Archive for the ‘Nature Stories’ Category

This Sanborn Life: Hello, It’s Earth Day!

Friday, April 22nd, 2016

Goshawk in a Ponderosa

We felt like we needed to celebrate Earth Day in a new and different way this year. While people all over the country are picking up trash, volunteering at their local parks, and raising awareness about the importance of conservation, preservation and stewardship, we wanted to simply share some day-to-day moments of wonder that can happen for everyone all over the world if one can slow down, be present and become a keen observer of the world around you. We would love to hear about YOUR Earth Day events, experiences and lessons, too!
Note: All of these events describe (mostly) real events that have happened to camp staff, on camp property or in and around Teller County within the last 24-72 hours. (We also really like Ira Glass and This American Life)
Act I–Of Mice and Spring

Squeak. Squeak. Squeak…Squeak. Squeak. Squeak.
(Mouse Translation: Happy Spring! It has been sunny and warm, then it got cold and snowy.)
Squeakie, squeak-squeak-squeak.
(Mouse Translation: So we all decided to go into our friends’ houses at Sanborn. They are warm and dry.)
Squeak, squeak. Squeak squeak squeak.

Abert (ninja) squirrels are a year round friend

(Mouse Translation: Besides, it’s Earth Day, and we think it is important that they don’t forget about us…so we are going to head indoors to remind them to get outside.)

Act II–Goshawk Haiku

Slate grey black-brown-dark
Sits low in Ponderosas
Wants to eat the squirrel.

Act III–Vulture Queens

Voice on the Radio: We have just had a report of an accident off of Highway 24, just west of Florissant. The driver said she drove off of the road after seeing a large vulture perched on top of a fence post with full outspread wings, apparently drying itself after eating in/on/through one of the very large snowdrifts remaining from last weekend’s snowstorm. The driver said the vulture appeared to be “frozen in a commanding position–as though it was about to direct an orchestra or is channeling Isis (the goddess).”

Evening Grosbeak

Act IV–Bird Nerds Unite!

In everyday conversations around the globe, when questions arise people raise their phones horizontally to their lips and say, “Hey, Siri…”

Around here, we just call Jerry. Jerry is sort of like the old KU Info line you could call to find out the name of the author of that book about the rabbits that form a society, but there are bad rabbits, and it has water in the title or something…but Jerry is better than KU info because he knows what you are talking about when you burst into the office and excitedly say, “Jerry! There was this cool bird at the feeder yesterday and it was a big, medium-sized, yellowish orange with black and white and…” “Oh! You saw an evening grosbeak! They are spectacular!”

After a while, you just find yourself talking about the birds you’ve seen not only to Jerry, but to everyone else:
“Hey! Did you see the kingfishers down in Florissant this morning on the powerline–so cool!”
“I saw a Golden eagle outside of Divide yesterday–those things are so big!”
“The bluebirds are back! The bluebirds are back!”
“I saw a whole flock of red-winged blackbirds yesterday, and heard them calling by the pond this morning!”
“Look at the junco building its nest above our office window!”

And, of course, Jane yelling from her desk, “Hey you turkeys!” (the entire office goes immediately silent)
“What’s wrong, Jane?” says a timid voice.
“No! I’m talking to the REAL turkeys outside of my window, come look!”

Act V–Can We Go With You?

Of all the megafauna on the ranch, the most ubiquitous are the mule deer and elk. Elk are generally a little harder to spot, though there were eight hanging out by Strawberry Fields this morning. But the mule deer? They are kind of like our local street corner thugs…except they have huge doe eyes, enormous ears, and tend to spring off into the woods with the slightest provocation.

Mule Deer (and cats) are Unafraid

But this morning was different.

Jane Sanborn, mind fully churning at 5:30am, opened the door to her apartment and was both startled and amused to find twenty eyes looking back at her from a distance of about 10-15 feet.

The deer looked at her, Jane looked at the deer.

Jane spoke to the deer, “Good morning, deer. How are you, deer? Beautiful day, deer!” But still, the deer did not move. Finally, with 34 unwritten emails spinning in her mind, Jane walked out of the door, walked past the deer, to her car, got in, slammed the door, and drove away.

