Take Me Back to the Hills of Camp Toccoa

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I have hiked the Appalachian Trail in three states.

I have gone tubing down the James River in Virginia.

I have body surfed in the Atlantic Ocean.

I have explored and hiked trails in Arizona, marveling at the art left in the rocks by those who lived there before my time.

I have climbed a mountain and gazed down at the city of Kyoto, Japan.

I have gone 4-wheeling in the Pyrenees of northern Spain and southern France.

I have climbed Stone Mountain more times than I can remember.

I have sat on a rock overlooking the Shenandoah Valley and watched a hawk soar through the blue autumn sky.

All of these things, and many more, I have done in the 69 years of my life. I have experienced a lifetime of extraordinary days.

But none of these adventures hold a candle to the ones I had every summer growing up, and spending weeks on end at Camp Toccoa in the North Georgia mountains.

From the age of 8 until my 16th summer, the end of school in June meant that summer camp was near. My days were spent in anticipation of going to camp, riding the train from Atlanta to Toccoa, and then spending anywhere from 2 weeks to 6 weeks (depending on my ability to beg my parents to let me stay, and their ability to pay for it) at Camp Toccoa.

I was a very shy little girl – an introvert before I knew the word or what it means – and never was quite comfortable anywhere except in my cabin at camp with 7 other girls. I always felt overwhelmed in a school classroom filled with kids, on the playground at recess, waiting to be picked for a team, and even in Sunday School, where I was never sure where I was supposed to be or what I was supposed to believe. In my everyday life I was somewhat of a chameleon – I could adapt to my surroundings and my environment, but I was never comfortable or at ease. I never felt like I was part of any school group I attempted to join – I was always on the fringes, or so it seemed to me. I was happiest when I was outdoors swinging on a rope swing, lying in the grass gazing at the clouds drifting across the blue sky, or walking on the beach or along a path, either by myself or with a trusted friend.

But I loved Camp Toccoa. And I loved being a Camp Fire Girl. Camp was a place where I felt like I belonged, and being a part of the group that was Camp Fire gave me a safe place to be me and to explore the depths of my imagination and my soul. The counselors and leaders were my mentors, and I looked to them as the role models for my emerging self. Camp was the place where I knew where I was, where I was supposed to be, and who I was supposed to be with. The pressure was off, and I was free to be myself.

This past weekend, the memories flooded back as I attended Camp Toccoa’s 90th anniversary alumni reunion. The camp has changed quite a bit since I was a camper in the 1950s and 1960s, but even with the changes and the growth, there are some things that never change. I slept in the cabin I spent four weeks in when I was 9 years old. I found my signature – along with the silly little writings of a 12-year-old – written in pencil in the rafters of another cabin. I found quartz crystals where I had searched for them as a teenager. I climbed a huge rock ledge to a lookout point where I had spent sleep-out nights as a girl pondering the universe and gazing out at the valley below. I hiked trails that were familiar to me, and a few that I had never been on before, discovering that Camp Toccoa always has something new to offer me.

Seeing old friends and familiar faces was a treat for this introvert, giving me the courage to step out and engage with new friends. Still, at age 69, it can be a challenge! I was a sponge, absorbing everything, every word, every face, every story.

I sat in a rocking chair on the lodge porch, my mind flooded with memories long buried, now bubbling to the surface. I observed the happy reunions as former campers and counselors arrived, recognizing familiar faces, and greeting each other with hugs and lots of love. I watched the night campfire crackle and pop, while children eagerly fed it wood and anticipated making s’mores. I listened to stories of summer camp, and contributed a few of my own as the bonds of Camp Fire intertwined around us all, pulling us all together as a universal family.

I was at camp, my safe place. I was home.

 

 

 

“Beneath the pine trees, I hear the night breeze. It seems to whisper of Camp Toccoa…..Take me back to the hills of Camp Toccoa.”

 

 

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Musings After The Solar Eclipse

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I didn’t have special glasses for viewing the eclipse today. Where I live wasn’t in the totality zone, but in the 99% zone. I wasn’t sure what to expect, and I wasn’t prepared for what I did see. I wanted to experience the event in its fullness, and not simply focus protected eyes on what was happening to the sun.

