By Alex Mulcahy
My pockets are empty. I am free. I have, at least briefly, escaped modern life.
It wasn’t easy. I’m on vacation, writing you from Camp Common Ground in Vermont.
It’s a 400-mile trip, an especially long one when made with a 6-year-old and a 3-year-old. There are stops at gas stations, where my children pluck one bag of junk food after another and present them to me in the hopes that I will approve, which I do not. But I compromise and buy a pack of gum.
We stop to get my wife a sun hat. “This is a mall,” I tell our 6-year-old, as I realize that he hasn’t been in one since he was 2. But he quickly acclimates and asks for a stuffed Pikachu doll and a stained-glass butterfly. When his requests are again denied, he says he won’t leave the mall unless he gets one of them. He’ll be a good negotiator one day.
I know that if we can navigate the long roads festooned with billboards suggesting that I’m thirsty; hungry; in need of diamonds, whiskey, a nip-tuck surgery or tickets to see Herman’s Hermits, some true freedom awaits.
A little about the camp. The food—all vegetarian, all delicious—is prepared by kitchen staff, and it is served buffet style three times a day. In the morning, parents drop off their kids at Kidville, where youngsters are offered a wide range of activities, including art projects with homemade Play-Doh and nature walks with blueberry picking along the way. Adults can learn how to play the ukulele or take an improv class or, with the help of an artisan, make a glass pendant. There are so many great choices, but I spend the majority of my time playing tennis, trying after a 51-week layoff to remember what lessons I learned last year. Then I take a yoga class.
On the campus, there’s one place where you can get Wi-Fi, but my cell phone doesn’t work anywhere. The cabin where we stay is only for sleeping. There is no water or electricity, and there is no lock on the door.
Okay, they do have a gift shop of sorts. For one hour twice a week, a makeshift camp store sets up in the library to sell T-shirts, chocolate and essential goods. Except for those 120 minutes, your money is no good here. Phone, wallet and keys have been rendered unnecessary.
In this month’s issue, we have two stories wrestling with societal crises. Dan LaSalle is hoping to break the cycle of poverty by teaching high school students financial literacy. In universities, higher education is looking at the UN’s sustainable development goals for guidance as the next generation tries to solve a crisis that no longer looms but unfolds in real time before our eyes.
These are noble pursuits because we need to “start where we are” as a society to make change. Attempting to shift a paradigm requires time-intensive work and discipline.
Yet, perhaps because I am immersed in this carefree (and car-free) getaway, I think the sustainable future involves imagination. How about a society that is centered around the well-being of our bodies, minds and souls, where we eat and live intentionally and communally? I realize that I’m blissed out on vacation, that other people are preparing my food, that what I’m experiencing isn’t a model that we can immediately implement on a national scale. But I do believe that Camp Common Ground provides a blueprint for a powered-down future where community, exercise, creativity and good health are shared goals. Now that I have felt it, I want the freedom of empty pockets.