Winter Camping
Saturday, November 17, 2001
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(GK: Garrison Keillor; TK: Tom Keith; SS: Sue Scott: TR: Tim Russell: Student: Student actors)

GK: Let me talk to you parents for just a moment about your child --- and how you can insure your child's success in college. Many parents think---

TR: Hey. It's up to you, kid. Sink or swim, baby. Don't look to me for help. It's your problem.

GK: And that's just plain wrong. (EARNEST EMPATHETIC MUSIC) The truth is that good parenting is the key, and that there seems to be a direct relationship between academic success and winter camping. Let's hear from some real-life students.

Student: My name is Maria Elena Christopherson and I was a physics major at St. Olaf --- for about two months, until I realized I didn't have what it takes. I dropped out and became a housekeeper at the Four Leaf Clover Motel and a bass player in a band called The Naked Eskimos. And then, thank goodness, my parents intervened and took me camping in the Boundary Waters. It was February and the experience made me realize how much they loved me. I'm at the Yale Divinity School now and my book, Promising To Care for Your Dreams, is the December selection for Oprah's Book Club. Thanks, Mom and Dad.

GK: Yes, winter camping. (BLIZZARD, WOLVES) It strengthens the family bond and gives young men and women a real sense of self-worth.

Student: My name is Yves St. Laurent Ylvisaker. My junior year at St. Olaf, my grades suddenly went in the toilet. I wasn't bathing or doing laundry, and I was living in a dumpster behind the chapel and I dyed my hair orange and got a humongous tattoo of snakes and dragons across my shoulders. Why? Because my mom and dad never did stuff with me. We never really bonded. They come visit me here at the correctional institution but somehow I can't help feeling that a winter camping trip might have changed things.

GK: Professional psychologist Dr. Judith Flexner----

SS: This is Dr. Judith Flexner. Yves is so right. Parents can make or break their kids academically and there's not one iota of doubt about that. In studies of thousands of young people who went off the tracks and fell into lives of shame and degradation, the one clear determining factor is parenting. So many parents say, "What can I do?" And the statistics are clear. The one best way to guarantee your child's success in college is to take him or her camping. In the winter.

GK: Professional explorer and outdoorsman Oscar Lundberg. (TR SWEDISH) A few days in a tent on the Gunflint Trail in January and your son or daughter will come back a whole new person.

Student: I came to St. Olaf planning to be pre-med and --- I just plain couldn't hack it. After three weeks, I dropped out of school and got a job putting price stickers on cans in a Seven-Eleven I begged my parents to take me camping in the Yukon --- I left dozens of messages on their machine, but they were busy on their Caribbean cruise, and by the time they returned I was married --- to a Catholic --- and living in a trailer park and had an eating disorder.

GK: Winter camping could have changed that, I'm sure. All it takes is a little dedication, a Coleman stove, thermal underwear, some basic survival skills such as the ability to catch and kill and cook small rodents.

TR: Uh---- would it have the same beneficial effect if, say, we were to send our kid on the camping trip by himself?

GK: No, it wouldn't.

TR: Oh. I was thinking maybe it would.

GK: You were wrong. Winter camping. (BLIZZARD, WOLVES) It's the single most effective tool that a parent has.

SS: How about if we took our daughter camping and we had supper with her and everything and then we spent the night at a nearby motel?

GK: It would defeat the purpose.

SS: You don't think it'd be almost the same thing as----

GK: It'd be a meaningless gesture.

SS: What if we slept in the tent with her but we went to a gas station if we had to go No. 2.

GK: Using a gas station would only cheapen the experience. There is no shortcut. Winter camping means winter camping.

Student: My name is Marc Antoine Anderson. I went to St. Olaf and midway through my sophomore year, things started to unravel. I was flunking out and about to start sniffing adhesives, when, thank goodness, my mom and dad intervened. They got out the sleeping bags and the three of us drove up to northern Ontario and camped beside a frozen lake for five days and five nights, living off bark and moss and chickadees, and when I came back I was a whole different person. I started getting straight A's and I was admitted to Harvard and now I'm the founder and CEO of a start-up company that posted third-quarter profits of a hundred-fifty million and I'm happily married to an actress and model who's my best friend in the world and we have three terrific kids and this winter I'm taking them camping in the Yukon.

GK: Winter Camping: it's the one best thing you can do for your child. (BLIZZARD, WOLVES) A message from the YWCA. The Yukon Winter Camping Association. (MUSIC BUTTON)

© Garrison Keillor 2001

Old Sweet Songs: A Prairie Home Companion 1974-1976

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