Nature illustrations

Dear Treetops Families,

This summer is asking a lot from all of us. The realities of the world right now are demanding from us the ability to be infinitely adaptable: to think different thoughts, to adjust to alternate normalities, to be open. It is a time to be creative in thought and in action. Through my time at Treetops, I have witnessed the unbridled creativity of children. It is more important now than ever to find inspiration in their unfailing ability to adapt. I worried about the campers and about how they would adjust to a summer without camp. Though I am sure there was indeed sadness and tears, what I suspect is that it was short-lived. Then creativity kicked in. No tent at Treetops this summer? No problem. Max and Bridget built one out of branches and scrap materials in the backyard. No barn chores? Rosie will care for her My Little Ponies with just about as much of a sense of pride and purpose. And if you can’t play mumblety peg with friends before lunch, Owen has created his own Treetops-opoly game to remind everyone of their favorite spots on campus. I think about this as I adapt to this summer that is so entirely different than the ones that came before.

Creativity comes in many forms at camp, even in the form of pizza. Years ago, an NCS alum, Dan Wing, built and delivered a wood-fired pizza oven. Since then, the oven is a place where community gathers — a special dinner for a tent group, a gardeners’ lunch for campers who have spent the past week harvesting before breakfast for the kitchens, a place to learn to make goat cheese and to toss pizza dough. But the real creativity comes with the toppings, and with the garden just steps away, that creativity can’t help but perfectly reflect the seasons. Campers gather basil and oregano for a kick of flavor, or delicate edible flowers for fun and color. Pizza toppings can be as eclectic as the group that comes together to prepare and eat it. Maybe fennel makes it on one, carrot tops on another. Maybe there is time for a sweet one at the end of the meal, with raspberries, mint, and a little drizzle of maple syrup.

Of course, creativity at Treetops doesn’t end at the pizza oven. In a typical summer, each day the Craft, Pot, and Wood shops are humming with imaginative and resourceful energy. Campers make tote bags from recycled tent canvas, design and build a new shelf for their tent, or make a pinch pot tea set with clay. Outside of the shops, this creative energy might have found a home with a Treetops original play in our new performing arts center (WallyPAC), or in the emergence of a new game with rules collaboratively dreamed up within an activity period. There is time to deeply explore a new craft and opportunities to just be silly with friends. The opportunities for self-expression at Treetops are abundant.

So much of our summers at camp are spent outside, immersed in the natural world. Children are given opportunities to explore woods, to dig in soil, and to learn how the wind moves across water and what that means when in a sailboat. Campers connect with nature unknowingly as they learn to identify trees in order to pick the best hot dog stick, or as they are woken up after the quiet bell to lie on their backs on the Lake Hill to watch the stars. Though there is certainly a place for more formal lessons about the outdoors and a time for carefully catching frogs to study them up close, there is real magic in the less structured time. Each summer, Treetops counselors seamlessly weave together a creative web of opportunities for authentic learning and caring about the land, animals, and plants that surround us.

Below you will find some things I have done to adapt to a summer without camp and to embrace the creativity I see in campers each summer. I hope it gives you some ideas for how your family might creatively adapt to your summer at home. Keep in touch — send photos or your own ideas of creating the Treetops experience at home. I’d love to hear from you.

Treetops at Home

Eat good food.

Recently, I made pizza to remind me of the seasons, of campers, and of my gratitude for a garden so close to my home. Here is a recipe for pizza dough and sauce. The toppings we will leave up to you. Get creative. The pizza in the photo is topped with dandelion greens and fiddleheads, because that is what we had on hand. We haven’t had wood-fired pizza yet this summer — it just doesn’t feel quite right without a community to share it with — but just a regular kitchen oven does the trick.


Make and do things. 

We hope you have received your Treetops care package by now. Within the package was a canvas square made from a retired old tent. As the description said, campers are encouraged to decorate this square with the fruit, vegetable, herb, or flower that best represents them. We will string all of the squares sent to us to hang in the garden. I made mine this week. I can’t wait for my flag to hang alongside the others that come back to us.

food art

Spend time with nature.

This spring, I was awed by the number of hummingbirds zipping around my porch. I put up hummingbird feeders and hung nasturtium baskets, and they are more and more active every day. Here is a recipe for hummingbird nectar that I have been making since the first sight of them this spring. What insects or animals have you noticed around your home? Are there any that you want to encourage? In previous summers, in the Children’s Garden and the Forest Garden, we’ve made toad homes, bird baths, bee sanctuaries, and bug hotels. We have bluebird houses hanging in the garden and bat houses in the woods. We have planted pollinator patches in the garden — and even on the roof of the garden shed! Could you use any of those ideas to encourage nature to come to you?


Karen Culpepper
Camp Director