Archive for the ‘Program Ponderings’ Category

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.

Big Spring Journeys to the Center of the Earth

Thursday, February 20th, 2014

The day began at the Victor Lowell Thomas Museum, where, although it was their off season, they had graciously offered to give us a tour of the surface mine in Victor. We waited in the museum around a portable propane heater (they will have year-round heat and a bathroom by next year) until our van/tour bus arrived.

For whatever reason we weren't given orange vests.

Our knowledgeable driver, Dick, apologized the first few minutes the few times he drew a blank—he hasn’t driven a tour since fall. We began by driving through the historic downtown of Victor, and then moved on to the surface mine overlooking the town. We drove 1,000 feet down to the base of a dig, were shown where the raw materials are brought, and finally allowed to climb on one of their retired trucks, which, years ago when full of its rock load, weighed over 1 million pounds.

We ate a pleasant lunch at one of the many trailheads winding and looping around the old Victor mines, where in the summer we hope to bring the campers.

Our afternoon began at the Pikes Peak Heritage Museum in Cripple Creek, built in 2007. It is a beautiful facility, and we were given the scavenger hunt that school groups are given when in the center. Mike Piel was the only one who seemed to care enough about completing the scavenger hunt, and completed all but 2 questions, due to time. We also watched a very informative 30-minute film on the origins of the mines in Cripple Creek and Victor.

Last was the jail museum, where we were allowed to wander in and out of the old cells, graffiti from inmates still covering the walls. Some of us were even locked inside the cells—temporarily, of course.

With all this great new information we can’t wait to rework our summer Cripple Creek trip, and to create our new all-day trip to Victor!

Banana Suits and Big Things to Come: Thoughts from Big Spring Program Director, David Cumming

Friday, January 13th, 2012

David Cumming, Big Spring Program Director

Well hello there. This is David Cumming, your new Big Spring Program Director at Sanborn Western Camps. I’m extremely excited to be back in action after a summer as a counselor in 2010 and subsequently putting on the overalls and rabbit fur hat as an instructor at High Trails Outdoor Education Center that very fall.

Some of my personal accomplishments include: three-time male champion at Florissant’s annual Thunderbird Figure Skating Competition (I nailed the Half Lutz, but my Open axel was sub-par), Big Spring Nighttime Banana Split Eating Championship (actually I’ve been the only competitor each night … I mean year … I mean, it may or may not take place in my kitchen) and the original Settler of Catan (it was a rough winter for us Catanans, but we pulled through).

But on a somewhat serious note, I hail from the great nation of Florida, and graduated with a degree in journalism and education from the University of Florida, working for newspapers and desperately trying to be Tim Tebow’s friend.  Then I heard about this Colorado place, and it was all over. So for the past year, I was a city slicker up in Denver, working for a non-profit conservation corps along the Front Range doing trail restoration and fire mitigation. During this brief spell, I was able to begin my own after-school outdoor education program, where we brought underprivileged youth on trips to state parks for them to learn about the wild and help build some trails as well. After twelve months of hearing a chain saw buzz in my ears at all hours of the night, I can honestly say that there’s nothing quite like being a citizen of Florissant again.

On International Talk Like a Pirate Day I Climb 14ers...Arrgh!

In my spare time, I have a few writing projects I am working on, and trying to publish my first book (shameless plug)! I also dapple a bit in photography and video, enjoy cooking with family and friends, and am currently trying to nail down vegan bread and dessert baking in such a high altitude (any tips?). I used to be such a jock in my teens (lacrosse, swimming, baseball, surfing, and the occasional beach volleyball (don’t judge me, I was young, and a Floridian)).  Now give me any sport with the words “book” and “club” involved, and I’m there.

Oh, and I have a beard (please don’t make me go solo mustache, as I’ve confirmed with my peers that I just can’t pull it off).

But even more seriously, I am certain that teaching in the outdoors is one of the most significant ways we’re going to keep this world from going lop-sided. I have seen the change first-hand in our campers, our students, and even our counselors (me included) after spending time in the woods. Just a walk among the pines can unlock a universe of possibilities in us. In a place where children are able to just be themselves, to laugh uncontrollably and play freely without worry, and to be still under the stars for the night, they begin to understand just how similar and connected we all really are.

And that right there might change the entire game.

Honestly and truly, it’s an honor to be part of this great leadership team, and I can’t wait until summer gets here.

I’m dry-cleaning the banana suit and sumping a bowl of gravy as I type this.

In the pool,

David

“I only went out for a walk and finally concluded to stay out till sundown, for going out, I found, was really going in.” ― John Muir