Tag Archive | camp

We live in Fire country

For those not familiar with Southern California, there are two seasons: hot and on fire and cool and on fire. We really do have 4 seasons but they can come at any time and are mostly identified at least by me, for the quality of the light. And even then there can be difference in geography, the light on the west side near the beaches is different from the light in the San Fernando or San Gabriel Valleys and that is different from the light up on the mountains like the Angeles Forest that is burning now.

The problem with the mountains burning is that LA is built on mountains. They thread in and out and while some refer to them as hills they really aren’t. I laughed when I was in Scotland and they said how high Ben Nevis is. It’s only 4,414 ft. The camp I worked in in the Angeles National Forest was at 1 mile and Mt Baldy is 10, 064 ft. This is a listing of the peaks in and around LA: http://www.laalmanac.com/geography/ge05.htm

Mt Verdugo, for instance, is the hill behind the house I grew up in at 3126 ft. So we know fire and we know mountains. The house we moved to in Glendale had almost burned the year before we moved in due to a huge fire that burned around a good share of LA from the beach to Glendale where we moved to in 1964. When we moved in there were foot holes in the roof because the neighbors were on our roof trying to protect our house because the owners weren’t home so a garage roof burned down the street, the scorch marks on the inside of the garage were a fascination for us kids growing up.

We early on learned which things to grab if we had to evacuate, Photographs and papers and meds first since those are the hardest to replace. And we learned how to get the garden hose up to the balconies on our house so we could spray the shake roof if we had to do it. All the other rooves in the neighborhood were Spanish tile but no, my parent bough a big Tudor house, the only one in the area. It was the most expensive house in the neighborhood, $36,000 at the time and since dad was an underpaid teacher, I think my grandparents may have helped them buy it even though they sold our tract home in the Valley to move where dad taught 6th grade.

I don’t know how many times I came home from something as a kid and saw flames on the mountain behind our house but it was a lot.
You are always aware of the consequences of a cigarette thrown from the car, which by the way, is illegal but idiots do it anyway. When you work at a camp, you get a bit paranoid about whether the campfire is all the way out. Lightning storms also can put you on high alert.

When I worked up at a camp near Idylwild, a fisherman with no brains lit a campfire to grill his catch, under a tree. It was two of the counselors from camps day off and saw the guy do it on the other side of the lake and there was nothing they could do to stop him. That fire raged for a week and burned through several camps and ranches. It almost got our camp but the wind changed direction and the fire burned through the Girl Scout camp instead. We spent that afternoon in the pool waiting. They couldn’t get busses up to us and the only safe place was the pool so we had orders to sir on the edge of the pool and if the fire came to get under water fast and hold our breath. The rangers had told us because we had a huge grassy meadow that the camp might burn in as little as 30 seconds. I remember hauling fire hose and laying it out and we could see pine trees going up like giant match sticks and it was terrifying.

I remember being pissed off because all the guitar players were told we had to leave them behind if they could get the busses up just because it kept our minds off what could happen to us and the kids.

So those of us who are natives can be a bit paranoid. Last Wednesday I was walking out to take the bus home and smelled smoke. Some idiot had thrown their cigarette into our bark mulch and there was a fire burning about a foot across. This made the old Girl Scout in me rise up and get creative. No hose near by, so I used my cane to spread the mulch onto the nearby gravel. I was not impressed with the coworker that drove out the gate yelling she was going to call security. I kept at it and the next woman jumped out of her car with a couple of water bottles and helped me get the big pieces out. She said she couldn’t figure out what I was doing until she saw the flames and that was when I had it pretty well spread out but we got it out and I didn’t even miss my bus. I found out a day later from security that they had been afraid something like that would happen because under the mulch is some sort of weed cloth that is flammable and if that caught our 2+ acres would go up like a match if it got going under the mulch. That is what happens in a forest when the duff catches fire underneath the trees and spreads underground. My Girl Scour Good Deed for the day in 98 degree weather too.

So now we deal with a huge fire that is only 10% contained. Containment means they have a line around the fire. It’s burned 33,000 acres. http://abc7.com/ for news if you are interested. It’s been in the high 90’s and low 100s for temps for the last week of so here in the SF Valley. This really doesn’t help when fighting fires. Saturday the smoke was blown low which led to the apocalyptic photos I posted early and everything is covered in ash. I went to the ATM and had to wipe the screen off to even read it.