The deer looked on.

Act VI–Bob, Cat, Bobcat

The nicest thing about spring mornings at camp is the sun. In the dark months of December, when the sun had barely started to rise by 7, it is hard to remember that April soon arrives with its ever brighter 6:15-6:30am arrival. It is mostly hard to remember because the cat doesn’t yowl in December. The cat just sleeps.

But with the arrival of April, the energy and early morning prowly enthusiasm of our cat intensifies with ever-earlier cries, howls, and meows of “Out! Out! Out” (these caterwaulings are only interrupted by the sudden arrival of spring mice in the kitchen which causes a different sort of sleep disturbing mayhem). So, at promptly 6:07am this morning, I fed my cat to a bobcat.

It was not a deliberate act, and one–fortunately–I was able to remedy by sprinting outside and speaking firmly to the shockingly large bobcat walking through our (his) front yard. I think I said something really terrifying like, “Okay, big bobcat, keep on walking…that’s right, get a move on, buddy” all while trying to see where my also largish (for different reasons) cat had gone. The Australian shepherd sized bobcat was fairly nonplussed by my approach and simply kept sauntering. Our largish, often loudish, cat had chosen two, tried and true animal defense mechanisms: 1. Fluff himself out to racoon-like proportions; 2. freeze and practice invisibility.

It was only after the raccoon cat was safely stored underneath a bed did the whole family look around and say, “That was AWESOME!”

Happy Earth Day from ALL of your friends
(furred, feathered, slimy, scaly or human)
at Sanborn Western Camps

The Thrill of Horseback Riding

Thursday, April 7th, 2016

When riding a horse, I feel connected.

Trees blurring past, the thunder of hooves.  I held tight to the reins, remembering to keep my heels down.  Fourteen hundred pounds of power galloping through the forest.  Horseback riding is a mystical, powerful adventure.

When riding a horse, I feel connected.  It’s a mixture of love, fear, and respect.  Humans and horses have a long history together, a productive relationship that has lasted centuries.  Before machines, horses were the machine, they were a power that helped pull our civilization together.  Before cars, horses carried us across the land.  When we ride horses in this modern world, it’s a timeless event.  And Sanborn Western Camps is one of the best places to ride.

At Sanborn, one of our many goals is to foster a sense of wonder in every camper.  We work to inspire a connection with nature.  And one of the many ways to achieve that connection is to swing up into a saddle and ride a horse.

I gazed into the huge marble eyes.

There is something therapeutic about horseback riding.  Studies have shown that we truly connect with the animal.  Brain waves slow.  We even change our breathing to match up with the horse.  The slightest movement, a turn, the twitch of a muscle, it’s all communication.  The horse understands without words.  If a camper is stressed, the horse can sense that.  If a camper is relaxed, the horse relaxes as well.  It’s a feedback loop, animal to animal, a real time relationship.

Many years ago when I was a camper at Sanborn, I was afraid of horses.  I pretended I didn’t care, but the truth is I was scared.  The staff was ready for this.  The counselors and wranglers gently encouraged me to step outside my comfort zone and give horseback riding a try.  So I did.

I thought we would jump right on a horse and ride, but the process was much more intricate.  The wranglers first taught me how to care for the animal, to understand it, to lead the horse gently, to speak to it.  They showed me how to brush the horse, tracing the contours of its power.  I began to relax and forget my fear.  I began to feel a sense of wonder.

I gazed into the huge marble eyes.  I ran my hands along the sway of the horse’s back and wondered if a Ute boy or a young trapper did the same with his horse two hundred years ago, right where I was standing.

We learned to saddle and bridle, tightening buckles, bringing all tack to the perfect length.

We learned to saddle and bridle, tightening buckles, bringing all tack to the perfect length.  Then, with mud on my rented boots, I swung up into the saddle.  We rode slowly, ambling away from the Big Spring barn.  That sunny afternoon, I went on my first ride.  And I’ve never looked back.

When we ride, we develop all kinds of skills.  Horseback riding is a two-way process.  You can’t just sit back and do nothing, you must interact with the animal with physical and verbal cues.  As a result, riding develops subtle communication skills.  Riding also develops balance and coordination.  Your core gets a workout, and you must stay focused on where your body is in space.  After a long ride, the next day you can truly feel it, aches in muscles you didn’t know you had.

