Category: Campfire Conversation

Garden Times in the City

There is a very long, very old poem that I challenged myself to read two summers. (Yes, I read every night before going to bed, just like a lot of you campers!) It took me all summer and I’m happy I read it. While challenging to understand at times, it’s really stayed with me. 

The poem is about angels, demons and humans – so lots of interesting things happen. In a recent article I read, a teacher suggests one of the main conflicts is about the struggle we humans have between two ways of life in the poem: the city and the garden. 

The City Mentality

There have been lots of great references about cities in rhetoric. One of my recent favorites is the comparison our country as a shining city on a hill that protects freedoms. The author of the poem, however, takes a different view of his city. 

Rather than shining, the poem’s city is dark and full of people who only think of themselves. They build technology and the city in a way that promotes only self-love and no consideration for anything ‘beneath them’ or anything that could be better. 

It’s a pretty dark, selfish and separating way to live. In fact, in another person’s imagination, this same city is one in which everyone’s house gets further away from the others when there is a perceived slight… and there are lots of those when you only think about yourself.

The Garden Way

In contrast, the garden of the poem has people and animals and plants and earth. There is fun and connection. There is work – a lot of it, in fact. But the work that leads the inhabitants to think of others more (the plants and animals). 

Their daily completed work creates that which sustains life and connection. Because there are few distractions which promote thinking more of themselves, gratitude has space to bloom like the flowers of their garden, full and diverse in beauty. And it does bloom, daily.

Alas, as we know from most stories, good times don’t always last. (Hey, without conflict, you don’t get a very interesting story!)

In the poem, the leader of the city enters the garden and introduces just enough of his way of doing things to ultimately make a huge change to the people in the garden. The garden inhabitants begin to think more about themselves rather than the other. 

Because of this increasing shift, they lose, rather quickly, all the gifts and joys of the garden itself. 

Garden Times in the City

So, what are we to learn from this old poem around the digital campfire? To me, the lesson is one of awareness, first, and intentional balance, second. 

Living ‘in the city’ that the poem describes is not a happy-ending, fairytale experience. The tech is too powerful and sucks each of us in deeper and deeper into our own selves to the exclusion of others and everything around you. Not a good thing for relationships, connection or culture. 

Hmm… what in the world could have that effect on us? Oh, yeah – our screens. The ones in our pockets and the ones we stare at one the wall. I’ve had many a time when I was ‘just checking’ Insta that turned into a disappeared hour or some Youtube rabbit hole swallowed me up for longer. 

I know it’s not great for me or my connection everyone else. AND… the tech can be super helpful at times. I believe it’s too useful to throw away. I just need to be better managing it in my life. 

Thus, the garden times. 

I should create intentional times to put away the screens and be completely and totally with others… or myself. To get my hands literally in the dirt to create and grow something. To walk around trees and grass and lakes to watch, listen and be. To play and run and create using my hands and feet and eyes alongside other people. 

Paradise Found

Sounds like camp, doesn’t it? Yes, all this is super easy at Weequahic. No screens, no distractions – just people and creativity and movement and woods and lakes and fun. Our little garden paradise each summer. Those weeks are fleeting, though.

We just have to be better about creating those ‘camp times’ at home. Yes, it’s more challenging to collect your friends to do something like this… but the effort is sooooo worth it!

So, how are you going to create a bit of garden time this week? Can’t wait to see everyone in a few months to enjoy the garden times together!

Courage and Freedom

One of the ladies I enjoy learning from gave a big speech the other day. The whole thing is worthwhile but I wanted to focus on a story she relayed near the end: 

…when, on a trip to Israel, I met my hero and now my friend, Natan Sharansky, I really only had one question for him. I asked him if it was possible to teach courage. 

He paused and said this: “No. You can’t teach it. You can only show people how good it feels to be free.

Bari Weiss, 92nd Street Y Address

By now, if you’ve been a part of Weequahic or read anything we’ve written, you’ve come across our feeling about ‘courage.’ I’ve written about it a few times. 

As a person who beats the drum about ‘courage,’ I was stopped by Mr. Sharansky’s reply. And, I think he may be right. 


So, before we start, how do we define courage? The Oxford Dictionary defines courage as the ability to do something that frightens one.  So, in other words, you’ve got to be afraid in order to be courageous. 

It doesn’t matter if you are feeling fear from looking down from the zipline station or getting on the bus for the first time, getting up on stage to address the whole camp or connect with your new bunkmate soon-to-be friends. Feeling no fear? No courage is needed. 

And, without courage, there is no freedom – from fear or anything else. Campers, this is important:

Just because you ‘feel’ fear doesn’t mean you are ‘captured’ by it. You still have the freedom to act as you’d like. It’s simply up to you.

