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Doe Camp

07/24/07 12:00AM By
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(HOST) Several times each year, the Vermont Outdoor Guide Association organizes Doe Camp - a three-day, outdoors skills camp for women. This year, commentator Helen Labun Jordan went for the first time.

(LABUN JORDAN) As I packed to go to for Doe Camp this summer, my main concern was that one of the other women there might have seen me at King Kong. King Kong was a very traumatic movie for me. Luckily, I'd brought tissues, which came in handy when I realized, halfway through, where the plot was headed. And while I didn't expect camp to involve hunting giant animated apes - the line of logic from King Kong to Bambi to what you would hunt in a place called Doe Camp wasn't hard to follow.

But it turns out that Doe Camp had less to do with Bambi than it did with the sort of overnight camps I attended as a kid. We started with making nametags from discs of wood on a string. Then everything I brought got wet in a cold rain. Very much like my Girl Scout memories. . . and by the second morning I was proudly shooting a foam bear target full of arrows. One hike, one lesson in cooking venison, several rounds at the shooting range, a whole slew of arrows, and three game dinners later, I had settled back into summer camp mode.

I thought I remembered what summer camp had been like. But I'd forgotten how the activities there seemed normal. I had once assumed that all grown ups knew how to tie a fishing lure, identify medicinal plants, build shelters, and cook full meals over an open fire. . . and, naturally, I would learn these skills as I grew up. The truth is that my survival skills consist almost entirely of knowing that cow vetch is edible. Which will come in handy if there's ever a salad garnish emergency.

At Doe Camp we had examples of people my age who had learned all the skills I'd expected to know by now. At least enough to eat by. They'd traded in cow vetch for Lake Champlain salmon poached with wild leeks. Or barbecued moose ribs. Perhaps with a dessert of honeycomb and violets.

I'm pretty comfortable with the idea that the closest I'll get to fending for myself food-wise is a trip to the farmers' market. And yet it's remarkably easy to rekindle a childhood fascination with things like uncovering a wild black raspberry patch or fashioning fishing line from string baited with honeysuckle berries. Call it Little House on the Prairie syndrome or simply Darwin, but it's hard to escape the allure of this kind of basic control over well-being. The same can probably be said for things like orienteering in the age of GPS, or building shelters in the age of luxury camping gear.

True self-sufficiency remains a distant concept for me. Three days at camp can only do so much. I still need my edible plants clearly labeled and I'm not ready to take up arms against anything cuter than a clay pigeon. But even though I may never reach total independence, summer once again seems incomplete without at least trying.

Helen Labun Jordan works at the Vermont Council on Rural Development.

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