At camp we do all kinds of rides, from half-day trail rides to five day pack trips deep into the Rockies.  It’s a range of fun that fits perfectly with the range of campers.  My favorites are the long trips, adventures that are unmatched.  We ride deep into rugged country, places where only horses can take us.  We sleep under the stars and rise before dawn to care for the herd.  It’s a unique experience that you can only find at a place like Sanborn.

In our modern chaotic world, it’s important to find ways to relax.  Horseback riding can do that.  Horses are a direct bond with nature that we can all share.  When you ride a horse, you find both companionship and solitude at the same time.

Any chance I can get, I’ll take a horseback ride.  The rasp of an old saddle, the musk of the animal, the joy of a slow walk through an aspen grove.  The world looks better from the back of a horse.  The Ute Indians of the Rockies once said, “The way to heaven is on horseback.”  I think they might be right.

- M. Huffman -

The Joy of Campfires

Thursday, November 12th, 2015

"The brilliance, the warmth, the crackle of the logs…it brought new life to our cold campsite."

There are so many magnificent things about summer camp, and for me one of the greatest of them is the opportunity to sit around a campfire.  Not a gas flame flickering, not a warming lamp on a restaurant patio… but a campfire.

The first campfire I experienced was at Sanborn, and it was love at first sight.  I was a camper on my first unit overnight, far from home.  I was tired from a long hike in wet weather, my feet and shoulders were aching, and a cold front was rolling in behind the rain. But then the counselors built a campfire.  And all of those tiresome things melted away. I couldn’t believe how incredible it was to just stare at the rolling flames.

The mood lifted as campers and staff gathered around.  We gazed at the fire, transfixed by the vines of light tangling in the air.  The brilliance, the warmth, the crackle of the logs…it brought new life to our cold campsite.  There was something mystic about those flames.  It felt like a message from the earth, from nature itself, an encouraging note of warmth and energy.

Throughout that evening, campers and counselors stayed near the fire, working together to prepare dinner.  We chopped and grilled, cooking right over the blaze.  There wasn’t a stove in sight, we literally cooked over the fire.  It felt timeless, as if we were engaged in an ancient task.  I still remember that meal, it’s one of the best dinners of my life.  And not because it was well made, which it was, but because the entire meal was cooked on an open fire.  It lit up my mood and filled up my belly.

"We chopped and grilled, cooking right over the blaze."

That campfire was a first for me, and summer camp is all about firsts.  Spending a night or two out in the wilderness can be scary, but a campfire can chase away those fears.  It’s a process that humans have been doing for eons.

The human race has a special relationship with campfires.  It’s a ritual of light, a safe zone of warmth and community.  Gazing into a the flames, we connect to our past.  For thousands of years our ancestors sat around fires, not for fun, but for necessity.  Human history began by the firelight.  When we build campfires, it brings a taste of the timeless into our cluttered modern world.

It’s essential to be safe when building a fire.  At Sanborn, we don’t have fires all the time, we only build when conditions permit.  Sometimes there are fire bans, other times we’re in National Forest or high country and we simply don’t want to impact the surroundings.  But when we do build campfires, it’s truly wonderful.  A campfire can warm a day and bond a group.  Gazing into the flames inspires you in ways that are hard to describe.  The flames roll and your thoughts roll with them.

Years ago, that night around the fire, the meal finished but we kept the flames going.  We roasted marshmallows and sang along with an untuned guitar.  The flames twisted up into the night with our laughter in tow.  I looked across the fire, into the eyes of my new friends.  The campfire underscored the mood, it was a shared love of the moment.  With each pop from the fire, sparks floated up into the sky, mixing with the stars.  I felt so… connected.

As the night ended, the flames fell into coals and the embers pulsed like a heartbeat.   One by one, everyone headed off to bed, zipping into their tents and bags.  I sat alone with a few others, poking at the embers. Finally, the counselors put the fire out with a crash of cold water.  Steam hissed up into the night, the light fading away.  It was time for bed.

