The brochure I found was for a boy's camp named Camp Flying Cloud, located high up in the remote hills of rural central Vermont. One of the (then) five summer camps owned and operated by the Farm and Wilderness group of camps, Flying Cloud is still operating today, albeit with a different mission than it had when I went there, more than forty years ago.
According to the brochure, when I attended Flying Cloud it was "the first camp—as far as we know—based largely on the culture of the Northeast forest Indians," where boys between eleven and fifteen had the "exciting experience of true wilderness living, using all the skills the Indians developed," and "live like Indians."
So what, exactly, did that mean? According to the brochure it meant that the campers at Flying Cloud would:
- Play Indian games
- Learn Indian dancing
- Explore wilderness areas
- Live in tipis
- Engage in work projects "for the good of the tribe," such as "constructing an authentic long-house, putting up a larger sweat lodge, improving the council ring, working on a forest conservation area which includes spots where 'visiting braves from other camps' may find lodging for the night"
- Learn Indian crafts, such as "making your own bow and arrows, Indian breech cloths, and moccasins"
- "Cook your own meals without pots!"
- Engage in feats of strength and skill, including "Indian wrestling"
- Have time just to sit and think
- JUST HAVE FUN!
And I did. I loved it.
All these years later, though, when reading through the brochure and reflecting on my experience at Camp Flying Cloud, I'm somewhat amazed that I wound up going there, that it even happened. That's because Camp Flying Cloud was a most decidedly "alternative" summer camp when I went there, and of a type that Mame Dennis would have gotten into all sorts of trouble with her nephew's horrified trustees for sending him to, had she done so, before they yanked him out of it and placed him in a more respectable, conventional camp for boys.
Fortunately that wasn't my fate.
Setting aside the absence of Political Correctness of the camp's (then) mission—at least as articulated in its brochure—when I attended Flying Cloud wearing clothing there was largely dispensed with, except for warmth, and we spent most of our days either wearing skimpy leather loin cloths or buck naked. I'm not joking. While not exactly a nudist camp, Flying Cloud encouraged its campers and counselors to cast off conventional clothing much of the time. The brochure may have featured photographs of lads in loincloths, but the reality was we were, more often than not, running around naked!
And Flying Cloud wasn't the only one of the Farm and Wilderness camps that encouraged nudity among its campers and counselors. In those days all of the other camps in the F&W group encouraged their campers to at least swim without wearing bathing suits. But I believe that Camp Flying Cloud was the most extreme of the group's camps when it came to encouraging au natural living.
I'm not exactly sure if my parents fully realized the extent of the nudity that prevailed at Camp Flying Cloud when I first went there, but they came to experience it vividly on a first hand basis when they stopped by the camp, unannounced, one afternoon during my second summer there. What they found when they arrived at the camp were approximately forty boys and perhaps ten or so counselors running about the campground wearing little more than loincloths, if not naked. Well, not entirely naked—most were probably wearing something on their feet.
At least that is all that the head counselor of the camp was wearing that afternoon when he met my parents. I recall that his name was Rick, and that he was an extremely handsome fellow in his mid twenties with piercing blue eyes and a head of thick, curly brown hair. I admit that I had a bit of a little boy crush on him.
As readers of this blog well know, my mother, known as MD, was not one to blanch or blush, but even she was rather taken aback by what greeted her at Camp Flying Cloud. I recall her as being uncharacteristically tongue-tied when Rick was standing in front of her and my father, naked as a jaybird, speaking with them about the camp and clearly enjoying showing himself off to them as a veritable nature boy!
Afterwards, when walking with my parents back to their car, they asked me if I was having a good time at Camp Flying Cloud, and was I happy there? I responded that I was, indeed, having a terrific time (which I most decidedly was), and that I loved the camp. With evident relief at this news, they then gave me a quick hug and a kiss and climbed into their car and drove away.
Years later, I had a conversation with MD in which I asked her about her visit to the camp, and what she thought of it?
"Well," she said, "all that I can clearly recall is the experience of meeting that handsome young man who ran the camp. But I can't remember anything of what we spoke of because I couldn't concentrate on a word of what he was saying, since I was—uh—rather distracted by the fact that he was as naked as a newborn baby! And he was very well formed, and rather lovely to look at. I do remember that."
"But why did you send me there, to that camp, instead of a more mainstream one, such as a tennis camp?" I asked.
"Because, dear, we thought it would be a good experience for you. We figured that you would be able to play tennis for the rest of your life, but that you would most likely not have all that many opportunities to run around naked in the woods, playing Indian, when you grew up."
She had a point there.
So, what do I mean when I write in the title of this essay that "My Name is White Rainbow"? Well, when I went to Camp Flying Cloud all of the campers were given an "Indian name" in a night-time ceremony that involved supposed Indian dancing around a big bonfire amidst much drumming of tom-toms and the singing of supposed Indian songs. "White Rainbow" was the name I was given, and was the name by which I became known thereafter at the camp. All of the names given to the campers were supposed to signify something unique about the camper's personality, ideally with a spiritual element thrown in, too. I recall that my "Indian name" of White Rainbow supposedly reflected what the counselors considered to be my general good nature, along with my propensity to joke around most of the time. It is not exactly what I would consider to be a particularly manly name for a lad of eleven, but it is the name I was given, and I liked it.
While Camp Flying Cloud continues to operate today, it has long-since dispensed with its mission to be a place where boys learn to "live like Indians" and its campers are no longer encouraged to engage in au natural living.
Flying Cloud is now a more culturally sensitive and conventional camp focused on developing wilderness skills among its campers, and the "Redmen" orientation of the camp's identity was dropped years ago. The Farm and Wilderness camps have also long since stopped allowing nudity at their camps, even for swimming. I would imagine in today's litigious world that such activity is simply too great a liability risk for them.
Looking back on my experience at Camp Flying Cloud, back in the days when it was still a place where little boys like Reggie could engage in the fantasy of "living like an Indian," unencumbered by conventional clothing or today's more jaundiced world view, I am glad that I went there when I did, in more innocent times. And, to MD's point, even though I gave up playing tennis for good more than a decade ago, I can't recall having had the opportunity since I attended Flying Cloud to run around in the woods, naked as a jaybird, "playing Indian." Not that I lose any sleep over it, mind you.
Tell me, what was your summer camp experience like?