Grace Goes to Summer Camp (with Alexander von Humboldt)

I’m having an orgy.

In the bathroom, I hang out with Alexander von Humboldt, of Humboldt Current fame, and he’s currently spending the summer with Kant, Goethe, Schiller, and I forget who else. They talk about Everything far into the night while Napoleon begins his twenty-year rampage of violence across the Europe. In another eighty pages or so, the intrepid explorer and I will climb Mount Chimborazo in Ecuador, and then we’ll pay a call on Thomas Jefferson.

Von Humboldt really, truly, did rub shoulders with all those luminaries, and impressed every one of them. By the year 1800, he’d predicted human-induced climate change. This guy was amazing, and you can read all about him in The Invention of Nature.

On the tread desk, I’m gorging on Empire of Guns, a frighteningly convincing look at how violence fueled the Industrial Revolution. We focus on all the inventions and the progress when learning about the Industrial Revolution, but change the perspective a bit, and ye gods, all the wars… the huge, expensive, deadly wars, and the technological advances they engendered. That book is going to take me a while.

Because war and politics aren’t exactly light fare, I’m also scarfing up In Search of Sir Thomas Browne–The Life and Afterlife of the Seventeenth Century’s Most Inquiring Mind. I’d never heard of this guy, but he invented the words electricity, hallucination, and suicide, to name a few among the hundreds of terms he introduced into English. Sir Thomas and I must become better acquainted. Where has he been all my life?

I know where Sir Thomas has been. He, like the expedition von Humboldt led up Mount Chimborazo, have been waiting for me to ditch the lawyer gig. They have been patiently holding their horses until I had the time and energy to wander in a bookstore for an hour–a whole hour!–picking up whatever I pleased to investigate and purchasing whatever I chose to read.

I write books. I know how wonderful they are, but I’d forgotten what it’s like to have the time to read as I pleased, not only as I should. I’m still browsing a couple of writing craft books, I still need some historical mystery to fall asleep to, but to have good books weaving themselves into my whole day is the best summer camp ever.

What would your best summer camp ever look like? To one commenter, I’ll send a $50 Barnes and Noble gift card.



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16 comments on “Grace Goes to Summer Camp (with Alexander von Humboldt)

  1. I loved to go to Choir Camp as a kid. We sang together, had sectionals, ate all sorts of salty camp food–*bug juice* too–and then sang concerts. It was my idea of heaven.

    As an adult, I also went to *choir camp* but this time, in addition to singing together and giving concerts, we had lectures and workshops and conducting lessons. The unifying theme, between my childhood and adulthood, in my Dream Summer Camp is singing together and then giving concerts.

    I want to sing together, eat (and complain about) camp food and give concerts. I want to talk to people about music and how it makes us feel. I want to work with composers and singers and learn something new to make me smile. I want comradery.

    I’ve done it before but I don’t often have time to always do it. I need to do it more often. I think I would be happier.

  2. It seems Grace that the leash has been taken off of you and that you are racing around the park enjoying the freedom of having time and abandonment to choose a varied selection of reading material.I have got to admit the three books you describe I would find a bit overwhelming and a challenge.Being an author and clever I suspect you find many books to enjoy and stimulate your hungry mind.May you continue to enjoy them all.I am looking forward to meeting Casriel soon.I wish your forth coming trips to New Zealand Australia go well and exceed your expectations.A busy lady indeed.

  3. My best summer camp would be hiking in the morning, then reading by the water all afternoon. With virtually no one around me ( a minimally attended summer camp?)
    Glad you’re getting the chance to refresh your soul, Grace!

  4. First of all, I’d lose about 40 years (I’m almost 74 now). A nice horseback ride in the morning. I’ve only been on a horse 3 times in my entire life, but I loved every minute of it. Afternoon would be spent by a shady swimming hole with a good book nearby. Evening spent just talking and interacting with friends by a campfire of course. (Sigh)

  5. My best summer camp would be in a verdant lake setting, with dappled sunshine, and NO humidity! Just warm days in a hammock, or cool nights on a green in porch reading books and group book discussions. Listening to audio versions of books on a vigorous morning hike around the lake and a group book discussion. As you can tell I love to read and share my thought, impressions, and perspective of what I have read, and hear the same from others. Maybe a craft sessions thrown in so I could contemplate the books I have a read while creating something tangible to take away from my summer experience–like collage of all the book I have read or listened to.

    I too have rediscovered the pleasure of always having my nose in a book. For the last year and a half (since I signed up with Bookbub) I have been reading whenever I find free time, and am loving it! So, my idea of summer camp would be endless books by my favorite authors.