I always sleep like a rock after sitting around a campfire.  It’s almost like the flames were a lullaby for my busy mind.  And then there’s the fun of the next day… because one of the great things about a campfire is that it stays with you.  The next morning you can smell the campfire in your clothes, an aroma of smoke, an echo of nighttime fun.  More than once, I’ve been caught standing stock-still, sniffing my clothes and smiling, remembering the flawless joy of a campfire.

Flower Filled Fields

Friday, August 7th, 2015

Mariposa Lilies

After several years of drought, we have been blessed this summer by higher than average moisture. It began in May when we had several heavy, wet snows at the beginning of the month followed by daily rain at the end. The moisture continued through June with rain almost every day–in most cases, the timing was perfect and did not disrupt our program at all—although we did have a couple of downpours which had us wondering if we should put Ark Building on the program. Nice evening rains have continued into July.

The results of this moisture are everywhere. The High Trails Lake, which has not even been a puddle in recent years, is a truly magnificent lake again and we are canoeing, paddle-boarding, and fishing there. The Witcher Pond is overflowing and Lost Lake is so large that it is not lost anymore. Salamander Pond by the Tipi Village is home to many noisy frogs. The grass is waist high in some places and the camp is as green as it has ever been.

Indian Paintbrush

And the wildflowers! We have not seen this abundance and variety of wildflowers for many years and we are all reveling in their beauty. Thousands of Fairy Trumpets bloom along the roadside, and some of them are over two feet tall. Hummingbirds are drawn to them and the little birds are buzzing around constantly. The Indian Paintbrush, which were late in blooming this year, are now filling the meadows with their bright orange petals. They are taller than usual too. Columbine bloom in every forest glade and we have even seen a few of the bright red Firecracker Penstemon.  The Mariposa Lily, which has been extremely rare in recent years, is now common; the wild roses have more blooms than ever; wild flax is turning the meadows blue, and we’ve even spotted some rare orchids in shady places in the forest.

One of our all-time favorite books at camp is “The Immense Journey” written by Loren Eiseley in 1946. One of the chapters is titled “How Flowers Changed the World”. In this chapter, Eiseley describes, in exceptionally beautiful language, how

Wild Rose with a bug friend

flowering plants evolved on the Earth about 100 million years ago (recent in geologic terms). The development of the true encased seed of flowers allowed plants to move away from the waterways and to reproduce much more efficiently than more primitive plants dependent on spores. “True flowering plants grew a seed in the heart of a flower, a seed whose development was initiated by a fertilizing pollen grain independent of outside moisture. But the seed, unlike the developing spore, is already a fully equipped embryonic plant packed in a little enclosed box stuffed full of nutritious food”.

Fairy Trumpets

But the story doesn’t end there. Warm-blooded birds and mammals thrived on the nutritious high-energy seeds of the flowering plants and many of them evolved in ways that helped to spread the pollen and seeds of the flowering plants. As Eiseley says,

“Flowers changed the face of the planet. Without them, the world we know—even man himself—would never have existed.”

Those of us fortunate enough to be living with our abundance of wildflowers this summer, campers and staff alike, are taking the time to smell the roses and appreciate the wild beauty that surrounds us. We only wish you were here to enjoy them with us.

Best, Jane

Photo Credit:  All photos taken by Carlotta Avery.

Adventures of Artie the Abert Squirrel: A Spring Mystery

Tuesday, March 17th, 2015

Hi everyone, Artie here!

I want to share something with you, but I’m a little worried you won’t believe me, because no one else does! So before I tell you about my latest mystery adventure, I need ya to promise you’ll believe me!

Off to investigate A-Bluff

In the last couple weeks, as I’ve been investigating A-Bluff, TOTW, and Little Blue, to make sure everything’s okay with the rocks, plants and animals there, I noticed some green splotches on the ground. When I told Mike Mac about the splotches, he said they must be some early grasses popping up after all the spring snows we’ve had, but I wasn’t so sure he was right. Elizabeth told me to double check and told me to bring some of it back for her to see. I thought that sounded good, so the next morning I headed back to A-Bluff, to the spot I knew I’d seen the green splotches.

