Category: Cool to Be You in ’22

Pause . . . and Breathe It In

Posted by on March 29, 2022

There is a calm in the ebb and flow of nature, the patterns in its existence and the rhythm of its systems. There is an unbelievable beauty and complexity residing within the ecosystem that surrounds us and is often underestimated and overlooked. This isn’t necessarily because we don’t care, but rather because the busyness of life gets in the way and because maybe someone just didn’t think to teach us to pause and to appreciate it.

In April of 1974 the article “Touched by Nature” was published in National Geographic Magazine, and it shared with the world the beauty of both Towering Pines Camp for Boys and Camp Woodland for Girls. The “AWEsomeness” of what this article expressed with the world is that campers today still have the opportunity to encounter some of the most incredible natural experiences that these two camps have to offer. Located in the Northwoods of Wisconsin in the heart of the American Legion State Forest, campers live among the tall white pine trees near spring fed lakes and amidst very unique ecological habitats.

 

 

 

 

An excerpt from this article shared some of the wonder of what campers experience at Towering Pines and Woodland, “Having people learn to become part of nature–to merge with the environment–is the aim of acclimatization, the brain child of Steve Van Matre, associate director of Towering Pines. ‘It’s not showing, but sharing and feeling–a heightened awareness and respect for the wholeness of the environment that we are seeking,’ writes Steve. ‘What do we care if the camper fails to remember the name of a wild flower. Does he remember its fragrance, the texture of its leaves? Does he know where to find it? And does he know, not because someone told him he should know, but because for him it is a thing of enjoyment and beauty?’”

 

 

 

 

Campers can participate in “zoo class” where they do exchanges between camps so they can engage in learning at both Towering Pines (TP) and Woodland. They take hikes into the forest through swampy areas to the moss garden and Lost Lake. They also walk through the meadow to see the awesome expanse of the climax/old growth forest. The bog provides another chance to observe and feel nature as they see the ripple effect of Merrybrook, a stream flowing from the bog into Sand Lake. There are scavenger hunts into the woods to look for clues that creatures leave behind on the forest floor. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

You’ll see wildflowers being planted at farm zoo at Woodland, and terrariums being created at TP. In skin diving class, campers at TP are exploring underwater cribs where fish, turtles and other wildlife live. In horseback riding and biking girls and boys investigate networks of trails where they are literally surrounded by the canopy of magnificence that the forest creates.

 

 

 

 

 

 

In addition, there are so many spontaneous spectacular opportunities to watch a bald eagle soar across the lake, to witness a pair of sandhill cranes fly over the assembly area, to listen to a loon calling to his mate or to hear an eaglet squawking longingly for his parents. 

There are unbelievable starlit nights where the constellations and Milky Way seem to imprint the sky with shimmering light. The moon’s reflection often dances across the water creating a pathway to the “Bridge of Gold” (TP song reference). There are incredible morning sunrises and evening sunsets that literally paint the sky with their colors on the canvas of the water. And there are all of the amazing sounds of the many creatures; their songs echoing through the forest from their hiding places in the lakes and the trees. 

 

 

 

 

 

Within all of this, there are the impactful moments of teaching in which campers and staff learn how to be one with nature and to understand its fragility. For example, as a camp community we are taught to only pick one wildflower for every seven found growing together. In this way, children and adults alike learn to preserve the beauty of nature for generations to come. There are a plethora of incidental yet impactful teachable moments that help encourage respect of all forms of nature as is explained by the author, Elizabeth A. Moize, “On the last day each camper is given a block of earth and asked to take it apart to try to determine where it came from and what it’s made of.  Finally they are asked to put it back together. And suddenly they understand:  Something that has taken so very long to put together should not be taken apart heedlessly.”

 

 

 

 

This is why summer camp is such a special gift. It’s an incredible opportunity to co-exist with nature in a unique way that creates a plethora of moments to pause and to breathe in what surrounds us. 

(Reference to National Geographic Archives https://archive.nationalgeographic.com/national-geographic/1974-apr/flipbook/536/)

 

First shared by Angie Ziller as a Towering Pines blog.

How Less Adds Up to More at Camp

 

I am writing this just a few days after the biggest gift-exchanging holiday in the world. I had no less than 3 people in 2 hours tell me that it was too much. One person shared that they didn’t even finish opening their gifts that day. They started. Got hungry. Ate breakfast. Opened some more presents. Needed a break. Walked on the beach. Kids were tired. Took naps. Went back at it. By the end of the day, they still had unwrapping to do. In fact, I don’t think they ever reached completion!

Another person offered that they moved the day they actually celebrated the holiday so that it was less hustle and bustle of various family members trying to make the rounds. A third person told me that his Mom brought way too much stuff. It was over the top. His kids didn’t even know what to do with it all. It was overwhelming. I think this is all well intentioned, and like many things when there is too much, appreciation goes out the window. It gets lost or even forgotten in all the excess.

When I look back at my own childhood, I remember one particular Christmas when I scored the trifecta. I got the Barbie camper, tent, and airplane. I thought I had won the lottery! The interesting thing, though, is that my younger sister also received the same three popular Mattel items. It never really occurred to me until recently that buying duplicate sets was most likely a huge sacrifice for my parents. I wonder why they didn’t just get them for us to share? Maybe because they knew I was a bit selfish as the older sister. Having 2 sets of identical Barbie accessories would eliminate World War III from breaking out in our basement playroom. 

As an adult, I can appreciate the idea of less is more. In fact, I use that principle when building slides for a PowerPoint presentation. Less words, more images. It can be found in other situations as well. Fewer unhealthy foods, more energy. Less time scrolling gives more opportunities to read, nap, or walk the dogs. A decrease in frivolous spending is more money in the bank.

I also see how it plays out at camp each and every summer. For the 80 campers and 35 staff who make their way to County D Road come June, less truly adds up to more:

  • We have less distractions and more time to spend enjoying the present moment. 
  • There is an absence of technology which allows for real face-time conversations and interactions. 
  • We are indoors for a minimal amount of time (eating and sleeping) and that opens up the opportunity to be immersed in nature. 
  • We can only bring so much “stuff” in our trunks and duffles; therefore, we make do with what we have (and don’t waste time deciding what to wear!). 
  • We live in rustic, yet homey accommodations, where the people we are with (and an occasional spider or two) are way more important than the decor on the walls or things we own.
  • The drama closet with its vintage donations and an art room stocked with basic supplies gives us license to be creative and innovative with costumes and props for themed events. 
  • Less instantaneous (mail, for one!) means learning to delay gratification. 
  • Being conscientious of unkind words and actions reminds us to be more inclusive. 
  • The absence of fast food is replaced with more sit-down meals and sharing about your day with your cabin family.
  • Being away from caregivers and friends encourages self-sufficiency and independence.  

The list goes on and on. At camp we trade over the top for simple. Even though I am not in the Northwoods at the moment, today was a good reminder of that. Simple is good. It grounds you. We return home from camp being grateful for the little things. 

I wonder what lesson I would have learned sooner had my parents made the decision for me and my sister to share Barbie’s camper, tent, and airplane? Maybe we would have avoided having tape down the middle of our shared room at one point. Maybe I would have been more appreciative for what I did have. Maybe I would have understood at an earlier age that less is more.