If there’s a perfect time to drive down 608 and up our favorite dirt road to Nature Camp, it’s probably late spring. Mountain laurel is thick on the south-facing slopes of Mine and the long vistas from the summit are full green. The nights are sleeping-bag cool and the creeks are colder, but the noon sun is hot enough to make up for both.
So it’s fitting that it was on the last weekend in May of this year that scores of members of the camp family rolled in for the 2015 Nature Camp Reunion to spend a few beautiful days strolling, swimming, strumming, singing, feasting, and reliving old times with one another. A total of 88 people joined in the fun over the course of three days, enough that, at peak meal time Saturday, the LS was packed and noisy with former and current campers and counselors and their family and friends—including more than a dozen youngsters, some of whom were making their inaugural visits to camp. The trips they took to get there ranged from a few minutes to more than a day. (Joe Cleary and son Jasper squelched into the LS. in the rain late on Saturday night after a long drive from Burlington, VT, mandolins at the ready. And Ann Clausen wins the longest journey award; she flew in from Lander, WY and caravaned down with former fellow counselors from Washington, D.C.)
The arc of a day at Nature Camp has a structure and a rhythm that’s familiar to all of us, and it’s especially dear when we’ve been away a long time: early morning bird walks and hikes up Mine and McClung; the satisfying scramble of a delicious breakfast, lunch, and dinner; evenings in the LS in a wide circle of stringed instruments; stargazing and s’mores around a rec field campfire; late night visits to Buttermilk Springs to seek out wiggling salamanders. We enjoyed all that over the course of the weekend, and more. Thanks to Katie Hoffman and a dedicated team of volunteers, we also had the opportunity to share the memories we all came with in a lasting way with the Nature Camp History Project, which aims to document camp’s history from its beginning in 1942 to the present. We learned about the collection of documents—correspondence, photos, scrapbooks, old reports—which will be housed in the Albert and Shirley Small Special Collections Library at UVA, and we got the chance to sign up individually or in small groups to record memories in the quiet of the lab with the help of project volunteers trained in collecting oral histories. You can read more about the project, including how to contribute your own documents, at https://www.naturecampfoundation.org/projects/nature-camp-history-project/
There were, I think, more than enough moments of joy and delight over the course of the weekend to tide us over until the next quinquennial celebration. But the best of them sprang from an impromptu suggestion tossed out before lunch on Saturday by a very thoughtful attendee (if my memory serves me right, it was Caroline Parlett): Why don’t we line everybody up out on the rec field for a chronological photo? The resulting image is one for the record books. Under the shade of the trees lining the road into camp stand eight decades of Nature Camp family, from Robert Ritchie, a camper in 1950, to Liam Carr, who was set to return in a few weeks as a camper this summer. Between them are dozens of people linked by their love for the spot where they stood and for each other.
Such a moment would have been impossible without big helpings of that love in the form of a lot of hard work by a great many people. All of us who were there join in thanking the boards of the Nature Camp Foundation and Nature Camp Inc., whose support—including the use of camp itself, thanks to NCI—were essential. Annie White, Chris Chamberlin, and Katie Hoffman devoted many hours advising and helping plan the weekend. Eleanor Trott led a team of cooks, including Lindsay Rotche, Adam Rotche, and Brent Warner, who did more than keep us fed—they ordered, planned, prepped, cooked, cleaned, made last minute supply runs, and delighted all of us with wonderful meals. Barak Brashear, Peter Mehring, Terry Richardson, Lars Nelson, Flip Coulling, Megan McDonald Duntzee and others volunteered their time and energy to help things run smoothly and make sure some of our favorite activities and most memorable moments were on offer. And, as always, so many attendees gamely stepped up to set tables, wash dishes, clean toilets, and handle all the less-than-glamorous duties of the weekend. To all of you: Thank you.
I drove out of camp on that final afternoon with the usual ache that comes with leaving my favorite place on Earth, intensified by the knowledge that my pending move to the West Coast meant I probably wouldn’t be back for years. But, as always, the sadness lifted and drifted away like dirt road dust when I thought about what really makes late May the best time to be at camp: The knowledge that summer and its four sessions of learning and love in Vesuvius, and the promise those weeks hold for another generation, are never far off.
Editors Note: The Foundation and all that attended the reunion would like to extend a great round of applause to Graelyn Brasher (author of the recap and Reunion Committee Chair) and her committee for a job well done!!!