Never sure about what might be around, I circled about a couple times and then snuck up close, real quiet like. As I got closer to one of the splotches, I noticed one that was sorta shaped like an oval, but was skinnier in the middle and fatter at the ends. I looked around more, and saw that all the splotches had that exact shape. After I inspected about 14 of them, I looked back and noticed they were lined up like a path or a row. Huh, I thought, this is weird! I didn’t forget what Elizabeth suggested though, so I got out my shovel and  bucket I’d brought to collect it. Before I started digging, I tried to touch it, but when I did, my hand just touched dirt. There was nothing on top of the dirt and Pikes Peak Granite, like I’d first thought. When I looked at my fingers, there was nothing green on them. Then, when I looked back at the splotch, it had disappeared! I rubbed my eyes, I blinked, I spun in a circle, and looked again, but it was still gone! I was astonished and confused. I’d never seen anything like it, so I went to the next splotch and touched it. This time though, I made sure I never looked away, and sure enough, as soon as I touched it, it vanished. Well, you bet I ran back to the office fast! When I finally caught my breath enough to tell Jackson and Ian what had happened, they offered to go back and look with me. So I sat on top of Jackson’s helmet as they rode their bikes to the spot with the splotches. When we got to where I’d hastily left my bucket and shovel, we looked all over, but none of us could find any splotches – they were all gone! Well by this time, I was just mad! I knew these green splotches had been there, but I couldn’t show them to anybody else! I was sure everyone thought I was crazy! Jackson and Ian were really nice about it, telling me they were sure the splotches had been there, and suggested that maybe I was just tired from the long winter and should go take a nap. They offered me a ride back to the office, but I just wanted to be alone, so I headed back down the trail towards High Trails. Pretty soon, I started to hear whistling coming from further down the trail. I started going a little more cautiously, but was excited when I turned the corner and saw Sarah! She always makes me feel better, she’s so fun to talk to and always knows what to say! She seemed excited to see me too, but noticed pretty quick I was a little glum and not my usual chipper self. So we sat down on a Ponderosa log on the side of the trail and I told her the whole story, even the part about me starting to think I was crazy. When I was done, Sarah sat for a minute and thought. She was so nice to remind me that I have always been such a logical squirrel and because of that, she was sure there was an explanation, we just had to figure it out! Sarah suggested we head back to High Trails, get a snack and put our thinking caps on- so that’s just what we did!

When we got back to the lodge we were really excited to find the cookie jar full of fresh baked oatmeal chocolate chip cookies! They are my favorite and just what I needed to get my brain thinking. Between munches on her cookie, Sarah asked me to explain again to her exactly what the green splotches had looked like and had done when I touched them. I carefully told her everything I could remember about what they looked like and if I could feel anything when I’d touched them – my hand felt warm, that’s all, but maybe that’s just because the sun was shining.

Sarah started munching again and looked like she was thinking really hard, then all the sudden she exclaimed, “aahaha!!!” I dropped my cookie and nearly fell off my chair I was so surprised! But I was excited, because it sure sounded like Sarah had figured it out!

“Artie”, she asked, “what month is it?”

“March”, I said incredulously

“Exactly!”, she said like she was certain she’d solved this mystery, “we need to build a trap!”

Before I could even blink, Sarah was rummaging around the lodge, mumbling to herself about boxes, and bait, and how we could hide and not be seen, and what time of day we should go.

“Sarah”, Sarah”, I yelled, “What do you mean, what do you think it is, what are you doing!?! I don’t understand, what are you doing?”

Pretty soon Sarah had a whole pile of supplies and was packing them up in her backpack. She said, “Alright Artie, let’s go!”

Still confused I hopped on her shoulder, figuring maybe that she would answer my questions as we hiked back out to where the splotches had been.

Pretty soon I could see my bucket in the distance.

When we got close Sarah said we need to go very quietly, and that we should crouch in the trees before we actually got to the spot. Pretty soon I could see my bucket in the distance, but the shovel was missing. We crouched low behind a juniper, and Sarah started to take things out of her backpack. I climbed up the Ponderosa next to us, to get a better look around. When I got up high, I was so excited almost fell off the branch! I scurried back down, and whispered, “Sarah, the splotches are back, they are all over!”

