I have lived in cities all my life. I was born in the East Village in Manhattan, then moved to San Francisco when I was five years old. Living in a concrete jungle has its advantages, but clean air and trees aren’t included on that list. When I was eleven my father dropped me off at a summer camp up in the Sierra foothills for a week long stay. I felt excited to try something new, but also nervous at the same. Little did I know that this camp would forever alter the path of my life and that I would learn to call this place home.
The campsite was called Lodestar. When you arrive there is an ancient wooden sign at the mouth of camp proudly displaying the name like a badge of honor. As you drive down the dusty, rocky road you start to see all the tent cabins that generations have slept in. These tent cabins are from a bygone era; the only source of electricity is the single bulb that illuminates the sacred space. Canvas covers all the windows and doors and the friendly smell of dust greets you when cross the threshold. Upon your arrival at the main camp, you are greeted with open arms by cheerful and excited staff members. As the years melted away, I became one of those staff members.
At camp anything seemed possible. Back home, I enjoyed solitary activities like reading and playing with Legos. I had one or two good friends but not much of a social circle beyond that. Never in my wildest dreams would I have imagined myself doing the things I did at camp. I learned to dive into water two days after I had arrived. Four days in I was jumping out of a tree forty feet in the air (with the proper equipment). I was shooting arrows with compound bows and never hitting the targets, but having more fun than I ever had before. Even my social skills managed to get boosted in the years I was at camp. Everyone was equal under the stars. The same rules applied to everyone. I found myself talking to girls and groups of people that, being a shy nerd, I wouldn’t even have looked at back in school. I was making lifelong friends I would keep to this day.
The most magical thing about Camp Lodestar after all these years is that the staff that works there now is essentially comprised of campers I met on that first day. We still enjoy camp, but on a level that requires us to not be takers of what camp has to offer, but givers. Every morning we gather with our small groups and discuss a lesson for that day. We pass down lessons to the kids on the value of human kindness, empathy and learning to acknowledge fear for what it is and not letting it control them. At the beginning of the week, we give each kid a sizeable rock and a sharpie. Every day of camp, we ask them to write something that they are afraid of on their rock. The last day of camp we walk the kids down to the creek and ask them to throw their rocks in the water and yell “I will not let fear overcome me!” Seeing them bursting with confidence and a sense of community, we are proud to be their leaders.
The kids who pass through have never been to camp before, let alone been around trees and wildlife. Every time one of the kids arrives it’s almost as if a tiny genesis occurs in their minds. All of the brand new sensory data overloads them and it is great to watch them take it all in, from the towering pines and red iron infused dirt to the little nettles that always seem to get stuck in our socks. Teaching them these skills and watching them grow is better than participating in the activities that I did as a camper. One activity that always sticks out for me is our daylong hike to the river. Usually the inner city kids are not too thrilled at the prospect of a five mile hike and on the first leg of that journey they do nothing but whine about how tired and upset they are. However, once we get to the river and they realize how much fun is to be had in these outdoors, I find it truly difficult to blow the whistle signaling the end of the day.
At the end of it all, I would not trade anything for the times I have had at Camp Lodestar. The week I get to spend up there every summer is worth paying for. I am truly a different person because of camp. If it had not been for camp, I never would have learned to take risks in my life. Being a leader at camp taught me to tolerate everyone for who they are, to put myself in another’s shoes and to have a generous spirit. I owe it all to those 75 acres up in Wilseyville, California.