Archive for the ‘Children and Nature’ Category

Reflections and Realizations

Tuesday, June 16th, 2015
Camp is finally here! We are all together again! My skin can barely hold all joy and excitement inside me! It is absolutely amazing to see everyone, staff and campers, in the lodge, on the trails and playing in the fields. What we’ve discussed for the last ten days is finally being out to practice. First year counselors and fourth year counselors are seamlessly blending together as a group of strong mentors for this group of young people we’ve welcomed home in the last 24 hours. Everyone is experiencing the first few days of Summer 2015 together and looking forward to all the adventure and fun in store.
As I struggle to sleep tonight with all this excitement, I’ve also been reflecting on the past 10 days of training and the conversations I know have happened at both Big Spring and High Trails. The impact will we have on their lives as counselors, wranglers, or leaders on trips this summer is remarkable. We talked about ways to help campers learn both hard and soft skills and build competence and confidence; not only in their lives at camp, but throughout their lives outside of camp. Staff members are taking to heart all the ideas presented to the group and looking for ways they can impact campers.

Celebrating the summit of Mt. Elbert on day 4 of the 2010 1st Session Elbert/ Massive Trip.

This helped me recognize something special about this summer for me. Many of my junior campers from my first summer on staff are now the Junior Counselors (JCs) at High Trails. In fact, a great many of our staff members were also former campers on trips of mine. Over the past ten days, I’ve realized that some of my favorite people in the world are on the staff this summer – it’s because they are the people that made a huge impact on my life!

These are the ladies that were campers on the first backpacking trip I led, on the first trip with 2 mountain climbs, and on the trip that the rain would never stop and I had dreams of our tents floating away. These were the trips that have shaped me into the mountain woman I am today. I remember those instances that I didn’t speak with grace first, I didn’t come into each conversation with the thought of teaching first. Those are the trips that were wonderful in their many missteps and these are the ladies that trusted me to guide them, teach them and celebrate with them….even when I didn’t feel I had the competence and confidence that I was trying so humbly to help them gain.

All the 2015 staff members who I first met when they were campers and took out on trips. (And Ariella too, who has always been a rock of support)

These are the ladies that impacted my life in so many positive and most important ways.

There is a phrase we use around here sometimes, because of camp… Well, because of camp, I have gained the skills and self-confidence of a great leader, all while being too busy playing in the dirt and hiking with my girls to notice.
To the parents who send their most precious treasures to camp, thank you, you are giving our staff members a most precious gift–the gift of being able to grow and change alongside your sons and daughters.

- Jessie

Opening Day First Term 2015!

Monday, June 15th, 2015

Waiting to welcome the campers at High Trails

The Opening Day of camp is the most exciting day of our year and we enjoyed sun and a brilliant blue sky most of the day. We have had more moisture over the winter and spring than we have had in many years, and our green grass and abundant wildflowers are thriving. After almost two weeks of staff training, we are excited to have campers running down the paths and filling the lodges with laughter. They seem as happy to be here as we are to have them.

Luggage was barely unpacked before camp activities began. The stables were busy with Ride-Out and Basic Preparation, and shouts came from the volleyball courts, the Gaga Pits, and all the camp trails. The sounds of old friends reconnecting and new friendships forming were everywhere. Tonight, tent and cabin groups are playing “Getting Acquainted” and “Team Building” games to facilitate the formation of these important living unit communities. The energy and enthusiasm is contagious.

Tomorrow, our program will begin in earnest and we will have half-day hikes heading out to A-Bluff, Top of the World, the Crystal Beds and other favorite destinations. Basic Preparation will continue at both stables, and we will have introductory sessions in rock climbing and camping skills. We’ll also begin crafts projects, activities at the Interbarn science center, tennis, fishing, and sports. Junior campers will be hiking, riding, swimming, and learning camping skills at the Mountain Odyssey program during their first two days.

On Wednesday morning the girls will backpack out for their Cabinside Overnights at campsites on our property. The boys will camp-out on Thursday night. These first overnights with the living unit accomplish some important goals. They introduce everyone to the fun of camping out; outdoor skills are learned or reviewed; and close bonds are created among the members of each living community. Sanborn Junior campers will also experience their first overnight on Wednesday or Thursday.

