Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Summer Camp as a Spiritual Experience

I thought that this fit into the pagan concepts that are discussed on this blog. Many times people underplay the significance of a youth summer camp, almost making fun of it in their wording. They will make statements like "oh, singing by the campfire at summer camp." I would disagree. It is a very memorable experience, and one that someone will not likely ever forget. I can even remember the words to songs that were sung when I went to summer camp. In fact, in a truly spiritual nation, it would/should be considered an essential youth experience.

It's the first experience away from home for many kids. For those from urban areas, which would more-or-less be the vast majority, the environment is completely different in every way, especially for me. I went to camp only once at age twelve. Although, in theory, adults could benefit from this experience too, it's not the same as when you a kid and everyone is not so serious or complicated as adults so often are. I can't imagine as to why most people would think that a professional sport game would be soo important, but a life-changing experience like summer camp is... not so special. 99.5% of all those "important games" are completely forgotten from one's memory, while camp is not something that you're likely to ever forget.

I attended through my grammar school. We left by bus on a Friday, probably early, and returned either the following Friday or Sunday. I forgot exactly, but it felt like three weeks! I won't go through every whistle and bell, but it was an hour drive at the most. The camp was run by the YMCA, and the name was/is "Camp Jones Gulch," which has been around since 1934. Upon arriving, the schedule was very fast-paced. The staff included regulars and volunteers. I can truly say that they were all very friendly and positive. We were broken up into boys and girls, and placed in small groups. One group for each cabin, and a volunteer councilor for each cabin.

The camp was located in the northern Santa Cruz Mountains, in an area not all that far from civilization, but it was plenty "away from it all." Anyone familiar with the Santa Cruz Mountains further south can attest to it's remoteness, but this area was significantly far enough from the lights of urban life to allow one to view a dark sky which was entirely full of stars at night. The camp itself was located in tiny La Honda, California, but in a remote area, apparently within the city limits, although it hardly felt like it as there were no houses anywhere, and there was only one main road cutting through the area. It was almost totally mountain forests, which in some places were so thick that even on the hottest days it was dark and cool in the shade. In some places it was actually dark, despite a clear sky and the sun beating down.

The days went by so fast because we were so busy. There was an outdoor eating area with a roof, and the rest of the time we were either hiking, learning how to make a shelter, taking night walks under the very stary sky, singing, sitting by the campfire, getting short lectures about nature. I can laugh now, but at the time I wasn't very crazy about the "open bathrooms." In other words, the cabin bathrooms had not stalls, with everything right out in the open, and the showers were like "group showers."

I don't really recall seeing many animals, outside of a few hawks or squirrels. I do know that there is a lot of wildlife up there though, including mountain lions. One time nature caught up with us, with one girl from my school getting stung by bees during a hike. Sometimes "nature" sounds almost like a passive word. Nothing could be further from the truth. People should sometimes ponder as to what they would do if they were lost and had to survive in a remote wilderness of any type.

When taking a hike at night, we did stop to gaze at the stary sky. Sometimes I think about how that sky is the same sky that our ancestors observed thousands of years ago. There were complex observatories in Val Camonica, near the villiage of Cevo. The god Cernunnos and other aspects of Camunian culture are based on astronomy. So on that night long ago, at age twelve, in the Santa Cruz Mountains, I observed the same sky that one of my distant forefathers or foremothers observed, at the same age, probably on the the exact same date, possibly eight or ten thousand years ago in the Alpine Mountains.

We don't usually think of it, but every living creature has within it, a "historical memory." I recently purchased an imitation owl to serve as a scare crow against birds who were leaving their droppings on a certain railing. I read where certain birds, like seagulls I think, are not afraid of the owl because they have no historical memory of them. Whereas most do have that memory and will avoid the statue. Foxes are being domesticated now, and it takes several generations to tame them for the same basic reason. That sky is part of my own historical memory.

Most of the children there were from Santa Cruz County. At that time, so many of them were blonde and Nordic-looking. Seeing them within this mountain-forest environment was almost like a historical memory. As the Langobards derived from the Winnili people of ancient Scandinavia, there were many generations who lived in the mountainous forests of central Europe. Perhaps I was having a flashback from the "ancestral memory" from that part of myself.

People could benefit from this type of experience at any point in their lives, but it wouldn't be the same if you could, hypothetically, go to a camp with random people from society, and you were with someone who couldn't wait to get online to check their stocks. I remember the 1993 movie 'Indian Summer', where some adults in their early thirties, had a "summer camp reunion" organized by the longtime facilitator of the camp who was either retiring or closing down the camp, which was located in the northwoods. I don't really think something like that would really happen in that way, but it was a great concept for a movie. What IF people could have types of obscure reunions like that? It's fun to ponder. If you haven't seen that movie, you should.

I was also a cub scout, and later a webelo, as a youth. It would have been interesting to have continued as a boy scout, but boys rarely continue in high school as it's a commitment of time, and with so many activities, it's hard to fit it in. It would be nice if scouting would make a comeback. I know that the woman who is the head ranger in the county I live in was a former girl scout in the area, and from probably about the same time as me, which is interesting.


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