Friday, September 07, 2012


Reunions are often a little anxiety driven.  How have people changed, will they remember you, will they remember the dumb things you have done.  Will you remember them, and so on.  Reunions with a place are a bit different.

I found this past weekend that even after 13 years I can still walk pathways in the woods in the dark without a light.  I attended a reunion for a summer camp I attended as a child and then worked at for my teens and early 20s.  This camp in West Virginia, Burgundy Center for Wildlife Studies, commonly known as Coopers Cove was my first introduction to both Environmental Education and Sense of Place learning - though I did not know this at the time.  I have not been back to the camp since 2000.  That year was a huge transition year, and my life started to take me in other directions and some of the people I affiliated with the camp were also taking paths away from me and the camp.  Between those two, my motivation for returning was quite low.

Over time, I realized that most of what I have learned about education, and appreciation for the natural world was sprouted from my time at Coopers Cove.  I had been asked to draw a map of my backyard for one of my education classes in college.  I drew Coopers Cove though I had not been there in many years at that point.

I have other appreciations from that time as well, like being asked why do I enjoy listening to the Thrushes in the summer - their song was taught to me as a 10 year old in West Virginia to mean summer is here.  I find comfort in listening to rain and the wind on tin roofs.  I am able to talk with Bard Owls and know many mushrooms, trees, ferns and flowers by sight.  These are things that I learned while at this camp.

I take to heart the quote from Wendell Berry:

“To go in the dark with a light is to know the light.
To know the dark, go dark. Go without sight,
and find that the dark, too, blooms and sings,
and is traveled by dark feet and dark wings."

I had once compared the camp to The Eagles song Hotel California with the concept that you can check out but you can never leave.  I meant that people's attachment to the physical place of Coopers Cove would never leave them.  They may not return but they had a great sense of place in that little spot of West Virginia.

While I was in Graduate school I started to realize that the founders of the program (which is still run today 50 years later) had it right.  The campers were there for 2 week sessions from ages 11-15.  They would spend their mornings eating breakfast family style, cleaning the communal spaces such as the Loo, dorms and bunk beds and then head off to workshops.  These workshops were involving learning the natural world, wheather it be tree study, flower study or a stream study the campers would cycle through all the options by the end of the first week.  After lunch there would be rest, where you would listen to leaves and twigs falling on the roof of the dorms and it sounded like you were under attack with grenades!  From Rest there was free time / swim.

Swimming was done in a small dredged pond that was spring fed.  The bottom of the pond is muddy, there is Chara growing and many fish and turtles.  If you sat in an inner tube you would experience fish nibbling your toes or behind.  This period was also the only easy time to take a 3 minute shower.  This is where you learn if your soap or shampoo is "smelly" all the insects will swarm around you to see if you are a flower.  I learned to love Castile Soap during that time.

The campers then were able to chose an afternoon activity.  These activities ranged from hikes, walks, different art projects, deep conversations and whatever else the counselors would think up.  We would end the day in a reflections time before dinner, where we sat alone in the woods, fields, pond and unplugged.  People would write letters, read books, journal or just watch.  I had the chance once to watch a faun learn to walk while I sat still in my reflections spot.  That spot I got to know very well over my tenure at Coopers Cove.  I became attached to it.  I would go there to think on my own time.  It was "mine".

Evening program would range from games, to square dancing to listening to folklore to night hikes without lights to dusk studies.  Some nights we were told to grab our sleeping bags, water and rain gear and were hiked to the top of the Cove "The Bald" where we slept under the stars as a big group.  Waking with the sun to be back down at camp in time for breakfast.

We learned to see both the forest through the trees and the trees through the forest.  This whole concept of creating an attachment or sense of place was snuck in.  We did not realize that we were learning, that the natural world was connected, that humans were a part of the natural world.  We did not realize it because we were living it.  We were having positive experiences in nature with friends and adults that we trusted.  Louise Chawla writes that the positive attachments children make to nature involve experiences that they enjoy with their friends and adults in natural areas.

Most people who worked at Coopers Cove became teachers or scientists in their "real job".  Not everyone is in the environmental field, but it seems that all have a strong appreciation for the environment and live their life keeping the environment in mind.  To me that can be even more important.  We need more professionals who make environmental changes without being a "sustainability coordinator" or any other role in that vein.     

I have never felt so relaxed after a reunion before, I think because this time it was a reunion to a place not just the people I may or may not remember. 

1 comment:

  1. Fro a good friend of ours:
    I'm so glad you shared this. I wished I could have attended, the Cove is very special to me, I often dream I am running down to the pond in the dark, or walking the fire road from the Bald to the tower. I found things at there I never knew or cared for that I would give anything to experience again.