Tomorrow night, Opening Campfires will be held at both Big Spring and High Trails, and this year we can have “real” campfires! These are always lots of fun and include great singing and Broadway quality skits. Other special events planned this week include the All Camp Adventure Race, the Counselor Hunt and Cabinside Skit Night at High Trails. At Big Spring the boys will enjoy the Bomber Relay and Unit Skits. Later in the week, we will all get together for a coed ice cream social on Saturday night.

Early in the week, we will be signing up for trips throughout the term. High Trails and Big Spring campers will choose from many exciting possibilities including mountain climbs, horseback trips, tubing/rafting on the South Platte River and wilderness backpacking trips. Counselors and senior staff members will be on hand to help campers select those trips which best fit individual interests. Sanborn Junior campers do not sign up for trips; their program includes two exciting all-day trips in addition to their overnight camping trips.

We will be taking group photos early in the week and will post them on our website—so check us out again late in the week! We’ll also be mailing you a copy of your camper’s group photo with the counselor letter next Sunday. Each Sunday evening, we will send an e-mail to camp families about our activities and we will post photos of activities taken during the previous week in our online community under the “Photos” tab. You will be able to purchase, share, and download photos simply by logging into your online account. Although we can’t promise to show every camper or every activity, we hope these photos will provide a glimpse into life at camp for families and friends.

News from Camp: May 1, 2015

Friday, May 1st, 2015

The catkins are out and we are anxiously awaiting some leaves!

May is a busy, exciting month here at camp. In a week or so, the tents will go up along the Big Spring ridges. All the Big Spring buildings will be opened up, cleaned, and prepared for summer. The Outbacker tents on ABC Ridge have new tent frames this year, the Lodge has a new roof, and the REO Welcome Center has a completely new look.

At High Trails, the cabins and Lodge are already open, but everything will be cleaned and given a fresh coat of paint. In addition we will put up tennis nets, order crafts supplies, organize the backpack tents, and put the final touches on all of our facilities and programs. The Lodge has a new floor and Crystal Palace has a new bathroom.

Maren, Jaime, and Martie will bring in the horses from the pastures at Fish Creek and get them fixed up with new shoes for all the great rides this summer. There are plenty of things to keep us busy, and everyone is excited about these projects because they mean that a new season of camp is almost here!

The Aspen are showing catkins now and we’ll begin to see the first leaves later in the month; the bluebirds and robins are back, and a herd of deer has been hanging around Big Spring and High Trails. We have had a wonderful amount of moisture during the past two months so our grass is green and we anticipate spectacular wildflowers as we move into summer. The Pasque Flowers have already bloomed; it won’t be long before we begin to see Indian Paintbrush and the spectacular wild Iris in the field in front of the Witcher house. The first hummingbird has been sighted and a couple of porcupines have been seen lumbering along the road at night.

Late this month, we will begin staff training for our ridge leaders and trip leaders. During the weekend after Memorial Day (not a holiday here) we will do a leadership training session with our Ridge Leaders and Wranglers. On Monday and Tuesday, any members of our leadership staff who do not have current certification in Wilderness First Aid will take that class taught by instructors from the Wilderness Medicine Institute. On Wednesday, we’ll be providing more first aid instruction and a full day of driver training. On Thursday, June 4, our entire staff will arrive for a 10-day training period before the first campers arrive. And on June 14, first term campers arrive and we’ll be off…

We are still accepting enrollments in some age groups in the Second Term so let us know if you are interested in receiving our brochure and DVD. Summer—2015 promises to be a fantastic experience for everyone!

The Importance of Climbing

Friday, March 27th, 2015

Life is a gift, but some days it feels like a chore.  On those days, we can feel overloaded with the weight of responsibility, disappointment, and anxiety.  It’s important to push through those feelings because in the end, life is an adventure.  That’s one of the reasons it’s important to get outdoors.  More specifically, it’s important to climb mountains.

Climbing a mountain somehow resets your brain.  Ascending any peak, no matter its size, is an exhausting journey, a crazy trek.  It changes you as it challenges you.  Maybe it’s the lack of oxygen, but every time I climb a mountain I see the world in a new light.

I climbed my first mountain at camp many years ago.  School had ended, summer rolled around, I assumed I had three months of dullness to look forward to.  But then, my parents sent me to Sanborn.  Boredom went out the door.  I loved it.

It was that summer that I climbed my first 14er.   I’ll never forget that trip.  I remember getting dropped at the trailhead, our packs full.

