On the first day of summer, 10-year-old Drew Walters experienced the outdoors in a way he never had before. He plucked blackberries from a bush, tried to spear a fish in a pond and slept under the stars.
Drew and 13 other youngsters spent 2 1/2 days last week at the Primitive Technology Camp at Bear Branch Nature Center near Winchester. By the second day, they all had sunburned noses and scrapes on their arms and legs.
They hiked, camouflaged themselves in the woods, played Native American games, tried to make fire without matches, roasted marshmallows and agreed that they had a great time.
Heather Davis, the naturalist at Bear Branch, and another naturalist designed the camp to introduce children ages 10 to 15 to the ways primitive peoples lived.
"And to have fun outside," Ms. Davis said. "To get them out of TV, to use their muscles and their minds."
Drew, who lives in Westminster, said he probably would have been "sitting at home and watching TV" if he hadn't come to the camp.
Anna Hill, 15, of Westminster, who attended with her 12-year-old brother, Patrick, said she enjoyed the outdoors even though "the bugs are so annoying."
There weren't many bugs compared with last year, when the camp was held in August, Ms. Davis said. Even so, she was especially vigilant about ticks. Whenever campers spotted ticks clinging to their legs, she pried the arachnids out and pounded them with a hammer.
Ticks can spread Lyme disease.
Ms. Davis and Brad Rogers, a naturalist from Hodges, Ala., who is a former volunteer at Hashawha Environmental Center in Carroll County, led the youngsters through the many activities. Their base was a campsite at a secluded spot one mile into the woods on a ridge overlooking Big Pipe Creek.
The campers did not bring tents and, luckily, it didn't rain. Each camper fashioned a shelter out of sticks and leaves. Nobody slept much the first night.
"Last night I pretended I was in my own bed," Drew said Wednesday morning.
Several campers feared sleeping outside because of bugs, Ms. Davis said.
"One kid couldn't walk anywhere without carrying his Off can," she said.
When the children weren't learning survival techniques, they took time out to play games.
One morning, they engaged in a game played by Native American children to test their ability to detect the slightest sound and their skill at sneaking up on someone.
They stood in a circle with one youngster blindfolded and seated in the middle. One by one, they took turns creeping into the circle and tried to tag the person in the middle without being heard. Some did it easily, tiptoeing in silently. Others were detected when a stick snapped or a leaf crackled underfoot.
The children also practiced hiding in the woods.
At certain times during a hike, Mr. Rogers would yell "Camouflage!" and count to 10 as the youngsters scrambled to disappear behind trees or under bushes.
Willie McIver, 12, of Finksburg was especially good at the game because he wore a green military camouflage outfit with leaves stuck in his hat and front pockets.
During one exercise, he lay in a clump of plants and bushes and didn't move, he proudly reported, even when bugs flew up his nose.
Willie said he wants to join the Marines after he graduates from high school. He said he found the camp fun and challenging.
The Primitive Technology Camp has been popular, said Ms. Davis, who is considering expanding it next year to offer events for younger children and adults.
"There's so much to do," Anna Hill said. "You can just kind of forget everything."