“Where do you get your ideas?” is an understandable but impossible-to-answer question for authors. But “Nuns at Scout camp” will be one of my answers someday.

I’m often asked where I get my ideas for books, which is an understandable but impossible question to answer.

There is no well of ideas. There is no secret formula. There is no one answer to that question, as much as fledgling writers seem to want there to be.

Simply put, I hear something. I read something. I see something. The flicker of an idea is born.

Something Missing was born from a conversation with a friend over dinner about a missing earring.

Unexpectedly, Milo began with a memory from my fourth grade classroom.

Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend was born from a conversation with a friend and colleague while monitoring students at recess.

My upcoming novel, The Perfect Comeback of Caroline Jacobs, originated with a story that my wife told me about her childhood just before falling asleep.

My unpublished novel, Chicken Shack, began with a dare.

All of these are simplifications of the actual origins of these novels. There are more complex stories behind the origin of each book. In all cases, additional ideas were grafted onto the original idea to create a more complex story.

But in terms of the initial spark, that was how each story began.

Which leads me to this poster, which is displayed in the Yawgoog Heritage Museum at Yawgoog Scout Reservation, the camp where I spent many of my boyhood summers.

I suspect that someday in the future, this poster will be added to the list of initial sparks for one of my novels.

A nun’s day at a Scout camp? How could this not be the basis for a novel?


The boys at the Big Swim Meet had no idea how fleeting boyhood is. Once gone, you will long for it forever.

This bit of newspaper was printed circa 1930. It describes the “Big Swimming Meet” at Yawgoog Scout Reservation, the same place where I would spend my summers half a century later.


As a boy, I also participated in swimming meets as the paper describes. Every Saturday afternoon, troops would gather at the waterfront to compete against each other in events not unlike the ones described in this clipping.

Like the boys who finished last in the competition so long ago, I also camped at Tuocs for a time.

Amongst the many events in which I competed was The Marathon Swim. One Scout from each troop competed in a sprint through water and over floating docks. It was the final event of every swim meet, and the honor of competing was given to the troop’s strongest swimmer. I won the event three years in a row and was awarded a “Mr. Marathon Swim” certificate from my grizzled Scoutmaster that I still have this day. It’s a small, handwritten, fairly generic certificate, but at the time, it meant a great deal to me.

Good times. Sadly, good times now lost forever.

I look at a newspaper clipping like this, and photos like these, taken at Yawgoog in the 1960s, and think about all of these boys, now old men if they’re lucky and dead if they’re not, and feel a deep sadness for all that has been lost.

image image

For all that they have lost. For all that I have lost.

Old photographs like these remind me of the inexorable grinding away of our lives by the specter of time. I see the smiling faces of boys in this singular moment of their lives, with the unadulterated joy of boyhood mixing with the promise of so many summers ahead, and I think about how fleeting boyhood truly is.

It’s one of the most special times in a boy’s life, and it’s over in the wink of an eye.

For the boys of Tuocs, Frontier and Musketeer campsites, that Big Swimming Meet was everything to them on that day. It was a moment that many thought would never be forgotten. It was simplicity, comradery, competition, and laughter. It was a time before the demands of life, the pressures of romantic love, the weight of regret, and the sadness of loss began chipping away at their innocent spirits.

Yawgoog was a blessing for me and so many boys because it removed us from the real world for a short time and brought us back to simpler days. No homework. No part time job.  No parents. No girls.

Just wind and water, dirt and stone, and boyhood friends, living amongst the trees and clouds in a quiet, enduring peace.

Those boyhood days are so fleeting.

I find myself wanting to reach into the photograph, reach back through time to the boys at the Big Swimming Meet, and warn them of how quickly adulthood will seize them by the throats and thrust new pressures and responsibilities upon them. I want to tell them to breathe in the air, squint into the sunshine, dip their toes into the pond water, and mark their moment in the sun in some way that will make it last forever. For them and for us who will follow. 

I want to tell them to remember. Remember hard. I want to tell them that there will be days, long after the Big Swimming Meet is finished and their time at Yawgoog has come to an end, when they will long for that happiness and simplicity again, if only for a day.

A place where time (and boys) stand still

I visited my former Boy Scout camp, Yawgoog Scout Reservation, last week with two friends from childhood who love the place as much as me. 


Danny and I visited camp together last year, and a few years ago, before the birth of my first child, I took my wife to Yawgoog for a day so she could see the place that still holds so much of my heart.

This yearly visit has become a bit of a tradition. We hope to bring even more former boyhood friends with us next year.

Danny’s son is spending his first week at Yawgoog, and Dave brought his three boys to show them the place where so many of our childhood memories were made.

The best thing about Yawgoog is how little changes. Almost twenty-five years since I last spent my last summer day at camp as a boy, it is nearly identical today. The trading posts take credit cards now, the challenge course has added more high wire, they’ve added paddle boards and shotgun shooting to the endless array of activities for Scouts to choose, but the camp is essentially unchanged. 

While standing on the edge of Yawgoog Pond, on the edge of our old campsite, Dave said that he could still see our old friend, Jeff Durand, standing on the last of the an assemblage of rocks jutting into the pond, fishing pole in hand.

He’s right. The rocks are the same. The pond is the same. The sounds and smells are the same. And yes, I, too, could see Jeff standing there, balanced on a glacial stone, casting and reeling, casting and reeling,

image image

As we walked and talked, we recalled many fond memories from camp. Dave recalled my frequent hunger strikes and the battles with a troop from Long Island. We talked about the inordinate amount of time that Danny spent at the rifle range. We laughed about my continued hatred for the craft center. We crossed the field where our troop had won many a tug-o-war contest.

The only real thing that’s changes in twenty-five years is us, though even when I look at this photograph, taken at the end of the day, I can still the young, wide-eyed boys hiding behind the faces of these men.


If given the chance, we would spend another week at camp in a heartbeat. Yawgoog is a bittersweet reminder of the joys of boyhood and how much it is missed.

A World War II video went viral last week. It featured the citizen’s of Warsaw, Poland and their yearly tradition of coming to a complete stop for one minute every year in honor of the Warsaw Uprising, an attempt to liberate the capital from Nazi Germany in 1944.

While not as large-scale as this Warsaw’s tradition, a bell is rung at noon every day at Yawgoog in honor of Scouts who have lost their lives in service to their country. As the bell rings out twelve times to mark the hour, every person in camp comes to an immediate halt and stands in silence.

It’s a remarkable thing. It rang while we were walking down to our former campsite. Even though twenty-five years had passed since we had heard that bell ring, all three of us came to a stop instantly, our childhood programming still running just fine.

Whether they are under the supervision of adults, paddling a canoe in the middle of the pond or hiking alone in the woods, every boy at camp without exception stops until the bell is finished ringing.

I remember being engaged in a massive water bucket fight one year with members of my troop. When the bell began ringing, hostilities ceased for the thirty seconds it takes to ring the bell. Boys armed with water buckets, poised to drench their friends, frozen in place until the twelfth and final ring.

Yawgoog is a special place indeed.