At the trailhead, ready to climb

Counselors checked the maps, and we set out into the wilderness.  After many hours of hiking, we reached our basecamp.  Rising to the north was the cloud-covered mountain that we were driven to climb.  That night, we ate well, sang songs around the fire, and drifted to sleep in our little village of tents.

We woke long before dawn to find the counselors up and ready.  We crunched down some cold cereal and set out to climb the mountain.  The adrenaline was flowing, the spirit of adventure pushing us.  Hours passed, our line of headlamps bobbing up the steep trail, gaining altitude. I was exhausted and I wanted to give up.  But with encouragement from my counselors, I pushed on.

As early daylight broke on the mountain, we were able to see our progress.  I was encouraged by how high we had climbed.  In the valley below, our tents were so small they were hard to see.  And then we saw an eagle fly.  Not above us, but below us.  Looking down on that powerful bird as it soared across the sky was a shift for my brain.

We pressed on.  After a while, we could see the summit — it was only a few hundred yards away.  I was so excited I joined other campers and we ran… only to discover… it was a false peak.  We learned an important life lesson: don’t burn out racing up false peaks.  I was exhausted, but because of my counselors, because of how much they believed in me, I never gave up.  We pressed on.  It seemed like we were hiking across a lunar landscape.

Climbing a 14er

We were above tree line, no vegetation, the squeak of pikas all around us.  Hours moved like minutes.  We fought the wind and cheered each other on.  Finally, we scrambled over rocks that were billions of years old and reached the summit.  We did it.  There was a mystic silence as we stood on the peak and watched the sun rise over the Rockies.  I laughed with delight, bonding with my Big Spring brothers.  I couldn’t wait to climb again.

Standing on top is amazing, but the summit is not the goal.   The reason we climb a mountain is just that:  to climb.   One of my favorite climbs was years ago, when I was a counselor myself and our camp trip didn’t even reach the top.  A storm rolled in over Mount Harvard and pushed us down long before the summit.  We returned to base camp and took shelter from the cloudburst.  We still had a great climb.  It was an epic trip, long remembered, even though we didn’t make it to the top.  The goal is not only the summit, the goal is the journey, the strength you gain from the climb, and the memories.

Standing on top of the world

When we climb mountains, it clarifies our thinking.  The disorder of our lives — the argument with a friend, the bad grade in algebra — all of it is forgotten.  The mountain is all that matters.  It gives us perspective.  When we climb, the mountain speaks to us in geologic time, a slow-motion language, and it reminds us that that problems are fleeting and life is truly a gift.

~M.Huffman~

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-

Nothing is Simple and Alone

Thursday, October 16th, 2014

New Perspectives

When I think back on the best times of my life, I always end up thinking about summer camp.  My experience at camp truly shaped who I am today.  It helped me see the world in a new way.   As a camper, I learned that my view of the world was an internal, subjective interpretation.  The counselors and trip leaders didn’t just guide me into the wilderness, they guided me into a new way of seeing.

At Sanborn camps, there is a two day trip called the Lone Vigil, a little adventure that I signed up for when I was a kid at camp.  The trip is simple: a camper spends time alone in the wilderness, two days and one night…alone.  On other trips, the campers and counselors stay together, hike together, set up tents in a cluster, cook, eat, and sleep in a small group.  But not the Lone Vigil.  On that trip, the goal was solitude.  Campers are lead by their counselors into the woods, then after a mile or so, the group splits up and heads in different directions.  Everyone strikes out alone.

I can remember walking alone, feeling the weight of my pack filled with food, shelter, and provisions.  I was self-sufficient, hiking alone in the woods, nervous but confident.  I was armed with new skills learned in camp — the ability to read map and compass, the knowledge of fire safety, the tenants of leave-no-trace camping, and a good book.  I soon found my campsite, close to water but not too close.  I set up my tent and gathered wood.  The solitude was amazing.  I felt the wind in a new way, heard the birds more clearly.  I spent the entire afternoon alone, building camp alone, cooking and watching the sunset alone.

Solitude and Silence

So many emotions rolled through my mind and body.  I was excited, afraid, lonely, uplifted, and curious.  The hours ticked by in solitude, and my eyes began to open up and really see the woods.   Dappled sunlight. The idleness of a huge boulder. The paper-wind-chime music of an aspen grove.  Movement caught my eye, and I turned to see a group of deer staring back at me.  I felt like I was…part of it.