Sarah started working faster. “Okay Artie, we need to move fast then if we are going to catch one of these guys!”

Sarah snuck around the Juniper bush, but stayed in the shadows. She put the box upside down, and used a stick to prop it up, so there was a

Then we covered the box up with some pine needles and pine cones.

small opening near the ground. Then she tied a piece of fishing line around the bottom of the stick and tied a marshmallow to the other end. Then she tucked it in at the back of the box. Then we covered the box up with some pine needles and pine cones and snuck back around behind the Juniper bush. By this time, the sun was starting to set and it was getting cold, so we hiked back to Sarah’s house for dinner.

The next morning, Sarah and I got up early and hiked up the hill just as the sun was rising over Pikes Peak. As we got closer to the spot where the splotches were, I started to hear something strange. I asked Sarah to stop walking because her big feet make a huge stomping noise, even when she’s trying to be quiet. I listened carefully, and pretty soon heard it again, a little, high-pitched voice yelling, “let me out, get me outta here!”

“Artie, what do you hear,” asked Sarah? As soon as I told her, she started running! Good thing I was holding tight onto her shoulder!

She didn’t stop and go quietly like yesterday. She ran right up to the box and put her hand on it, so I got off her shoulder and sat on top of it too!

She ran right up to it, and put her hand on it!

Sure enough, the voice was coming from inside the box, and it was angry!

Sarah said to the box, “hello sir, how are you this morning?”

The angry voice from the box growled back, “why you, you trapped me, eh, how dya think I am?”

His accent was so strong I could barely understand what the voice said!

Sarah replied, “I’m sorry sir that we had to trap you, but we can let you out if you promise not to run away.”

“Ha, after this treatment, you bet I’m not sticking around!”, yelled the voice in the box.

Sarah answered, “well then, I guess you stay in the box for awhile.”

I was shocked, Sarah is the nicest person I know, but she sure was being tough on whatever was in the box. Sarah started to ask it some questions about where it was from and why it was here, but the box only ever replied, with a “Harumph!” noise.

Sarah asked the voice from the box if it was hungry

“I have a granola bar, if you’d like it.”, she said.

The voice from the box was softer and less angry when it said, “yes, please.”

Sarah told the creature inside, she was going to slowly lift the box up, but it had to promise it wouldn’t run away. We just wanted to talk to it.

I jumped off the box right away, but stayed close to Sarah! I sure was excited to see what was inside, but still didn’t know what to expect!

The voice in the box agreed that he would not run away.

Sarah lifted the box slowly up, and I started to see the tiniest little green shoes I’d ever seen! The box got higher and I saw that the shoes were connected to the tiniest little man, dressed very finely in a very green suit. He had tiny glasses and the brightest red beard I’d ever seen!

“Top ‘o the mornin’ to ya, I’m Patrick O’Sullivan.”

Sarah told Patrick our names and gave him the granola bar. The granola bar was almost as tall as Patrick. As Patrick started to eat his breakfast, Sarah asked her questions again and Patrick had some questions for us too.

We learned that Patrick had come to Colorado from Ireland for a new adventure. He said there were not any mountains in Ireland or forests like we have here. He had seen pictures in books back home and wanted to see it in real life. He had been having a great time climbing trees and was very excited when he found a home that was very sturdy and just his size.

Sarah and I looked at each other. She was obviously just as confused about this home that Patrick had found. We asked if he would show us later, and Patrick agreed.

I was dying to know what the splotches were, but when I asked Patrick, he looked unsure.

Sarah noticed to so she asked, “What wrong Patrick?”

Patrick replied, “We Leprechauns, are very special, and must keep some secrets about who we are. It is very rare that one of us gets caught. In all my 528 years, I’ve only heard of it happening one other time.”

I was pretty proud of Sarah’s plan and hard work when I heard that!

Patrick continued, “But you two, have turned out to be very considerate and since you could see my footprints and see me now, I feel that I can trust you.”

“His footprints?”, I thought, “OH, that must be what the green splotches were! This is turning out to be one of the most exciting days of my whole entire life!”

