Dina L. Relles

writer. editor. curious + common.


Life is but a collection of moments strung together, one right after another, to make up you…

*          *          *

Early morning, I throw on a hoodie and slip out in the first light to send a quick e-mail. The crisp air hits my cheeks; my feet flatten the dew-soaked ground. Distant sounds of crickets and owls fade as day edges out night. I hurry back to my bunk before the boys awake and am greeted by the relative warmth, the comforting, rhythmic sounds of the boys’ breathing. I’m struck by the enormity of my role as their mother, their shelter. Here, we are always one step removed from nature and cozier for it. All is as it should be.

I’m sitting on the grass during a particularly long stretch of afternoon when my five-year-old tackles me to the ground, all 38 lbs of him landing on my chest, knocking me down. I let us fall backwards and he throws his arms around me, pressing his cheek to mine, not letting go. I unsquint my eyes and look up to see the sun glinting through the trees against an expanse of clear blue sky…the baby follows suit and soon we are a mess of tangled limbs, mussed-up hair. A kiss, and we part.

We’re standing on the concrete porch of the cafeteria as the rain falls only harder. We decide to make a go of it. The baby strapped in the stroller, I pull the three-year-old up to me and have him grasp my neck. “Hold tightly,” I whisper. My oldest proudly walks ahead in his new Superman raincoat. And we set out, braving the downpour together, the muddy grounds squishing through the holes in our summer shoes, sprinkling dirt flecks on our wet calves. Not one complaint; they’ve grown somehow used to this by now.


We sit in the outdoor amphitheater overlooking the lake. Everyone is gathered as we await a camp-wide performance. Suddenly the assembled campers – across age groups, gender – erupt into unscripted song. Voices ping pong back and forth, while “Let It Go” lyrics waft up from the wooden benches into the cloudy night sky. I’m moved to tears by the sheer power of the collective voices, by children who are purely happy—to be here, to be themselves, to be together, to feel so safe and carefree as to shed any insecurities and join with one another in song.

I’m sitting at a square wooden table past nightfall in the small swath of space where the wifi reaches to read my favorite writers’ words. I’m shivering in the summer night mountain air, nearby voices speaking in a mix of foreign tongues – Hebrew, Polish, others. I catch a word here and there and am not distracted, but comforted by the distant company. I am sitting on a rickety chair, outside, under the sky, the stars, breathing the cool, clean air, feeling the earth underfoot—this same ground upon which my feet have walked…so many years ago…the steps that, one right after another, led me here. To right here; to right now. To my small cabin with my three sons sleeping soundly a few yards away, heavy with the weight of a day walking those same paths—now theirs, now ours.

It’s cold in our cabin. Cover me up, you ask. Your feet are sticking out. I tuck them in. You smile. That dimple…

I drift off to sleep, comforted by the 24-hour hum of a camp day…a ball bouncing on the upper courts, a walkie-talkie in the distance, the rumble of a golf cart climbing the gravelly path, campers shouting from a nearby building during their evening activity…the sound of their turn.

A day off. A minivan brigade winding along alternating paved and unpaved roads leading to a local (read: 1.5 hours away) children’s museum. Impossibly never losing each other. We stay together because it’s what we do. We pump gas in the pouring rain after a trying Target run, tears from laughter streaming down our faces, mixing with the rain…we are friends from a different time, who remember when, who mouth the words to the same songs, memorized still. Friends who can tell of what was, and together, face what’s to come.

One of my closest camp friends, now the director, darts around the grounds checking, conferring, confirming…He’s in charge now, yet I still glimpse the boyishness behind his eyes. How did we get here?

One ordinary afternoon, we exchange a few words outside the front office before he bikes off. We’re both too busy and too burdened—he mainly with camp, me with kids—to say more. But it’s all we need. Twenty-three years of friendship has led to this. Has made us into mind-readers. And I’m struck by the quality, the endurance, the pick-up-where-you-left-off nature of the friendships I’ve formed here.

Another day off, and we split our time between exploring the camp grounds and taking a drive into nearby Honesdale for dinner on Main Street. Dar Williams and dirt roads lead us there.


We pass unthinkable beauty. Are we in the world now? asks the five-year-old. On the road, we quietly imagine a life different than ours. One remote and sprawling that yawns through the summer season and tells of tending the earth…We are reminded that often it’s better to get out than stay in. To chase adventure, see what we can see, to drink in this great, wide world.


I’m on night-watch, sitting in the gazebo on boys’ campus when a counselor comes by to pull me out and show me the night sky, the moon rising over the lake. So I don’t miss it. That’s what happens here. We help each other see everyday beauty. We make sure it gets noticed, doesn’t pass us by, that we experience it, together. He touches my shoulder and I recall that here, contact, connection is commonplace. And just like that, I no longer feel too old or too cold to be sitting in the middle of boys’ campus on a Wednesday night deep in August. No, I don’t mind at all.


There is something about the finiteness of this world within a world. This togetherness. This here and now. This feeling that everything outside this place can wait. That this is all there is. This is everything.

We watch the rain fall and puddle-jump in the fading light.

We read bedtime stories on a rain-soaked porch in the warm glow of a single lamp, interrupted only by a couple passersby I’ve known for life.