As darkness settled in, a bit of fear filled my young mind.  Alone in the woods all night?  Could I pull this off?  A welcomed visit from my counselor calmed my nerves.  He approached through the twilight with a bag of candy and a few fun stories.  He assured me that he was keeping an eye on me from a distance, not far away, not to worry.  The counselor walked off into the dusk, heading out to check on the other Lone Vigils.

The light faded, and I was alone with the night.  There were so many stars, countless tiny jewels.  The fear inside me melted away.  The limitless stars seemed to echo what my counselor said: I was safe.  As I faded off to sleep bundled in my bag, the cosmos kept me company.

I woke at first light, alone in the sunrise.  I watched the trees, was the trees.  A golden eagle circled above me, then dove down the wind into a field.  I had never seen a eagle before, I swear it was bigger than my dog back home. The eagle blurred in the grass, then took back to the air with a rodent locked in its talons.  Breakfast.  Good idea.  I got up and cooked myself some oatmeal, thinking.  I’d never seen anything like that, the circle of life, the hunt of a golden eagle, the pulse of the planet.  It was a natural, personal, adventurous experienced that was only possible at summer camp.

First light

Years later, when I became a counselor at Sanborn, I learned how the trip worked.  I learned that the counselor was indeed always near by.  Even though I felt completely alone, an adult was just over the ridge, just behind the aspen grove, always watching and making sure I was safe.  But when I was a kid, I didn’t know that for sure.  All I knew was the change I went through.

On camp trips like that, I learned to respect the earth, because we are the earth.  The survival of the human race depends on nature.  We were born with nature, we are part of it all.  For me, it was my time at summer camp that helped me see that.  Nature is always with us.  Even on a Lone Vigil, we are never alone.

-M.Huffman-

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.

Building Interview #2: Quick’s Homestead

Wednesday, March 5th, 2014

The gate is open and the wire and wooden post is covered in snow. Where are the juniors running around the campfire waiting for their chili mac to finish? I’ve seen a lot of light saber duals around this house, not to mention the amount of shady deals gone down in the feed-store-turned-saloon in front of the homestead. Soon school groups will be here. They will move from the tool shed to the caved-in potato cellar, across the wooden boards to the barn, and out to see the old carriages and plows rusted out and wood bleached from the sun in the field.

I interviewed the stove.

WM: What’s cooking?

S: Heh, not much.

WM: It was only a question, don’t get overheated!

S: Wow, that’s great.

WM: Thanks. You ever get to read the books in here?

S: Sometimes, but I’m not a big reader.

WM: What do you want to be when you’re older?

S: A Stove.

WM: Ha, good one. Uh… [WM shuffles through his pad of paper.] Ever heard of television?

S: Nope.

WM: A Jet Boil?

S: No.

WM: You hear how many retweets Ellen DeGeneres got at the Oscars?

S: Nope.

WM: Like over 2 million.

It’s hard to imagine, this winter flying back and forth home to Massachusetts, driving down to Colorado Springs to see a movie in 3D, driving to Crested Butte to ski for the weekend, that Quick’s is always here. That it always smells like this. That at 2pm the sun looks like this. The tools are lying just so, waiting for us to find them in the Spring and hand to wide-eyed children. I sometimes think the ground squirrels always hide in the rafters of the tool shed until I walk up, exploding across the wooden boards and vanishing with a flip of their tail out of sight.

WM: A microwave?

S: [She shakes her head.]

WM: It’s really neat, it’s got these buttons and you can make a hotdog in 45 seconds. 1 minute if you want it to split—

S: Look, can we wrap this up soon?

WM: Wait! Sorry I’m so nervous, it’s just… you’re my favorite stove.

S: [Stove brightens up.] OK. Let’s try again, then.

WM: Sorry about before. I didn’t mean to grill you.

Why You Can’t Always Believe What You Read

Thursday, May 9th, 2013

In a recent Wall Street Journal article entitled “10 Things….Summer Camps Won’t Tell You,” and I was struck by the odd contrast between the title and the actual content of the article.  The “10 Things” were all apparent quotes about the camp experience that had neither context nor sources. Beyond this issue, I realized that the Colorado Springs’ Gazette’s version was incredibly abbreviated.  The full story is here: http://www.marketwatch.com/story/10-things-summer-camps-wont-tell-you-2013-05-03 I am not sure why the content was completely butchered, but the story was awful to read and completely misleading to our local Colorado readers.

