A long time ago in the Kittatinny Mountains of New Jersey, an Executive Director of A Camp for Disadvantaged kids sent out a call for people to apply for a camp counselor job. A young, unexperienced kid from Kansas sent her application in. She had never left Kansas except for traveling to Oklahoma to go to college. She knew a lot about nature, and the psychology of children. She hopped on a bus to New York City that summer in route to Camp Trail Blazer in New Jersey.
She arrived at the camp in the pouring rain and walked across uneven rocky ground to the lodge where other counselors were waiting to start orientation. She met the Director who was tall and looked part Indian. Her face was weathered, and freckles were sprinkled across her cheeks and nose. Her eyes were dark as midnight and they snapped with mischief and good humor. She smiled a very gentle smile. She carried an air of authority that was mixed with a liberal dose of compassion. Her love for the camp and her respect for us was very clear. One got a sense that she was very wise about nature and human nature. She told us all about the camp and its mission: to help children learn survival skills, learn team work, develop healthy relationships with others, and develop character. The children would be exposed to Nature and learn all kinds of things about hiking, taking care of burros, cutting down and chopping wood with an ax and saw, making campfires, building things out of saplings and binder’s twine, and how to survive in the forest if you were lost. They were also encouraged to develop their own idea of spirituality. Eight campers were distributed to each small camp- one being a camp with tepees. They warmed themselves with campfires they built and learned to shop for food, prepare, and cook it, and serve it. Other campers washed dishes and cleaned up.
The children and counselors would sit around the campfire and discuss chores, give affirmations to one another and share any problems they might have. Spiritual songs were sung, star constellations pointed out, and the sounds of animals in the darkness were explained and fears eased.
Every person pitched in no matter what the task. Campers and counselors were family. They had responsibilities in the small camp. They learned to accept each others flaws, how to forgive, and how to trust and love. Every one grew emotionally and spiritually. The Camp Director, Lois, built campfires, chopped wood, and did other chores too. The children adored her. She would read poetry to them around the fire at night and every one would be mesmerized by the experience. The camp counselors loved the wild flower hikes with her, and she would tell us all about the history of the mountains, the trees, birds, and other aspects of nature.
This lady reinforced my love for the outdoors, encouraged my love for poetry and writing, and she increased my beliefs about goodness, fairness, respect for others, and hope for the future. She was a Christian, and she lived her religion in all that she did. The love of God flowed from her into others. She died a long time ago, but she had an incredible influence on my life. I was fortunate to have her life cross mine.