    You tell a great story Ms. Burrowes–thanks for sharing them!

  6. My fantasy camp would be catered healthy eating next to a swimming hole complete with rope swing out over the deep end. A few months with nothing to do except read through my entire TBR pile (currently 2 small bookshelves + overflow), eat good fresh veggies & local fruit, then fall asleep listening to my entire music library with no commercials interrupting. No news, no internet, no TV (just got rid of mine & the peace is wonderful) & loads of good paper and my fountain pens with all the ink I’ve wanted to try for all the inspiration this would release. I think a hammock, cool breezes, and a herd of cats should be included + a semi-retired horsie willing to trudge about the place on hackamore & bareback with a lumpy reader perched on board with book in hand and perhaps a cat on rump.

  7. Ahhh, the best summer camp EVER: Gorgeous mountain lake views; no insects; the typical boating, picnicking, campfires with ‘smores, relaxing in hammocks; AND the best reading room ever – comfortable & stocked with the books from my favorite authors that I haven’t had the opportunity to read yet!

    Suggestion for a great historical mystery – The Dark Before Dawn by Jaima Fixsen. She’s currently working on book two in this series, and I CANNOT WAIT to get my hands on that ARC! 🙂

  8. Summer camp?
    I would stay at a B and B in the White Mountains. I would relax- go on a walk each morning, take the cog railway trip, visit the flumes and sightsee. Would read several books on my to read pile and turn off social media.
    Week #2
    I would spend time with my family- husband daughter mom & brother.
    Take the dogs for several beach walks and take a fun nosework or tracking class with them. I would dust off a favorite cookbook and bake to my hearts content.

    I am learning that it’s ok to take time for yourself. Take a break. Camp would give me a chance to do that. 🙂

  9. I am so looking forward to retirement, but it is at least 3 years ago, if I am lucky enough to keep my job that long – life is uncertain and while I am grateful, 38 years is a long time to do the same thing.

    I can’t imagine a summer of leisure and choice – oh, that word – choice! My best summer camp would be one where I made the choice each day of what I wanted to do. Naturally it would include reading, no housework, no mosquitoes, and having someone else prepare and clean up after meals. Heaven! And if there were other readers around to talk to, and perhaps a shaded, clear running stream with ferns growing on the banks to hunt fossils in, that wouldn’t hurt either.

  10. The best summer camp for me would have: Hiking in the morning – when it is cooler but not too early. Relaxing afternoons by or in the pool with lots of books and cool drinks. Lots of good food all day long and cats and dogs to play with and cuddle. Alternatively,hikes along the beach in the morning and afternoons on the sand with the reading and lots of cool drinks. Good food and cats and dogs to cuddle regardless of location.

  11. I went to Girl Scout day camp for several years and once to Girl Scout sleep-away camp. My perfect camp experience would include:
    – air conditioned cottage (for those humid summer nights) – right on the lake , with a big porch for reading, adirondack chairs under the trees for reading, hammocks hung between the trees for reading (that’s the theme of my camp – lotsa books).
    – yummy food
    – sunny days for taking a cool swim in the lake

  12. Maybe a silent retreat would be my best camp. Glorious quiet, walks, nourishing food, quiet, books, beautiful nature views of some sort, meditation, and quiet. I’d miss my husband and kids (they wouldn’t be with me because of the quiet requirement) so I would only stay a week.

  13. This took some thought.

    I would have a designated rabbit hole to research, all the passwords and access I needed, and nourishing food brought at regular intervals. A silent amanuesis would be nice to ensure that vital scribbles were not round filed, used as fire starter or simply misfiled.

    Then someone to bounce everything off who said something besides, “Wife, go to sleep,” would be wonderful, even if he is right.

  14. Your ideal camp sounds a lot like mine! I’ve just read your blog after sifting through countless unread emails, in the course of which I’ve found about ten books to add to my TBR mountains (and that’s just in the last hour)! So many books; so little time. I’m not yet retired, but as a teacher I have some time off during the summer. Now I see the page of the calendar about to turn, and I’m filled with panic: still so much to do! So many books unopened! Yikes! Thanks for your interesting piece – now I have to go look up more on Sir Thomas Browne:)

  15. My best Summer Camp would be going back to Scotland and go back to Dunnothar Castle and sit outside with a really good novel and just read for a while! Just to enjoy it. Not caring if I have to leave and see more of Scotland because I don’t live there. Just to enjoy the moment…