Study Guide

Heaven's Big Stick Summer Camp Counselor Training School

Just as the country began creating national parks and people started sending their kids away to cabins in the woods for the summer, famous outdoorsmen started the Heaven's Big Stick Summer Camps, and counselors went through a vigorous training: specifically, they were instructed on how to write about nature and what children should experience when afoot in nature.

John Muir

The original name for the camp was Heaven's Summer Camp. John Muir was the founding member and insisted that all counselors grow luscious beards. He shipped in a giant organ to the counselor training camp and played hymns to the trees. He also told the counselors to tell children that God's profile can be found in every ridgeline—in every waterfall they would find God's beard. When the children were to write about nature, it should be with reverence; they should use as many biblical metaphors as they could think of. And they should never write about cattle, ever.

John Muir hated cattle.

Theodore Roosevelt

Teddy took over after Muir's retirement and turned up the macho factor by renaming the camp Heaven's Big Stick Summer Camp. Ted the Prez told the counselors that American manhood depended on the ability to explore and conquer the wildness of the frontier. First things first: find the big stick. Without the stick, there is no wilderness.

In Teddy's view, nature writing should be about men and how they tame that wilderness. Stories should center around the adventures of brave men as they explore the newest and most dangerous spots on the globe.

Aldo Leopold

Roosevelt loved the work Aldo did to conserve vast wild lands in New Mexico, so he chose him to take over the Camp Counselor School. Roosevelt wanted Aldo to emphasize the importance of preserving land for big game hunting.

Now, Leopold himself hunted wolves and other predators to "manage" deer and elk populations, but one day, as he held a pregnant wolf in his arms and watched the "green fire" go out in her eyes as she died, Leopold felt something change. He decided that nature writing should talk about the land and animals differently. There should be no more talk of God in everything, or macho big-stick-carrying white guys trying to impress their rich friends. Literature about nature had to include the points of view that come from mountains and river and wolves and ants and everything non-human.

Leopold broke away from Heaven's Big Stick and started his own camp for kids interested in writing about the natural world.