Patrick told us many things about Leprechauns, but only after he made us promise that we would not tell anyone else. I was disappointed, but it made me feel better that at least I could talk about this with Sarah, since I was certain that no one else would ever believe I had met a Leprechaun. Patrick did tell me, I could recount the tale of his capture, so there you have it. I can’t wait for you all to get here this summer, so I can show you where I found the splotches and Patrick’s home he found.

The home that Patrick found!

He said he’d come back sometime, after he’d explored more around the United States and maybe he’d bring friends! We should definitely build more homes for gnomes, fairies and leprechauns!  I can’t wait to see you all this summer!

love, Artie the Abert Squirrel

Artie is the leading authority around Sanborn on at least 2 subjects. He enjoys long walks on a branch, dropping pinecones on people the ground, and watching the sunrise. He is an aspiring mystery novelist and waits impatiently all year for camp to begin again!

Illuminations of the Winter Solstice

Monday, December 22nd, 2014

Without the night, how can we appreciate the day?

4:41 p.m. until 7:15 a.m..  Fourteen hours and thirty-four minutes from sunset to sunrise…and that doesn’t even factor in the long, early morning shadow of Pikes Peak or the afternoon dusk as the sun drops below the ridgeline behind Big Spring around 3:30. On this longest night of the year, it’s dark and cold at camp, with snowflakes spinning down as the storm settles into the mountains to the west, but it’s beautiful…and good.

As Clark Strand wrote over the weekend in his New York Times Op-Ed piece, “Bring On The Dark: Why We Need the Winter Solstice,” we need this long night to remind us that night is “the natural corrective to that most persistent of all illusions: that human progress is the reason for the world.” Granted, without all of this manufactured illumination and technological progress, I would not be tapping out this post on a computer, but—instead—be huddled under the same blankets scribbling by candlelight.

Yet Strand’s cautionary tone also provides validation to those of us who have had the opportunity to eschew “progress” for the natural rhythm of the seasons. Who among us does not remember hustling around an alpine base camp at dusk (possibly because the batteries in our flashlight or headlamp died days before) preparing for an “early” bedtime simply because the sun had set? Or, even more magically, watching the campfire die down to embers and find ourselves speaking more and more quietly as the darkness enveloped our senses and revealed the stars.

Though the Winter Solstice is often called the first day of winter, for me, it represents the first step of the sun’s long journey back to the north. Right now, she is so far to the south, the shadows I cast as I walk trail far behind me, or sometimes stretch across the road completely. Over these next few months, the shadows will become shorter and shorter, bringing me back to the center, bringing me back to summer, bringing me back to myself. Yet my gratitude for the solstice is deep and solid, for without the dark, how can I celebrate the light?

Strand said these long nights were once for connecting with others and with yourself. Before electricity, people “told stories and, with so much night to work with, woke in the middle of it to a darkness so luxurious it teased visions from the mind and divine visitations that helped to guide their course through life.”

We know what he means, we have experienced it time and time again in the woods. Remember it now: you wake from a restless sleep caused by an errant pinecone in your left hip, you listen to the breathing of your tentmates, the rustling of nylon sleeping bags, the soft whump of a moment’s breeze on your tent fly, and you exhale. You push your mind beyond the tent, back to the laughter around the campfire, the faint taste of hot chocolate still in your mouth, and to the millions of stars above you. Around the campfire, someone said, “Isn’t it crazy that any one of those stars could have planets just like ours around them?”

As you look up, your mind begins to expand, trying to make sense of it, wondering if it is possible, if it is true. And someone else whispers,  “Some of those stars might not even be there anymore…what if we are just seeing the star’s light that is still traveling toward us over millions and millions of light years?” Your mind continues to stretch and your heart expands because this is an amazing moment with amazing people and you are so comfortable with yourself, with your friends, with this place that you can actually wonder, out loud, “what if?”

And then, you find a comfortable, simple silence together………until, “OOOOOOHHHHHH!” and everyone wishes quietly on the same shooting star, wishes quietly that this night will never end.

-Ariella Rogge-

The Lemon-Lime Time

Thursday, September 25th, 2014

"Aspen" Wondering When Fall Would Arrive!

Fall is a (but not THE) favorite season for all of us at camp.

