Check our blog regulary for the latest posts about Eagle’s Nest Camp life, our garden, culture, community and much more. Subscribe to our blog’s RSS feed and get our news sent directly to you as we post it.
At this time of year when things get a little hectic or stressful many of you may be busy running around buying toys, wrapping them, and giving them, but are any of you playing with them? I am talking to you, the adults in the room and maybe even some of you teens. Hillel Cooperman gave a TED Talk where he describes The Dark Ages as “the time between when you put away the Lego for the last time as a kid and [when] you decide as an adult that is it okay to play with a kid’s toy.” How many of you are still living in The Dark Ages?
One of the best parts of my job during the summer is getting to live in a community where play is totally acceptable behavior for all ages. It feels great to let loose and act silly. Everywhere you look campers are finding ways to play with a cardboard box or a pack of mustaches. Is it raining outside? No problem! Let’s make up a game where you are safe from being out only if you are sitting in a puddle.
Recently I watched a TED Talk by Steve Keil citing the many benefits of play including one study that found that rats that play more have bigger brains and learn tasks better. He goes on to state that bears that learn to play more survive longer than bears that learn how to fish better. Moving on to humans he cites research that shows play in humans improves emotions, cognition, emotional maturity and decision making ability. For school children recess is a time to go outside and play, returning to the classroom with better mindsets and focus.
What happens when we grow older and are no longer allowed a recess for play? When camp is not in season I work in an office where it is more of a challenge for me to get my daily dose of play. Steve Keil suggests treating lunch like the recess for work. On my lunch breaks I like to go home to my dog, Miles, for an energizing game of chase in the back yard. Other ways I like to add play to my life are by my husband and I making up silly song lyrics to the music we listen to while cooking dinner. We have made a game of going to the grocery store. Strategically splitting up our shopping list and timing ourselves to see how fast we can get in and get out. Sixteen minutes is the record so far. If all else fails, we go to the humane society and play with a room full of kittens.
A great quote often attributed to Benjamin Franklin is “We do not stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing.” So, for the rest of this year and the new year approaching find little ways to add play to your everyday life.
Creek hiking is one of my favorite things to do at camp. As soon as I put my feet in a chilly stream I’m transported back to the times when my 7-year-old self thrilled at exploring the creek that ran through the woods behind my house. Each summer I’d spend hours flipping over rocks in search of mysterious creatures that inhabited the tiny stream. Sometimes I’d even just sit on the bank and let the water run over my feet and legs as I watched the light filter down through the leaves in bright beams that sparkled on the water. Then and now, the creek was a place of discovery, comfort and magic. I love revisiting those feelings each summer and sharing them with our campers.
After years of exploring the Eagle’s Nest creeks with our campers, I know that they share my feelings. Typically each outing is met with trepidation by some (the creek is pretty chilly, and lots of critters live in it), and splash-right-in eagerness from others. Regardless of how they felt when they stepped in, it doesn’t take long before the campers are yelling in delight at the things that they find – crayfish, water striders, a damsel fly, raccoon prints, interesting fungus growing on the rhododendrons, salamanders and more. The creek embraces and intrigues them.
I’m delighted that kids share my enthusiasm for exploring creeks and woods. When they discover something new and exciting in nature, their interest in the natural world grows. These connections set them on a path for future adventures and discovery. They also help campers start thinking about the importance of caring for and protecting the natural world and all of the beautiful things that live in it.
One of those special creatures is the Giant Hellbender. For many years Eagle’s Nest campers have ventured out to the rivers that surround Eagle’s Nest in search of this ancient salamander. Though I’ve never seen one myself, many of our campers have been lucky enough to find them. Unfortunately Hellbenders need clean, cold, highly oxygenated water to thrive, and as these habitats decline, so is their population. Fortunately, the highly forested, pristine streams of Pisgah National Forest provide safe habitats for the Hellbenders. It’s important that we continue to protect these lands so that Hellbender population doesn’t diminish more.
Recently a counselor shared a beautiful video about the life of the Hellbender and the threats that it faces. I hope that you’ll watch it and marvel at this creature. And I hope that it will inspire you to consider and protect the unseen creatures that share our woods and streams.
Just a few days ago a brave and adventuresome class took on the lofty task of trekking into the wilderness of Black Balsam and Sam’s Knob to find the legendary “Paleo Land”. The Adventure time class has spent their third period’s learning advanced survival skills, honing their tracking and foraging skills. They have meditated in the bush, building their mental and physical awareness all while strengthening relationships with their peers and their own mind, bodies and spirits.