Perplexing structure and writing aside, I want to examine the source-less “quotes” as potential societal trends impacting the camp community, and perpetuated by this sort of poor journalism.  By looking at each of the “Top 10” with a more balanced and fair perspective, I think we can see that the Gazette (and Ms. Wieczner) missed an opportunity to present the ever-changing summer camp experience as what it truly is:  A fluid, agile environment of youth development professionals who are committed to excellent client and customer service and who, quite frankly, have a better understanding of what children need today than most other youth serving organizations.

True, as a camp director I have a particularly acute bias, but I am also a parent of a camp-aged child who—like most of his peers—NEEDS the camp experience every summer, and I am a certified secondary educator who sees the woefully paralyzed state of our nation’s public school system post-NCLB and knows that, for many, a camp experience will provide necessary character and values development that no longer exists in most educational curriculum.

As an editorial response to Jen Wieczner and the Gazette’s re-working of her article, I would simply point out—like we do at camp when we are mediating situations that arise in the unique, respectful community we create each and every summer—there are two sides to every story.  To equate the joy of making and eating s’mores around a campfire (gluten-free graham crackers provided) with friends with whom you have made authentic, real friendships (grounded in healthy risk-taking and shared, fun experiences) far trumps any access to cellphones.  As parents, we know (deep down) that these independent experiences with support from young adult counselors develop character and self-efficacy in our children in a way that we cannot replicate at home.

Because of cultural trends, summer camp is more important to whole-child development today than ever before in history, and our professional accrediting body, the American Camp Association does a brilliant job providing not only a body of research to support that claim, but also shares a great deal of non-biased information about accredited camps all across the nation.  Being an accredited camp means holding ourselves to standards that are above and beyond national and societal expectations.  Camp gives kids a world of good in a world of social and cultural stressors…so let’s see if we can answer the question Ms. Wieczner asks: “will campers have any fun?”

1.  “It’s called camp, but it feels more and more like school.” Unlike the mass-consumption, Hollywood image that equates a child’s summer camp experience to the movie “Red Hot American Summer,” camp has ALWAYS been about education.  Beyond the emotional intelligence camp develops in campers through community life and opportunities for free play, many camps have made the choice to offer campers more specialized study AND play in fields that interest them.  This trend is far more representative of the desires of both campers and parents to be able to “specialize” in something while at camp.  This specialized focus may be for future college prospects or it might simply be to honor a child’s own interests…a key way to help children enjoy the camp experience.  If a camper has helped pick which camp he attends, his ownership of the experience will be that much higher.

2. “There’s not enough bug spray in the world to protect you from these pests.” Nature.  As Woody Allen so eloquently said, “I love nature.  I just don’t want to get any of it on me.”  There are bugs in the woods, there are sometimes mice in the cabins, and there are even porcupines munching loudly (and quite rudely) in the trees above your tent while you are trying to sleep.  Critters and bugs can be a bit icky for some, and bedbugs are undoubtedly a concern, but—for some reason—I am much more concerned about sleeping in a hotel near a bustling airport than sleeping in a bunk at camp.  Plus interactions in the outdoors are typically memorable and create an ongoing sense of wonder, and a stewardship of and connection to the natural world.

3.  “PB&J and ice cream?  Not anymore.” Look.  Let’s be real. Going out to eat with my four and eight year old sons is an exercise in limited options.  Most camps have policies and procedures surrounding food allergies and dietary restrictions.  Some camps are completely nut free, some are not.  Some actively limit the amount of sugar, some do not.  Some provide daily vegetarian or vegan options, some do not.  Just like choosing a restaurant, you can choose a camp that will accommodate the nutritional needs of your child.  Yet, just like at a restaurant, you can’t make them sit at the table indefinitely if they refuse to eat…but you can take away dessert.

4.  “Your kid has a cellphone, but that doesn’t mean you can talk to him.” Exactly.  That’s the point.  How often do you try and get your child OFF of her phone?  Unstructured time in the outdoors, away from technology gives children the opportunity to develop authentic friendship, teamwork and leadership skills with REAL people…who, more often than not, are actually REAL friends, too.  As for not being able to talk to your kids while they are at camp, just think of it as a vacation for your kids…plus letter writing is a skill they will use for the rest of their lives.

