Our Director’s Camp Journey
Daniel here–Director of The Nature Place. I’d like to share with you how The Nature Place has molded me into who I am today–giving me a lifelong connection to nature that I so treasure, and inspiring me to help others connect to themselves, one another, and the natural world.
Passing the red sandstone bluffs upon turning off of the Garden State Parkway and onto the exit for camp, I knew we were close. I had an earlier marker that indicated to me, in the back seat of my dad’s car, that we were half-way to camp – a roiling, churning confluence of the Ramapo River and a little tributary (at least it looked pretty wild to me as a child, peering out the window over the highway guardrail).
When your father is a camp director, going to camp is just what you do, in the same way that you eat dinner every evening. And for me, with my particular father, at our particular camp, marking our morning commute through the natural phenomena we passed only made sense. It also felt only natural to keep a bug and bird journal in 7th and 8th grades; to sojourn alone up the little mountain peak that rose behind the house I grew up in; to go on hikes with my friends in high school during warm spring weekends.
In hindsight I see – but during childhood I did not know – that the experiences I chose to engage in as an older child, teenager, young adult, and now adult, were directly influenced by and born of my experience at The Nature Place. Feeling an authentic, personal connection to the changing yet constant world of nature and its phenomena is not something that everyone just has innately, I now understand.
Rather, it takes intention; a father who points out natural landmarks on your commute to camp each morning, or a camp that provides challenging and nourishing, viewpoint-broadening experiences. I feel very fortunate to have had both.
At 15 years old, my camp friend and I wanted to hike a portion of the Appalachian Trail together. As a father myself now, this seems completely wild to me, but our parents said yes, made sure we planned and prepared properly, and then let us go. The first day we were full of ambition and hiked 16 miles, burdening us with blisters and sore bodies for the next few days. We quickly tempered our ambition and struck up a more doable daily pace, hiking from New Jersey to the Vermont border over the course of three weeks in July.
The summer after my freshman year at college, four of my best friends from camp and I planned out and then embarked on an exciting cross-country road trip, taking a van filled with camping gear, food, and our cameras across the United States, with the goal of experiencing a number of our country’s national parks and notable landscapes. I still vividly remember driving across Texas in the early, pre-dawn light, my best friends asleep in the seats behind me, watching with amazement as the looming silhouettes of mesas rose out of the countryside beyond the highway. Besides being unforgettable experiences, these self-chosen adventures brought me new courage, new resiliency, and a personal, enlivened connection to the land.
This is why I am here at camp today. Because I had intentional, inspired, outdoor experiences with my friends at The Nature Place as a child, I grew up feeling comfortable and capable interacting with my environment, and curious to explore new territory. I found out for myself that the natural world is not only a place for recreation, but a place to find solace, and to get back to one’s self. I hope all children can grow to feel adventurous, grounded, independent, earth-conscious and curious; and the surest way I know how to help in this is to provide a summer experience at The Nature Place, full of connection with others and connection with the earth. If I can give to others any of what I myself was given at camp, by my father, my counselors, my fellow campers at The Nature Place, I am giving a gift that continuously grows and lasts a lifetime.