I sat in the shade of a flowering cherry tree on the back patio, waiting. I went outside about 30 minutes prior to the time I was told we would be in darkness, or in our case, not quite dark but somewhere in between late afternoon and twilight. My little dog, Sunshine, stretched out at my feet, and we watched and waited.

The first thing I noticed was that the brightness of the day wasn’t quite so sharp. A softness in the sky and in the green of the trees hinted of something different. Then a breeze brushed past my face and arms, a little cooler than the air had been minutes earlier. I stepped out onto the patio to feel the air more fully, and noticed that the sunlight didn’t feel hot on my skin. My bare feet weren’t hopping about on hot pavement as they would have been doing only an hour earlier.

Returning to my chair under the cherry tree, I looked down to say something to Sunshine. To my surprise, she was covered with crescents of light, filtered through the leaves of the tree. My attention immediately left the sky, as I gazed, mesmorized, at the shadows on her fur, watching a dozen or more tiny eclipses dancing across her back and spilling out onto the pavement beside her. I couldn’t force my eyes to look away, and I prayed that she wouldn’t move.

Earlier in the day, I debated about taking Sunshine outside with me to view the eclipse. I read about the importance of protecting pets from the sun, that they could get eye injuries from looking at the sun, the same as people. But Sunshine wasn’t interested in looking up at the sky. She was enjoying the day, sitting at my feet, and doing what dogs like to do – hang out with their people. She had no idea that an historic event was reflecting across her back for me to see.

All too soon it was over. The crescents rotated on her back as the moon crossed the path of the sun, blocking its light from one direction, and then releasing it from the opposite direction as it moved on across the sky. I felt as if I had been given a gift from God. Instead of focusing my attention on the event in the sky, I was given the treat of seeing it right at my feet, on the back of my little dog.

How fitting and right this all seemed. My sweet pup, so appropriately named Sunshine, made my solar eclipse day one that I will remember as long as I live.

I think it’s good to look to the heavens for the works of God, but sometimes it can be just as important to focus on what is right in front of us at our feet.

Something to think about tonight.

That’s Not What Ships Are For

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While on our road trip with my cousin, Kate for the past two weeks, we had the time and opportunity to talk about many, many things, ranging from the silly to the profound.

Some of our conversations during those days on the road drifted away with the wind, while a few of them hit home with me and gave me cause to think seriously about some things in my life. One of these conversations centered around my feelings about my place in my family.

As the youngest of four children in our family, I felt like I was always being compared to my older siblings. They were smart, made good (and often, great) grades, and set their courses in life – and it seemed to me – with ease and little or no stumbling blocks. I had to study really hard to make good grades, and I didn’t know what I wanted to be when I grew up. Both of my brothers married their high school sweethearts, to whom they are still happily married after 60+ years. My sister married at the age of 25, and she and her husband will be celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary this year. They are all comfortably retired and living in homes that have been paid for and enjoying enviable financial freedom. As the baby of the family, and from my perspective, the black sheep, I look up to them and wonder what happened to me?

I bucked the system, and broke my daddy’s main rule about getting married. He wanted all of his children to have a college education, and desired especially that his daughters would have a career before marriage “to fall back on” should it ever be needed. My sister got a degree in nursing, which made Daddy very happy, especially since my mother was an RN. I, on the other hand, walked down the aisle at age 19. I was a sophomore in college and had no clue as to what I wanted to major in. It seemed sensible to me to get married and worry about college later, but it took some convincing to get my father to bend his rule and give his younger daughter away to my young teacher husband.

To add insult to injury, I got divorced, not once, but twice. Thankfully, my parents only experienced my first marriage failure and understood, even though their hearts were broken. Both died before Husband #2 and I split up in a crash and burn scenario five years ago. It wasn’t pretty, and nothing that my older siblings could ever imagine would happen to me.During those dark days, I often felt like I was a failure as a daughter, as well as a mother to my two sons.

During my first marriage, I was able to get my bachelor’s degree, and then at the age of 45 my Master’s. But I hadn’t achieved the financial success and comfort that I wanted, and after my second marriage fiasco, I found myself homeless for a short period of time, until I picked myself up, dusted myself off, and started all over again.

