Week 6 Letter, 2015
This is our last Friday letter. Today is the last day of camp, although some of you are signed up for our next two-week Farm & Garden Days program beginning Monday.
Last Saturday we had our 30-year Nature Place Day Camp anniversary celebration. We invited counselors, at least all of those we could contact, from the last 30 years. Over 200 people showed up and laughed, cried, caught up with each other, hugged and loved! What a connection they all had, even if they didn’t work at camp at the same time.
One man who was a counselor for the first three years said the campus may have changed physically but the ‘feeling’ of The Nature Place has remained the same, that feeling being one of caring for children and for each other; fun; acceptance; joy; creativity; gratitude; the natural world recognized as one we have evolved with and of which we are a part.
When the former counselors and activity leaders indicated to us if they were going to attend this celebration, we left space to add any comments if they so desired, and many did. These comments are contained in a small, beautiful pamphlet called ‘Along the Way – Staff Ponderings & Meanderings Over 30 Years’. Here are some:
“All I can say is that this camp has made me who I am today, more so than any other experience I have had.”
“The care and commitment that characterizes everything you do is palpably evident from the first day of staff training through the farewell at summer’s end. Then, between that final day and the following camp season, you start all over again, with no loss of heart or enthusiasm. Here’s to many more years … clap, clap.”
“The Nature Place has impacted our life as a family. It is a place where both child and adult feel safe.”
“The camp has been a huge part in shaping me into the person, parent, teacher and friend that I am!”
“The Nature Place has been nothing short of a life transforming place for me.”
I know that many of you saw the wonderful slide show at this past Wednesday’s Remembering Summer celebration at camp. Some of the slides/photos/scenes may stay with you. On one of my hikes this past week I observed something that will, for me, forever be an iconic image that represents what we at The Nature Place are all about. I took campers to the top of Long Mountain in Harriman Park. We did a bit of still-hunting on top and then for lunch we continued on the same trail to a shady, fairy-tale-like dell just below the top of the mountain. The campers ate slowly, quietly and peacefully, inspired I’m sure by the environment.
Right about now you might be imagining what my ‘iconic’ image will be: 12 bald eagles landing on one branch? A meteorite falling to earth next to us? A group of 100 Monarchs starting south on their migration to Mexico? Nothing so dramatic.
Sitting on a rock, eating my lunch, I turned slightly to my left and saw a counselor and a camper, sitting on their own rocks, about 20 feet apart, surrounded and held by the natural world, eating their own lunches and talking – not forced, not strained, just plain talking, person-to-person, about this and that. For twenty minutes. The counselor is a young man about to finish college and the camper a young, nervous child with some special needs. Things you would never know looking at this scene. There was acceptance, normalcy, caring, not so special but really very special. So ordinary, it was extraordinary. Life and love are usually found in the smallest of moments, in the simplest of ways, in the simplest of places. This was one of them.
Campers’ Quotable Quotes
During a day hike: “How old are you Ed?”
I answered “68”. He thought about it for a moment and then replied; “WOW, I thought you were at least 90.”
While driving her three children home from camp, a mom reported that one of them just wouldn’t stop talking. The oldest child said, “I have an idea. Let’s still hunt for 5 minutes.” Then there was silence.
From a parent: “You should bottle this camp and sprinkle it all over the world.”
From a group Q camper, covered in clay and mud for harvest day: “It just feels good to be dirty”.
What beautiful weather yesterday as we ALL hiked up to the Fellowship fields to harvest potatoes. The soil had already been turned a few times by the tractor so that our job was to burrow – yes, mostly with our hands – through the soft beds and mounds of soil looking for (more like feeling for) potatoes. The campers found that the potatoes felt very much like rocks. And the rocks felt very much like potatoes!
The campers could hardly wait for Farmer Charlie to finish his harvesting directions as they charged into the field, a scene more reminiscent of the Gold Rush than The Potato Rush. I was amazed how long and how earnestly the campers kept at it and soon the baskets were filling with a variety of potatoes.
There is a tradition at The Nature Place that on Harvest Day the campers in the oldest group wear bathing suits and strategically apply mud, dirt and clay to their bodies to achieve a camouflage effect. Then they conceal themselves ‘in plain sight’ in a section of the forest through which the finished harvesters must pass on their way back to camp. Each group then walks silently, single file along the old forest road, looking right and left, up and down, and tries to spot their hidden campmates, not shouting out when they see one but just keeping track of them in their heads.
I must say that Group Q did a superb job of coloring and positioning themselves, for I have not heard of anyone who saw all eleven. Seven or eight might have been the average. As for myself, ‘tracker Ed’ found 5. It was lots of fun and challenging.
Family Night – Remembering Summer
Wednesday night had many campers and their families return to camp for shared desserts, great music by our own in-house band, dancing and as soon as it became dark enough, an outdoor slide show (set to music) of the summer. The whole scene was one of great energy, joy and very many happy campers, counselors and parents. The air smelled clean, the temperature just right, Saturn was looking down on us from above, and the katydids were katy-didding as they are prone to do at this time of year. Many parents came up to me during the evening and shared that this was the best summer of their child’s life! And that we would be hearing from them very soon as they take advantage of our Early Bird registration for summer 2016.
Next … moving onward … Monday we begin our 2-week Farm and Garden Days program. We look forward to seeing some of you at that time. And hopefully ALL of you next summer for our 31st season of The Nature Place Day Camp.
Thank you. For your child, your trust, your confidence.