Tag Archives: book review

Beyond Our Wildest Dreams?

21 Mar

I’ve just finished reading “Beyond Our Wildest Dreams” by Susan and Kenneth Webb (so says the cover anyways, it reads like it was all written by Susan).  It promises “the story of the Farm and Wilderness camps” and it’s a memoir written for the 50th anniversary of said camps (which was in 1989 – the year before I started going).  It really made me wish there were a longer and more in-depth history of the place in some form.  There was a lot in it that I didn’t know – details about the Catamount bell that keeps time for Timberlake, or the origin of Flying Cloud – but it wasn’t written to be a history.

My overall impression from the writing is that Ken and Susan had this vision of a camp that was the absolute perfect vision for the time and place so it was impossible for them to not succeed.  There were so many points in the story where they were both sure they were thwarted only to have some miracle swoop in and rescue them (and the camps), it’s almost a thriller of a novel.  It’s also an indication that they held the correct truth for the land where Farm and Wilderness now exists.  Everywhere they went to talk about their vision, or their camp (and later, multiple camps) the response was always a profound relief and appreciation.  It makes me miss them, and I never knew them.

They had such a powerful compassion for their vision and such strong convictions for how things ought to be that things had no choice but to become that way.  Reading the memoir makes me both miss camp powerfully and be sad again at how far from Ken and Susan’s vision they seem to have strayed.  Farm and Wilderness was never anti-anything, and it certainly never had to be “anti-racist.”  Farm and Wilderness lived and grew through the Civil Rights Movement and it was an unsung hero at the forefront of Civil Rights.  Ken and Susan ignored bomb threats to travel south and try to recruit campers.  They admitted their first african american camper after the camps were “full” and despite the fact that half of their paying clients were southerners and left them after they did so.  They had convictions and they stuck to them.  They believed in Quaker ideals, they believed the human body to be a miracle and “God’s greatest gift.”   If they had ever noticed a decline in the number of campers participating in suitless swimming they would have tried to figure out where they had gone wrong in teaching this.  They never apologized for these beliefs.  They never consented that they might be wrong about them.

They never allowed anyone to doubt them, because they were right.

 I’m also surprised to learn how strong (and due to whom) the connection between the contra dance world and Farm and Wilderness used to be.  It saddens me that the camps do not dance as much as they used to.  I learned to dance at camp and it’s possible I wouldn’t be in the community I am in now if I hadn’t.

The world is always changing, and businesses (and particularly businesses which educate children) have to be always changing as well, but some core truths remain the same.  They ought not to be compromised, and they ought to always be taught.

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