This is what I was moaning and groaning about with Kate on our trip. I was feeling sorry for myself, that at the age of 69, I am still working even though I love my job. And while I have made giant strides in the financial aspect of my life, I feel that I do not have the reserves I will need as I head toward my retirement years. She gently reminded me that while things are tight for me right now, I have a great potential at my fingertips, unlike my brothers and my sister, whose lives are in the final stretch, and they no longer have goals to reach or accomplishments to pursue. In many ways, my life still stretches out in front of me, with many adventures yet to be had, paths to wander, interesting people to encounter, and stories to write.

With Kate’s wisdom soaking into my brain, I changed my perspective and as Jimmy Buffett sings, I made a change in latitude and in attitude. The world is my oyster, so to speak. I am not pinned down to any one geographical area, and I have a lot of living yet to do.

It was after this conversation that we stopped at a little gift shop in the Amish country of Pennsylvania. A small plaque caught my eye, and I bought it. It spoke to me as a reminder of who I am and what my life should be. I don’t need to compare myself to my brothers and sister. My ship is different from theirs.

My ship is still at sea, where it is supposed to be.

 

 

Things I Learned On My Road Trip

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On my weeklong trek to New England with my cousin, Kate, I had the wondrous opportunity to see parts of the United States I had never seen before, and to visit a place I had not been in decades. I also had eight days to get to know my cousin even better – I thought I knew her pretty well before – and to benefit from her words of wisdom, quick wit, and stories that, at one moment brought me close to tears, and at the next, sent me doubling over in deep belly laughter. As I write these thoughts on our first day home, I consider all that I saw and learned, and find myself a wee bit different from the girl who headed out of Kate’s driveway in North Carolina eight days ago.

These are some of the things I learned.

There are many mountain ranges in the Eastern United States. Each one is beautiful and majestic, and each one is different. There are the Green Mountains, the White Mountains, the Allegheny Mountains, the Adirondack Mountains, The Shenandoah Mountains, the Blue Ridge Mountains, and the Great Smoky Mountains. Did I leave out a mountain range we saw from a distance, traveled over, or skirted around? If I did, I apologize. It isn’t intentional. As we traveled, I couldn’t help but marvel at these old, old mountains, and try to imagine how they were formed millions of years ago, about the forces that pushed them upward toward the sky, and how the years have weathered them and taken away their jagged edges. They are all now covered in green trees, which do their part in cleansing Earth’s air as well as doing a great job in the life cycle on the planet we call home.

You can’t completely trust OnStar. And we got lost more than once, even with the technology of GPS and a pleasant female computerized voice directing us which way we should go. Thank goodness for old-fashioned road maps and a handy atlas. Thanks to all of these, we are home now and not still wandering around some cornfield in Pennsylvania or around a finger lake in New York.

Speaking of cornfields – there are enough in Pennsylvania and Virginia to fill my need to see a cornfield for a lifetime. What do they do with all that corn? Is this the source of the ethanol that our cars burn along with gasoline in our cars? They certainly were beautiful, and went on for miles and miles, but I couldn’t help but wonder, why so many?!

The Amish people were lovely. I need to do more research on them. They certainly dress the part and drive horse drawn buggies. Their farms are beautiful and picturesque. I couldn’t get over, however, that they seemed to have a fabulous tourist enterprise going for them: buggy rides, quilt shops, bakeries (yes! The cinnamon pretzels were to die for!), and petting areas where people can buy food to feed goats and chickens. I don’t question the Amish simple life, and I long for such a life of my own, but it did seem awfully commercialized to me. Hmmm. Like I said, I need to do some more reading about this to satisfy my curious mind.

It’s not so easy going back in time. I visited the college where I graduated, and realized that it is no longer a college, but a university. As I walked through the campus, I recognized a few of the buildings and one pond, as well as a shady area where a friend and I used to sit and talk between classes. Nostalgia is a funny thing, and it caught me by surprise as I sat on a bench and bawled my eyes out, remembering the three years that I spent in school there. The past whispered to me with remembrances of those special days, and I was dumbfounded with how so much time could pass. I am now white-haired, and my working career is coming to a close in a few short years, but I am still the same young woman who had her whole life stretching out in front of her only yesterday. How can time play so many tricks on me? It doesn’t seem quite right.