Early Wednesday morning, while all of camp was still in bed, the class filed onto a bus with nothing more than rain jackets and personal bags of the basic essentials (a half-loaf of homemade survival bread and small block of sharp cheddar). Some also brought fire starting kits, compasses, and bags of foraged edible and medicinal plants. They started their morning by testing their bravery in the cold rush of sliding rock. After which they performed warming variations of the hypothermia/boot dance. Once warm, the crew trekked up to Black Balsam where the true adventure would begin. Here is a first hand account:
We started our hike like any other. Walking down the trail, eating what ripe blue and blackberries there were, and stopping every now-and-again to enjoy the scenery and hydrate. Then things took a turn to the more wild side. After jumping on the little sam knob trail, we came to a small creek (or crik as they say ‘round her). We took a short break to eat some survival bread and then before we knew it we were thigh deep in the smallest most serene creek hike I’ve ever experienced. Most of the time we were bend over and crouching through rhodo and mountain laurel tunnels surrounding the small waterway. After what seemed like miles we finally left the creek and our damp attitude to find our true strength in the thickets of blackberry brambles. We started by passing through small clearing broken by the occasional Black Balsam grove and blackberry patch, but soon we were full on bush-pushin’. When we finally met our first headwall of 10foot tall brambles we took our compass bearing, lined up south and started pushing. Each of the larger members (including myself) took turns parting the great thorny bushes, creating a trail for the many others to follow. It wasn’t long into our push that the rain started and soon after the songs. “Let it rain, let it pour” came spilling out of 15 joyous souls as we marched through the truest wilderness of the southern Appalachia.
About halfway through our march we came to a fairly large clearing where we stopped to munch and hydrate (as if the rain wasn’t hydrating enough). I noticed on the edge of the clearing a trashed Nalgene. A clear sign of human presence close to the area and a sign we might be close to the trail we were bush-pushing to. Just as I begun to dismiss the useless bottle from my mind, someone exclaimed “It’s an Eagle’s Nest water bottle!!!” WHAT?!?!?!? It was! And not only that the bottle had bite marks all over and a logo not seen since 2004. At that moment we all knew we had found the mythical land of Paleo. With this new souvenir, proof of Paleo Land, and rejuvenated spirits, we pushed our group all the way to the Mountains to Sea Trail, where we again celebrated our resolve for trekking through some of the toughest and meanest mountain foliage.
So what is the story behind this water bottle? Well interestingly enough, the night before this trip occurred, Camp hosted their very own “Pisgah Home Companion” One of the shining stories form that radio show was a piece of Madalyn and Lucius Wofford where they each read letters they had written home during their years as campers. One of Madalyn’s described a trip where she spent a 24 hour solo in Paleo Land. A day later she was reunited with a water bottle she had lost 10 years earlier.
There are so many circles in our lives, and it is hard to believe that our choices and actions are so far reaching. But for this one Nalgene and this one brave class many things came full circle. Stay tuned for a detailed chronicle of what happened to this castaway hydration unit for 10 years in the wilds on Western North Carolina.
1. The art of outdoor camping.
2. A wilderness class offered at Eagle’s Nest Camp that takes the art of outdoor camping to the X-treme. Includes long hikes in the mountains, a 3-day backpacking trip, and plenty of Type 2 fun.
In preparation for our upcoming 3-day, X-Craft recently adventured off campus to hike Cedar Rock in Dupont State Forest. Before embarking on our journey up the mountain, we ate a lunch of bagels, veggies, hummus, and tuna at the trailhead. It was very important that tuna be included in our meal, as we’re planning to make ultra-light backpacking stoves from the empty cans later this week. While eating, we spent some time studying a map of Dupont and identifying the different features of topographic maps we’ve been learning about. With full bellies, we cleaned up and hit the trail.
The trail up to Cedar Rock is pretty steep, but our crew of strong hikers moved with ease. We walked through tunnels of thick Rhododendron, enjoying cool shade provided by the forest canopy. About halfway to the summit, we stumbled upon a great surprise – blueberry bushes! The berries were fat, ripe, and absolutely delicious. We huddled around the bushes, picking and eating and grinning. There are few things finer than enjoying wild blueberries in the summertime!
Atop Cedar Rock, we were met with a breathtaking view of mountains as blue as the berries we’d just picked. It was a beautiful, clear day, so we could see for many miles into Pisgah National Forest. We spent some time relaxing in the warm sunshine and enjoying the electric blue sky before making our way down the trail and back to the van.
We are so fortunate that the awe-inspiring landscapes of Dupont State Forest and Pisgah National Forest make up our “backyard”. Having the opportunity to explore those wild spaces is one that I am particularly grateful for, and I know the X-Craft crew feels the same way. In less than a week, we will take our exploration to the next level as we embark on a backpacking trip in Pisgah. Adventures await, and we can’t wait to experience them!
It’s hard for me to fathom, but on this very day four weeks ago I held the hands and looked into the eyes of the people I lived, played, and worked with for 12 weeks as we bid the summer and each other farewell. Nearly a month removed, I am slowly re-adjusting to life outside of the magical Nest. I’ve enjoyed catching up with my favorite neighborhood barista each morning and riding my bike through the woods in the evening. Time spent with family and friends has been nothing less than precious, and I appreciate the freedom to hop in my car or on my bike and simply go. Despite these wonderful additions to my everyday life, I miss camp. I find myself fighting to keep a tight grasp on the memories, experiences and lessons learned during my time on Hart Road this summer. It would be easy to let those memories become hazy with the passing of days and weeks, but I’m determined to hold on.
To aid in making that a reality, I wrote down a handful of memories that I will carry with me. I know that I can’t re-live these experiences, but I’ll do my best to recreate the feelings they gave me on a daily basis – my own way of keeping camp with me throughout the year.