We whisper after dark and gently shut screen doors while neighbors slumber.

We wake to the musty smell of the dark wood paneled bunk in the early morning hours before the boys stir.

We shake spiders off our towels before use.

We laugh harder; smile deeper.

We of dusty calves and dirty feet, tangled hair and fresh, natural faces.

We who know the price, the power, the privilege of being here.

Even in the hardest moments of these longest days, I will miss it here, I think. I will miss this.

We attend the end-of-camp event—the same slide show, but featuring new faces, the same songs, but sung by young voices…I watch as the oldest campers live out their last carefree days, teetering atop that roller coaster of time before they descend into the abyss of adulthood. I recall the empty sadness, the wistful finality of that transition.

Another summer ends, and I’m overcome by the weight, the power of all that’s come before, of tradition, of change, of the hold this place has over me. Sometimes the nostalgia is almost too great to bear.

We have moved on; yet it remains. There’s comfort in the familiarity; curiosity in the difference. Nothing stays the same. Nor should it. It’s another time, another’s turn.

I scoop my sleepy children off the dusty ground and we walk out into the night, the echo of “Taps” at our backs.

This is camp. This is life. This is home.


This is the first of a series of posts about my time working at my alma mater overnight camp with my three young sons for five weeks this summer.

25 thoughts on “This Is Camp.

  1. I love this. Love, love, love. What a gift for them, well, for all of you, but to experience something like that. xox

    1. Thank you, as always…it was quite a magical experience. I’m still processing it all, and will be for a while. I loved jotting down snippets and snapshots of our time throughout the summer & using writing as a way to sift through and savor the memories…looking forward to the return of your words, as well! xoxo

  2. lauren says:

    This is so beautiful Dina. I have loved reading your posts, but this is my favorite so far! You really capture it – thank you!

    1. Thank you so much! It may be mine too 😉

  3. Sign me up !! Great piece..stirred up lots memories!

  4. Adina says:

    I don’t know you, but this was beautiful! I remember how much we craved “civilization” while we were at camp. You know, good coffee, privacy, dry clothes, TV….What were we thinking? What I wouldn’t give in this crazy time to go back to that comforting cocoon!

    1. Absolutely! Well said. (And thank you!)

  5. Jan Cohen says:

    Dina – and I remember you way back when….as a camper with my daughter, Shira. keep the beautiful words coming..regards to your family.

    1. Thank you so much! Of course I remember being bunkmates with Shira…many moons ago. Please send her my love. Thanks again for reading & reaching out! All the best to you & your family.

  6. omnimom says:

    Ah, such beauty. I’ve been thinking about you a lot this summer, what an adventure you are on, what bravery it must have taken to choose it with three small children in tow. Do you know how you can be inspired by people, even when they are doing something you know you wouldn’t do yourself? That’s how I feel, reading this.

    1. You are too kind! This is one of the nicest things you could say. It was indeed an adventure, and I felt an exhausting, fulfilling sense of accomplishment about it all. To think that our experience inspired anyone–especially an expat with four kids (including twins!)–is incredibly touching. I look forward to catching up with you…thank you, as always, for reading, dear friend.

  7. Naomi Hattaway says:

    Dina, this is absolutely stunning and breathtaking … I often wish that I had been better about writing when our littles were smaller, capturing the moments with spiders and rain-soaked hair and … (just beautifully penned!)

    1. Thank you so much, Naomi! Your kind words mean a lot to me…

  8. Marc says:

    “I’m moved to tears by the sheer power of the collective voices, by children who are purely happy—to be here, to be themselves, to be together, to feel so safe and carefree as to shed any insecurities and join with one another in song.”

    Exactly right. The power of camp in a nutshell. Love it!


    1. Yes, yes. That’s how it felt in the moment. And you would know! 🙂

  9. Debra says:

    I’m just back to civilization myself–I loved reading this, and how you captured that easy blurring of distant voices with your cocooned time there. The pictures are wonderful, too.

    1. Thank you so much, Debra. That means a lot coming from you. And welcome back…

  10. You paint a picture that comes through with textures and colors that I swear leave me feeling the cool, damp air on my skin.

    1. Thank you…just thank you. This means so much.

  11. SGoldfarb says:

    Absolutely loved this, Dina! My husband and I worked one summer at overnight camp after we were married (before kids) and it was chock full of adult-sized memories I could never forget – could only dream of doing it again, some day, with my little ones in tow! How lucky for you – and lucky for us that you shared so vividly!

    1. Thank you so much, Sara! I’ll have to hear more about your camp experience as an adult…it’s a wild perspective, no?

  12. Nina Badzin says:

    “Are we in the world now?” That sort of says it all.

    1. I really should let my five-year-old write this blog 😉 Thank you for reading, Nina…xoxo

  13. Lara says:

    How did I miss this one? Oh, Dina, your words are splendid. I love the “snapshot” feel of this, snatching moments as keepsakes to tuck away before time carries them off. I can’t wait to read more. xLara

    1. Oh…your comments always fill me up, and make me feel like someone out there “gets” it…thank you, always, for reading, dear friend. xo

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