Monday, November 9, 2009

A Refreshing Five Days with 55 Children

I can assure you that "refreshing" was not the first word that came to mind when I heard about the opportunity to spend five days of 24/7 with my 10-year-old daughter and her 5th grade classmates in the Arbuckle Mountains of southern Oklahoma. Rather, as much as I wanted to participate in the November "Outdoor School" our elementary school offers to 5th graders, I imagined that it would be challenging and exhausting more than refreshing and, at times, it was.

But, really and truly, I found the week to be refreshing and energizing overall. For starters, the setting was absolutely beautiful. We stayed in cabins at a wooded 2,400 acre YMCA camp called Camp Classen. The weather was on the cool side of an Indian summer and the autumnal colors were at fever pitch.

I was assigned to a cabin with 9 girls and 3 moms (including my daughter and me). It was clear from the beginning that these were not girls who were driven by to-do lists as I so often am. Rather, they were living in the moment and their enthusiasm for the here and now was absolutely infectious. So, while we stayed busy each day from early morning to late in the evening with planned activities, we were not rushing to get through one thing to go on to the next. Instead, we were fully engaged in whatever activity we were participating in at the time.

Here are just a few of the activities we participated in:

3 major daytime hikes (including climbing sheer rock and multiple water crossings)
a nighttime hike (we hiked down a rocky ridge with only moonlight to light our path)
a challenge course that fostered teamwork
dissecting owl pellets and re-creating the animals the owl had eaten
learning about and handling snakes
digging for fossils (from when Oklahoma was part of an ocean)
camp songs
and so much more

The week included some major personal victories for me with the hikes and climbing. When I was so ill for a couple of years, I wasn't sure I would ever participate in such activities again. Now the door is wide open on the possibilities.

Another aspect I found to be completely refreshing was the time I spent socializing with the girls (they were so open, honest, funny, and fun) and other moms (Lisa and Gina, fantastic women and moms)I roomed with. I learned something from each of them. I especially enjoyed staying up extra late the last night and talking with Lisa and Gina about the books we have each enjoyed reading. I look forward to following up on their suggestions.

And so, the week at camp is over, but the impact, I can tell even now, will be lasting. I find myself yearning to be in nature more than ever, to return to the family hikes we've let fall by the wayside over the years. I also find myself letting go of worrying about what I have yet to do in favor of giving my full attention to what I am doing right now. I do not have to live my life in a constant rush from one to-do to another. I can, if I choose, live with a little camp spirit every day -- enjoying nature, the activities I'm involved in, and the people I'm with. What a gift the visionary teachers and administrators who made such a life-changing week possible have given us. I, for one, plan to make the most of their gift. Here's to the soothing effects of nature and living in the moment a little more every day.