1. During Orientation, our entire staff spent a night camping in Pisgah National Forest. When it was time to set up camp and make dinner, groups of people jumped on each task and the campsite was alive with activity. At one point, I sat in the middle of everything and simply watched. Several people were chopping vegetables and laughing. Others were tying tarps between trees and telling stories about nights they’ve spent in the woods. Another group was lighting stoves and boiling water. Others were strumming their guitar or banjo or mandolin or violin, serenading us with sweet melodies. Rays of orange light cut through the pines, and the eyes of everyone were shining. As I watched, I recall thinking that this was a moment I wouldn’t soon forget.
I will make more time to slow down and cook dinner with my friends and family this year. We’ll take our time and sit together around a table for hours, laughing and reminiscing and scheming and dreaming.
2. I went on a trip with my Mountain Girls class to Skinny Dip Falls on a sunny afternoon in June. Skinny Dip is a beautiful series of waterfalls, complete with a deep swimming hole filled with crystal clear water. One by one, each member of our class climbed to the top of the main jumping rock and made the leap into the water 10 feet below. In my wildest dreams, I didn’t think everyone in our group would jump. After all, the water is frigid and several of our girls weren’t big fans of swimming. But as each stood atop the rock they were cheered on by their peers shouting words of encouragement from below, giving them the strength they needed to take the leap. As we hiked back to the van at the end of the day, the campers chatted about how they couldn’t believe they’d done it; how they would never forget this moment or this day. I had the exact thought.
I will make an effort to do more things that scare me and push the boundaries of my self-imposed limits. I will be open to opportunities and experiences, despite any preconceived notions I may have, and I will give myself fully to them.
3. Most of my days this summer began with an early morning run in the Little River Valley. Getting up long before the bell wasn’t always easy, but I was often rewarded with incredible sunrises. One morning, I finished running with about 15 minutes to spare before the bell rang. Instead of going back to my room, I sat in the grassy area between the settling ponds and watched as the sun rose above the mountains. Brilliant pinks and oranges streaked the sky, and a soft mist hovered over the lake. The beauty of the dawn brought me to tears; I was humbled and full of gratitude.
I will continue to wake up before the sun, even though I don’t have to. I will commit myself to healthy living – physically, mentally, and emotionally. I will work hard, but I’ll also take time to sit quietly while watching the sun rise and set.
4. Hanging out on the porch of the Salt Mines or Dining Hall before meals is one of my favorite things to do at camp. I love spending that time outside chatting with campers and staff. During Session IV, I found myself sitting on the floor of the Dining Hall porch before lunch one day singing along to Avett Brothers songs while an incredibly talented Tree Tops camper played guitar. When we began it was just the two of us, but other campers and staff quickly joined in. I remember hoping that the lunch bell would never ring – I didn’t want it to end. I will sing everyday, alone and with friends.
It’s hard to believe that campers and staff are spread out across the country and the world right now; that the summer is over and they have moved on. We’ve fallen into new routines and have different schedules to follow. We don’t wake up to the bell or say goodnight in a circle in the Quad. Mealtimes aren’t spent with table families and Sundays aren’t reserved for Capture the Flag. But that doesn’t mean camp isn’t still with us. We each carry a handful of memories, of moments that took our breath away and challenged us and made us laugh and helped us grow. It’s our job, now, to recreate those memories in some way everyday.
Photo Caption: The Huck Finn group enjoying a lovely evening by the river
Camp is a pretty big adventure for most of our campers. It’s exciting for them to pack up their trunks and head to the mountains for 2-3 weeks. While they are here they meet new people, eat healthy (and sometimes new) foods, they try new activities – some of which are a little out of their comfort zones, and they grow in independence and confidence.
As campers grow in age and experience at Eagle’s Nest, many find themselves ready for bigger adventures. Luckily, our program grows with our campers. For these campers we offer Added Adventures. These 1-week long adventures within the session give the campers a chance to leave camp for an adventure with 7 – 9 other campers there age. This summer we offered three Added Adventure: Appalachian Adventure during Session 1 where the campers spent 6 days on a backpacking and rock climbing adventure; Huck Finn, where the campers spent a week floating down the French Broad River on a wooden raft; and this session Sea Islands, where the campers will spend a week on Cumberland Island, soaking up the sunshine and learning about beach ecology.
This morning we sent the Sea Islands crew off at 7:00 AM. They have a long drive to the coast of Georgia. Tomorrow morning they’ll board a ferry to Cumberland Island where they will camp, fish, cast net, tell stories under the stars, and learn more about camping and each other. They were all smiles as they loaded their crab trap into the bus this morning. I know that they were probably a little nervous about the week ahead, but they were also so ready for the next step of their growth at Eagle’s Nest.
I’m already looking forward to welcoming our Sea Islands campers back next Friday. I know they’ll be a little tanner and that their eyes will sparkle a little when they star telling us their stories. I’m sure that we’ll hear things about stories of the armadillo that showed up at their camp, or about the time they burned the oatmeal, or the fish that got away. Their stories will be about the fun times, and also about the more challenging times; they will ALL be stories of growth through adventure.