5.  “Homesickness?  Try I-miss-my-kid sickness.” A tool we use at camp when campers are homesick is to help them understand feeling that way is normal and then we try and get them excited about all of their upcoming trips and activities.  Let’s try it for parents:  Being kidsick is normal.  Lots of other parents feel the same way.  Let’s look at your calendar for the month and see what exciting things you have planned.  Ohhh, look!  You have a dentist appointment next Monday, and this Thursday you are hosting your book club and you haven’t read the chosen book (Cloud Atlas) yet.  Then, the following week you have a waxing appointment and have to take your visiting sister-in-law (she has horse teeth, really?) to lunch. (No wonder you are kidsick.  Just know that blubbering about your 10 year old leaving for a few weeks is more understandable than sobbing uncontrollably when your 19 year old leaves for college.)

6. “There’s a bully born every minute.” One of the key differentiators between bullies and “upstanders” (peers who speak up when they witness bullying) is that most bullies lack empathy.  Teaching children friendship skills, and providing environments where individuals are respected for who they are is a key component of camp.  Pranks and cabin raids are more typical in Hollywood portrayals of camp than in camp itself.  Parent Trap is over 50 years old, and to think that our campers continue to both look and act like Hayley Mills in the film is cultural hyperbole.

7.  “It’s a dangerous world; we’re just camping in it.” Right.  Better to be camping in the outdoors than texting and driving, experimenting with drugs, alcohol, and unprotected sex, and away from the fear saturated media.  Camp provides an incredibly safe place where kids can be kids, and—in all honesty—one of the overarching goals of camp is to actually give campers life and relational skills that will eventually make the world a safer place because kids who come to camp understand our shared humanity.

8. “You think getting your kids into college will be hard?  Try getting them into camp.” There are THOUSANDS of camps.  If the camp you are waitlisted for doesn’t give you other ideas for similar camps in the region that have similar programs or goals, then that camp doesn’t recognize the importance of capital C “Camp” for childhood/youth development.  And, as a parent, if you buy into the hype that there is only “one” camp for your child—then you are denying your child the opportunity to have a new and unique camp experience.

9.  “Our camp feels more like a reality show.” One of the most prolific and outstanding speakers at American Camp Associations across the country is family therapist Bob Ditter.  During training sessions, Mr. Ditter talks about “getting on the same train” as your campers—meaning, that in order to completely connect with kids, we need to know and understand (and even read or listen to) THEIR worlds.   So yes, we offer Katniss Everdeen archery competitions,  Zombie Apocalypse hikes, and Superhero horseback rides—not because these are culturally cool—but because these types of activities echo what our campers are into, relate to, and plus they are great springboards for even more innovative and creative programming.

10.  “Some counselors have to be taught to keep their hands to themselves.” Ah, just in case Ms. Wieczner readers hadn’t been scared effectively enough after noting summer camps’ apparent limited  fun, bugs, lack of communication, bullies, mass shootings, the threat of social isolation, and the ever-present and insidious nature of cultural trends spread through technology (which makes the whole cell-phone thing even more hypocritical), now we can also worry about our kids being abused at camp.  Yet Ms. Wieczner is correct when she says “assaults and abuse are rare at camp.”

Though there is plenty to take issue with, in the end I think Ms. Wieczner’s title brings up a very good point:  as parents, we have to be responsible adults, do research and ask camp directors hard questions about the nature of their staff training, the goals and objectives of the program, the mission and philosophy of the camp, and we also have to ask those “boogeyman” type questions too, just to allay our fears (many of which are spurred on by articles like Ms. Wieczner’s and liberties taken by subsidiary editors).

Camps that are worth their salt will be open and transparent about their policies and practices, and we (camp directors) like it when parents are thoughtful enough to ask:  “tell me about your hiring process” or “what sort of emergency/crisis management plans do you have in place?” or “why can’t I talk to my child when he is at camp?” or “how do you handle homesickness…and if I need to call or email you for reassurance, is that okay?”

When we are practicing and modeling the skills required to eventually let our children go and become successful, functional adults, our children will grow too.  If we have confidence in the leadership at our chosen summer camps and are even brave enough to consider sending our child to camp in the first place, our children will not only have fun at camp—they will flourish.

~Ariella Rogge~