across a startled young fox in the woods; eat until we're as bloated as the greedy, ever-present ducks; soak in our big outdoor hot tub; and watch a bad movie starring Emilio Estevez on our VCR. We don't get the chance to hike the South Rim Trail, take an early-morning bird walk, or gather ingredients for wilderness teas. I also never find the time to read Boldness Be My Friend.
And, as Charlie wistfully reminds me on our last night as we walk to the cabin of a family from Eau Claire, Wisconsin, who have invited us over, we haven't seen a moose. "Next time," I find myself saying, and the answer seems to satisfy him.
Inside the cabin, the children immediately decide they're going to put on a show for the adults. While they plan and rehearse, the adults sit around the living room, with its own touching assortment of books—I catch sight of The Hidden Staircase, a Nancy Drew mystery—eating microwaved popcorn and listening to classical music. I'll probably never see these people again, I think as I drink a glass of the good Chardonnay our hosts have lugged with them in their van. After a while, the adult calm is interrupted by the children, who burst into the room declaring that their show is ready. But then there are arguments about who's going to be the announcer, and eventually it's clear that there won't be a show after all. It's very late, and my family has to get up at dawn, when Harriet will arrive with her van and her silent elderly mother in the back seat. We say our good-nights, and the older kids exchange E-mail addresses.
On the way back to our cabin we stop by the lake. As the kids play one last time on the tire swing, the ducks peck around for stray seeds, and Canada appears as a vague, spread-out shadow in the distance. Under the scatter of stars, I'm reminded again of summer camp, and of missing my family even as I was thrilled by the new surroundings. Though my family is with me now, I get that oddly familiar sentimental feeling. It occurs to me that what I thought of as homesickness all those years ago might have been something else entirely: a sense of awe.
143 South Gunflint Lake, Grand Marais, Minn.; 800/328-3325 or 218/388-2296; cabins for two from $165 ($47 for each additional person), including breakfast.
Meg Wolitzer's latest novel, Surrender, Dorothy, is out this April from Scribner.
More Camps for the Family
Strathcona Park Lodge and Outdoor Education Centre Campbell River, British Columbia; 250/286-3122; family of four, $315 a night.
This gorgeous resort on Vancouver Island focuses on both alpine and ocean adventures. Accommodations are in a 12-room log- and timber-framed chalet or in one of eight waterfront cabins. On the activity sheet: canoeing, kayaking, rock climbing, and hiking.
Orcas Landing, Orcas Island, Wash.; 800/956-6722 or 360/376-6720; 3-night package, $585 per adult, $429 per child.
Guests at the Island Institute, 45 minutes by seaplane from Seattle, study the marine ecology and wildlife of the San Juan archipelago. Families stay on the waterfront in the 12-room, turn-of-the-century Orcas Hotel and eat meals on its wraparound porch. Days are spent watching whales and seals, kayaking, and taking in the views from Mount Constitution.
8205 Glen Haven Rd., Soquel, Calif.; 408/479-6714; four-night package, $395 per adult, $235 per child ages 35, $298 ages 612.
A California sleep-away camp, 80 miles south of San Francisco, Kennolyn opens its doors to families on Labor Day weekend. Parents and children bunk in log cabins or in more rustic cabins without bathrooms, and take part in camp recreation: swimming lessons, Western-style trail riding, riflery, arts and crafts, and fireside sing-alongs.
Great Camp Sagamore
Sagamore Rd., Raquette Lake, N.Y.; 315/354-5311; Family Week package, $525 per adult, $290 per child; Grands package, $675 per adult, $390 per child.
Former summer retreat of Alfred Vanderbilt and family, this classic Adirondacks camp is open for tours and residential programs. Guests stay in cabins and three century-old lodges. (Warning: Only three rooms have private baths; most accommodations are simple but pleasingly old-fashioned.) Summer Family Weeks (July 2530 and Aug. 1520) are devoted to games of capture-the-flag and croquet, arts and crafts, and outings to Sagamore Lake. Grands (July 1116 and 1823), a similar program, is for grandparents and grandchildren only.