There are a few friends in one’s life who only grow dearer with the passing of time. I had the treat of a lifetime to visit with one of these friends on my trip. We calculated that we had not seen each other in approximately thirty years, but when she and her husband picked me up at my hotel to go to their house for dinner, it was as if no time had passed. When I stepped into her home, it was so familiar to me that my breath caught in my heartbeat for a moment. Her kitchen table where we used to drink tea and talk were gone due to her kitchen remodel some years back, but the feeling hadn’t been updated or remodeled. I have no words to explain what it was like talking to her and visiting again after so many years.

And lastly, I learned that my cousin, Kate, and I are excellent travel companions. I couldn’t have asked for a more fabulous adventure as the one I shared with her. Even when we had tense moments in our travel, we breezed through them together without harsh words, or even negative thoughts about the other. In our conversations while traveling down country roads and interstate highways, and while enjoying a meal together or resting after a long day in a hotel room, her wisdom about life and living inspired me and made me think and reconsider some things about myself.

It was a great trip! We are now curious about where our next one will lead us.

Playing in the Key of C

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When I was taking piano lessons as a child, one of my exercises was playing scales. Of course, C was the easiest to play – all white keys. It got a little more complicated as the scales of F and G were added, one with a flat and the other with a sharp. Then, they got harder and harder as more sharps and flats were added, and constant practice was needed to teach my fingers where they should go.

Among the simple little pieces my piano teacher gave me were hymns. Of course, I began with the ones in the key of C, and mastered them pretty quickly. “Tell Me the Stories of Jesus” was one of the easier ones. Another was “Jesus is Tenderly Calling.” I moved on to hymns with one flat or one sharp. Since I learned to read music the traditional way, I read both the treble and bass clef, and didn’t know about chords or chord progressions until years later when I took organ lessons. My brain was forced to look at both clefs and relay the message to each of my hands about which notes to play.

I remember my teacher showing me each new hymn and making me study the music before I ever put my fingers on the keyboard. She would tell me to think in that particular key. For instance, if the hymn was in the key of G, she had me look for all of the F sharps in the song and picture in my mind my fingers going to the black key. I learned to concentrate on the key of the music before I ever attempted to play it. I would then play a few scales in the key of G to warm up.

The difference between flats and sharps never bothered me. I have friends who are amateur or hobby musicians like I am who tell me that they can’t play flats, or they can’t play sharps. They hand pick the hymns as those that fit their particular criteria. Because of the way my piano teacher taught me, I was never daunted by the difference.

I did freak out, however, when the hymn had more than two flats or sharps. But by using the approach I was taught, I was able to play, if not master, most of the hymns I wanted to learn.

Isn’t life a lot like playing in the key of C when things are going smoothly in our lives? We find that we travel effortlessly along the white keys of life. We don’t even have to consider, worry about, or work to avoid the black keys. But as life becomes more complicated, and challenges pop up in our musical score adding sharps and flats along our way, our fingers have to work a little harder and train themselves to maneuver in order to make sweet music. We discover that sometimes we need to stop and study what is going on in our lives, and anticipate the change in the pathway. Through prayer, contemplation, and meditation, we are able to set our hearts and souls for the change in path.

These days, my music page of life has turned from a song in the key of C to one in another key. Things aren’t quite as predictable as they have been for the past couple of years. I am facing new challenges, unknown melodies, and probably some sharps and flats in my life. I need to set my mind to think in a new key, and prepare myself for some time on the black keys.

It may not be easy, but I’m hopeful the result will be some beautiful music.

Four Quotes to Live By

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I heard the following quote somewhere along my way and wrote it down on a scratch piece of paper I found while cleaning off my desk recently. The source is not clear, but it is attributed to John Lennon, Paulo Coelho, an old Indian proverb, and the movie The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. I recall that it was the movie where I heard it and wrote it down. I think about this when things aren’t going my way. It is:

“Everything will be okay in the end, and if it’s not okay – it’s not the end.”

Another quote that I try to live by is this one, coined by me in a moment of clarity while talking about the uncertainties in my life:

“Relax, and let life happen.”

And the third one – one I wrote a story about in my recently published book, Sunshine Leads the Way, is:

“There is no normal life, Wyatt. There’s just life.”