Viewing Courage

When I think of teaching, I mostly think of book-learning and Mrs. Vipperman introducing biology to me as a seventh grader, chalk in hand and frog in front of me. (She was a heck of a teacher – and very memorable.) And, I’ve learned (a bit) about courage and the freedom it creates from books.

I’ve read a lot about people who have shown courage. Whether it be about Dr. King or George Washington or Mahatma Ghandi or Mother Teresa or Harry Potter or John Snow, I’ve got stories and stories and stories in my head of people who lived ‘free.’ 

From these stories, we can be introduced to courage and living free. It’s better, though, to be surrounded by people from whose example you can learn in real time. 

‘Doing’ Courage

The second best way to learn how to live free is to watch those around you. At camp, counselors come to mind first. They’ve chosen to become part of something larger than themselves and pour everything they have into making the summer amazing. It takes courage on their part to do so. Why? Because it would be so much easier staying home and working at the GAP or the coffee shop or doing an internship in some big office. But… those things are rarely as meaningful, purpose-full or fun.

The next group I think about as ‘examples’ are our CITs. Watching them balance their responsibilities of leading camp with the fantastic benefits of being a CIT (fridge in your bunk, more flexible time, their own Cove space, etc.) is very instructive. 

The very best way, though, to learn anything (just about) is to do it. Badly, at first, most likely. When you learned to walk, it was a stumbling, bumbling, hair raising experience for both you and your parents (for different reasons.) But you learned. 

Courage is the same way. Start off by standing up against something small that frightens you. For example….

I remember young Luke being afraid of snakes at first. With the help of a fantastic naturalist and surrounded by his parents, Luke (barely) touched a small black snake.  A little later that day, he held it with the naturalist’s hands underneath his own. After learning more and taking instruction seriously, a few days later Luke handled the snake on his own. Ultimately, he wound up showing other kids the snakes and helping them through their own fear.


What does it take to build courage? A couple of things: 

1.     Opportunity – you can’t start practicing if you don’t have the opportunity. Camp, as you may have already guessed, is a great opportunity. So is the classroom! 

2.     Encouragement – Get around people who you KNOW want the best for you and let their support put wind in your sails. Your parents, coaches, teachers, siblings (yes, I said it) and close friends. And DEFINITELY your camp people.

3.     Curiosity – You’ll never know what is on the other side of that fear you are feeling until you experience it. If your curiosity edges out your fear, you’ll be ready to show the courage to try. 

4.     Safety Net – Hey, Miguel would never let you on the trapeze without the net, your safety harness and several good pairs of hands to support you. Kiera and Osmar wouldn’t let you climb without your harness, a properly tied rope, helmet and spotter. Make sure you’ve got your safety net around you… and then jump!

Courage will open up the world to you. You’ll be able to enjoy more thoughtful relationships, experience deeper satisfaction and extend past your self-perceived limits. There will certainly be bumps in the road and…, well, so much more joy, too. 

Go on, camper. Take the first step to get past that fear and feel the joy of being free. We’ll be here to help.

Be Prepared

Speaking with a number of our new camp families through a Facebook Live event the other day has me thinking about being prepared. A wonderful coincidence, then, that one of my favorite quotes from one of my favorite books comes back to the movie theaters today:

“Be prepared to appreciate what you meet.”

Fremen proverb, Dune

Everything – literally everything – can be instructive, can be helpful. For example, a few weeks ago, I slipped while stepping onto a small bridge. My right shin caught the brunt of the impact, sliding along the rough edge of the wooden bridge.

Now, why the heck should I appreciate that moment? Because it will remind me – for a long time – to take better stock of my surroundings. The bridge was in perpetual shade. It had been a damp morning. I was not wearing good shoes for wood which would obviously be slippery. And, I was in a rush… for no good reason.

So, I appreciate the lesson. (I didn’t at the moment – it hurt like crazy!) I simply wasn’t prepared to appreciate it at the time. Which made the accident hurt more than it should have.

Prepared the First… and Second Time

So many of our first time campers go through very natural missing-home-feelings during their first summer with us. These campers – and their families – are prepared for their feelings and appreciate them for what they are: a reminder that they are doing something new (and awesome) away from something they know, trust and love.

The real surprise comes when our campers meet those same feelings of missing home in their second summer.

“What a second – I thought I LOVED camp?” these kiddos think. Because many of second-summer campers aren’t prepared to meet (the still very natural) missing-home-feelings, the experience throws them for a loop and makes them question their desire to be at camp… even though they don’t want to leave on the last day!

Appreciate All of It

Campers, you need to prepare yourself to appreciate all that you encounter at camp: a TON of fun experiences, a bunk full of new friends from all over, fantastic mentors, coaches and teachers… and the feelings of missing home and a gaga knuckle or two and a bunk full of new friends. The great food and the every now and then ‘meh’ food. The sunshine and the rain. The wins and the learning moments.

Be prepare to appreciate what you meet. Come to camp with that plan in place and you’ll have a blast. See you soon!