Burlington, Vermont: My Home Away from Home
Proof Schubert Reed
March 9th, 2019
Every summer, I’m lucky enough to go to Vermont for camp, where I meet a variety of people from across the country and abroad. At this point, it sounds trite to say, but camp is one of my most favorite places in the world. I’m there for acting (I’ve never been a color war, canoe race kinda gal; not to judge), and so we sit in intense classes all day, engaging in various emotionally vulnerable activities designed to find deeper versions of ourselves that we can display on stage and screen. For meals, we go to the dining hall, which churns out classically less-than hamburgers and day-old salad bars, but prized soft serve for the end of (or for all of) the meal. We’re directly adjacent to homey Burlington, with its oh-so Vermont maple granola, CBD iced coffee, and farmers’ market cute cheese, and its perfectly un-NYC chill vibe. At night, we pile up and watch movies, or play old camp games, or stay up in our rooms and have late-night heart-to-hearts about the tragedies awaiting us at home during the school year. And on the last night of camp, we stay up through the night and cry and hug and feel at home and safe as if, melodramatically, the whole world is ending the next day; in many ways, it is.
So why am I writing about my unspecial summer camp regimen in the middle of March, when I really should be studying for a chemistry test, or better yet, sleeping? Well, as I’m sure you can tell, Vermont is home to a classic camp routine (perhaps twinged with some performing arts color) but to me, it feels like the most unique and outstanding thing in the world.
Every summer, when my parents and I make our stuffy but nostalgic road-trip trek North, I’m introduced to campers and teachers and best friends who have vastly different experiences than I do. Many of them don’t live in big fancy cities with reputations pinned to their names (i.e. New York). Just like they’re fascinated by the bustle and the opportunity with which so many associate NYC, I am drawn to their romantic small-town charm: the idea of having a single local restaurant, and meeting up with friends at drive-in cinema events, and just getting in a car and roaming for miles because what else would you do with your time?
I’m introduced to parts of myself that I did not know were there, whether that be through intensely vulnerable acting classes, or tired campy activities, or simply through the inherent survival tactics of being stuck in an enclosed space with only so many other people for an extended but limited period of time. When I’m at camp, I’m someone who gets up at 5am to watch the sunrise every morning. I’m someone who works out for an hour every day without tears, who doesn’t need coffee to get through the day (but drinks it nevertheless), who is patient and attentive, and who is surrounded by more love than possibly imaginable at any given moment elsewhere.
Vermont is where I’m at my happiest. It is keenly unlike my home city, which is a magnificent thing given that I spend almost all of my other time of the year in crowded subway cars and rushing down uncomfortably pungent, crumbling streets. (I love NYC, don’t get me wrong, but a break is nice, and Vermont almost makes me appreciate it more.) I’m in Vermont doing what I love with people that I love for all hours of the day, and I’m not subscribed to mandatory schooling or a permanent residence (as much as I love my family). I’m there in the summer, when it’s warm (but not NYC hot) and sunny (but not NYC blinding) and beautiful, and the landscape exudes euphoria like no other place I know. And I’m surrounded by people that fill me with this kind of joy that’s impossible to describe to anyone at home. When I’m there, I feel a kind of happiness and fullness that I can’t associate with any other place or time on Earth. It’s like taking a deep, expectant breath, and then letting go.
I’m not going back to Vermont this summer. Logistically, it doesn’t make sense, and I’m getting older, so it’s time to focus on other things. When I think of staying in hot, crowded NYC all summer, part of me is excited — I’ll be pursuing other things that I love, I’ll spend time with some of my best friends, and I’ll be in what is, objectively, one of the greatest cities in the world.
But part of me also feels a little broken. When I look at my camp photos, or talk to my camp friends, or take a sip of my Vermont brand cold brew that I brought home, I’m filled with this feeling that I can’t describe to anyone in New York. Camp in Vermont is like this alternate, temporary home for me, where I am happier than I am anywhere else. Every interaction I have there introduces me to a new part of my self, and every summer, I leave a distinctly different person than I was when I walked in. I am taught how to feel pain, and how to be okay with that pain, and how to trust other people, and how to laugh so hard my stomach hurts, and how to be a decent human being, and how to grow up. I am introduced to people who know and understand me better than almost anyone else I’ve ever known, and in the span of a handful of days, I find best friends. And the coolest thing is — during the year, no matter how many homework assignments I’m buried in, no matter how many months its been, the second I get on the phone, it’s like no time has passed at all. So yeah. I’m not going back to camp. And that breaks my heart, but it’s also really okay. I’m a genuinely changed person for my time there, and despite how cheesy this sounds, I know that no matter how sucky or totally awesome life is, no matter how much homework I have that night, no matter how much time has passed, people who really know and love me, are a literal phone-call away.