This was spoken by Doc Holliday as he lay dying, to Wyatt Earp in the movie, Tombstone.

As I begin the last week of a job I have had and loved for almost two years, these three quotes keep rattling around in my head. Leaving was not my decision, but that of the institution of higher education where I am employed. Higher ups decided that a part-time librarian was no longer needed, that a degree in library science was not necessary for the position. My job ends, and a newly restructured position will be announced soon. What it will be is still unknown.

This brings me to another quote that my friend, George, uttered – his own words – a few weeks ago as we were walking up the hill to his home after putting his chickens in their pen for the night. We were talking about our families, growing old, and slowing down in our lives. He said, wearily, “Sometimes I feel unnecessary.” I assured him that, indeed, he was necessary, and needed in many, many ways by lots of people and animals, but his statement resonated with me and lodged in my heart as I thought the same words and applied them to myself.

How can I weave these four quotes into the fabric of my life as I face a new path and the uncertainty of an income to supplement my retirement funds? Sometimes things just aren’t okay, and life is far from what I believe to be normal. My sons are grown and living independently on the west coast, across the continent from me. I have no grandchildren to dote on. Like George, I sometimes feel unnecessary. I keep telling myself to relax and let life happen. Everything will be okay.

But it isn’t that simple. Life changes. What looks like it might be the end turns out to be the beginning of something new. But what will it be? It’s scary, not knowing.

I need to take a few deep breaths, be patient, let life happen, and wait for the “okay” in my life to reappear. I’ll not search for “normal” in my life. I will embrace the changes in my life, and discover places where I am necessary.

As I look towards the future after this week ends, I think about my writing.

Will I have more time to write? Is there a chance that I may be able to supplement my income through my writing? Since I self-publish, is it at all possible that someone of importance may stumble across some of my writing, find value in it, and want to take a chance on me? Who knows? This could be a pipe dream of mine, something that will never happen.

But then again, it might.

I Told Myself….

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I am watching my sales report on createspace.com, the platform I use for publishing my books. I told myself I wasn’t going to do this.

I also told myself that if only one person reads my new book, “Sunshine Leads the Way,” and is touched by something in it, I would be satisfied. This has happened. I have received a wonderful review by a reader. I am happy.

In addition, I told myself I wasn’t going to get greedy, and that I don’t expect my little book to become a best-seller. This is still true, but as people read my book and share their satisfaction and enjoyment from it, I mentally pose the question, “Why not?” Then I pull myself back down to earth and remind myself the reason I write and publish. It isn’t for the money (although it would be nice to have a supplemental income to help me with my living expenses!), but for the joy of writing and for the hope that by sharing my life experiences, I may help someone else with theirs. By sharing my extraordinary days, I might light the way for someone else to take notice of theirs.

Collecting days is something I’ve done all my life, and I want to make this activity one that might catch on with people everywhere. We so often go through the daily routine of living that we miss the wonder and adventure that the most ordinary of days can bring. I try my best each day to find something worth remembering, worth researching, worth photographing, worth writing about. Yesterday, it was seeing a fairy ring of mushrooms in a neighbor’s yard and finding out what a hashtag is all about. One day last week, it was an unusual cloud formation drifting across the sky. Friday, it was a baby goat bouncing on and off of me in delight – a baby goat, who before that day, had been skittish and afraid of me. On Saturday, it was sitting in my living room with four fantastic young women surrounding me, enjoying an afternoon of friendship and love together. I have claimed these strong and unique women as “my girls”, and we were celebrating a job change and new beginning for one of them.

It isn’t so much about writing in a journal or carrying my camera or phone around with me all the time. It is all about being observant, grateful, curious, and loving. It is also about holding each day in my heart, caressing the present moment with a prayer of thanksgiving, and understanding that with each minute that passes a memory is born.

I invite my readers and followers to order a copy of my book and read it. If you like it, a nice review on amazon.com would be appreciated. But more than anything, my desire is that by reading it, your life may be changed, just a bit, and that you may realize that you, too, are a collector of days.

https://www.amazon.com/Sunshine-Leads-Way-other-stories/dp/154468438X/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1498570616&sr=1-1&keywords=sunshine+leads+the+way