We love the crisp evenings, the cool mornings, the warm days, and the gold Aspen against the bluebird blue sky. This summer’s bluebirds can still be seen flying in the fields around Big Spring, the coyotes are even more talkative than usual, and the elk bugles and whines can be heard as we walk the quiet paths on the weekends…the trails are still pretty noisy during the week with High Trails Outdoor Education Center students and The Nature Place guests enjoying the granite bluffs and beautiful vistas, as well.

Fall is both sweet and sour; sweet because we get to look ahead to next summer, and sour because we didn’t want Summer 2014 to end. It is a transition time around the office, too. The pace from the summer slows, and we take time to read evaluations, write letters, and begin to look forward to the possibilities of 2015.

We hear from campers, staff, and alums who miss camp and long for the simplicity of summer days. Days when breakfast is hot and ready for you, when accomplishments are measured in thousands of feet and shared connections with beautiful horses, when friendships are deepened by real experiences and real challenges, and when we each can begin to see and understand our unique place in the world.

One of the most valuable parts of the camp experience is the time and space that is created for reflection. This doesn’t only happen when you are watching for meteors in the star-filled night sky, or when you can take a cat-nap in the alpine tundra after a successful climb on a beautiful day. This space and time for reflection can be internalized, and—once it is in you—you are more able to take a deep breath and simply be.

Our wish for you, as the grassheads begin to dry and lose their seeds, growing more yellow and brittle as they lighten the landscape, is that you take time to go crunch among the fall leaves—or stop and share a beautiful view with a friends—or simply find that special spot in your favorite outdoor place where you can pause, listen to the wind, the birds, and just breathe.

Dr. Seuss said, “Do not cry because it’s over, smile because it happened.” Celebrate these transitions, as brief and meaningful as they are, because they remind us to remember, reflect, and anticipate the wonder ahead.

Did You Enjoy Your Story?

Monday, January 20th, 2014

I find myself looking out the office window as Jake and Gulliver look back at me through their fish-tank’s glass. I am dreaming, thinking of the adventures that I want to go on and where my life has taken me thus far. The sunset in a Thai rice field, the sight of the Eiffel Tower as it sparkles with a thousand lights, standing, watching the waves of 3 different oceans wash sand over my feet. Snapshots that capture a moment that can’t be replaced or relived.

I close my eyes and they are the shutter, and the longer and tighter I close them, the more engrained I will have that exact image in my head. It’s easy to immerse yourself in a trip, a journey, an expedition, call it what you will. We let moments slip through our fingers and our memories drift the longer we are away from that moment.

I often post things about “enjoying the journey,” but when my pictures can’t get the job done, I have my memories, my stories, those times when I know I was at my finest. It’s important to keep your mind and heart open and ready for the next adventure that is just around the corner.

Where will you go? What will you do? Are you ready?

Check out this beautiful short video of a couple’s journey through Patagonia and Chile: a story for tomorrow.

~Ian Stafford

ACA Explore 30 — enter Big Spring Read-a-Thon

Tuesday, July 10th, 2012

Challenge: During the summer children experience “summer learning loss” when they are not involved in high quality programs with opportunities for skill building.  As a result, young people can forget up to 2 months of academic instruction, particularly in the areas of reading and math when they are not in school. Camps and other youth development programs provide the opportunity to reduce summer learning loss in an expanded learning environment where children are engaged experientially and have an opportunity for additional academic enrichment.

- taken from ACA Explore 30 web site

Our new Big Spring Library is fully equipped with books about astronomy, Colorado flora & fauna, as well as two full shelves each of fiction and non, children book series and picture books for those bed-time read-a-louds!  Plus board games, maps and other fun resources for campers and counselors to make camp an enriching environment!

We began a Read-a-Thon at the beginning of the session and about 23 counselors and 26 campers took part in the four-week-long challenge. The record was around 5,300 pages read thus far by a counselor, and not far behind was another counselor with about 5,100 pages read, and Liam Kelly, a camper, with 3,120 pages!

Stay tuned for next session’s Read-a-Thon!

“Notes on Camp” — This American Life

Tuesday, June 5th, 2012

Camp kids explain how their non-camp friends and their non-camp loved ones have no idea why camp is the most important thing in their lives

– This American Life