series of structures on a large swath of land in the Poconos. It is the people who come there every summer that give it life, that turn that wall that I saw the deer prints on into a place that every camper can’t wait to sit on, and every CIT can never forget. It’s the people that make that Chapel on the Hill holy, more even than the ark or the ner tamid. So on these cold winter nights, when you’re wishing you were at camp, remember: you are a part of camp. And it’s only a few more months until you come back to Kunkletown with all the other parts of camp, ready to breathe life into these sleepy buildings in the Poconos.

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