For those who use Celsius 90 degrees Fahrenheit = 32.22 Celsius = bloody hot. 100 Degrees is 37.7 Celsius. 33, 000 acres is 51,562 square miles which is bigger than a lot of cities.

So we are about 10 miles as the crow flies from where the fire is burning and hoping it doesn’t destroy everything and every being on the mountains

A lot of love and energy is being directed at the brave firefighters who are out there on the line.

More reunion thoughts

One thing that made the weekend wonderful was there was no drama. Every one I have been to before this there were too many drunks and too many kids whose parents let them run amuck. By some miracle there were no drunks, people may have been drinking but it was civilized adult drinking in their cabins. Not falling down barfing drunk and endangering themselves and other people and the camps certification if nothing else.

I’m sorry but I hate being around stupid sloppy drunks. Drinking like that solves no problems and creates hurt and dislike when the governers come off and their mouths start running. This weekend I had more fun indepth intellectual or just plain fun talks with so many people and none of it was obscured by the demon rum. Maybe I’m an old fuddy duddy but no one looks good drunk and no one has intellectual thoughtful discussions on a myriad of random topics if they are blitzed. Drunks aren’t funny, and sucking down booze kills brain cells. Been there, done that in college and have never felt the need to since even during the worst of times. If I’m going to self medicate it’s with chocolate and ice cream.

Wonder of wonder, all the kids were great. It was fun to see how some had grown and to welcome the new additions and we had some really cute new little angels. Some were old enough to have discussions with. When the kids cornered a bat, and were terrifying the poor thing. I got to do my Naturalist thing and rescue it and teach them a little about them. I love bats. Bats can eat up to 1000 mosquitoes an hour. Gotta love the little flying mice for that if nothing else. Some of our cabins have wooden shutters that lift up and then are braced with a board to hold them open and this little guy and gone under one for safety and because the kids had made a wall around him he couldn’t ping his way to freedom. He was only about 2 inches long. The kids thought he was a baby but he was full grown. Myotis are about the same size of the local wild deer mice.

Once I lifted the shutter, which the kids couldn’t believe I would just walk up and do. We had a little chat about our friend. I made them back up about 6 feet and the minute I did, the little guy started flying back and forth until he could ping his way to the end of the building and then he was gone.  My good deed for the day.

The night before we had had a desert tarantula as a guest at campfire. I’d never seen one up there before. He wasn’t full grown, he wasn’t quite as long as my hand and they get much bigger than that and I think must have just shed his exoskeleton because his body was pretty narrow for a tarantula but some people reacted to it with the usual screams. I hope I was a calming influence, spiders are cool. I’d rather see a spider than most clowns. And we used have this stupid clown mass every summer that I did my best to miss. Snakes and spiders no problem, scary clowns No!

I never got my photo of a damn woodpecker, Curse you, Woody Woodpecker! Four years I’ve  been hunting the bugger.

Reunions are special places

This weekend’s reunion was wonderful. Reunions are the closest you can get to a time machine for camp. The only problem is that you no longer climb like a mountain goat with no thought about how you are going to hurt when you are done. We all look different from our past selves. Most of us are heavier, we all are grayer but are hearts are pretty much the same.

Some camps were filled with sunshine, grace and love, some weren’t but Teresita is one that was. I have to admit that I felt like I was a fish out of water there but they have shown in spades that they didn’t feel that way about me and that is a gift.

They aren’t all Catholics now, we have gone are separate journeys. I was a budding Pagan then but now some are Buddhists, some are still Catholic, some are atheist and some are agnostic and some have moved to other forms of Christianity but we all respect each other.

I was amazed Sunday morning how many showed up for my Chapel before breakfast, last year there were 8 adults, this year most came and they brought their kids.  That was very special. Miss Kat is the crazy Druid and they let her have Chapel on Sunday of all days. It felt really good especially since I had a brain storm the night before and threw out what I was going to do and wrote a service on magic and my definition of magic because for me magic = nature and being up in the mountains and in the trees is my church so we listened to the wind in the pines and the oaks and we watched and listened to my nemesis the acorn woodpecker. We saw all the colours of green and we saw the magic in each other’s laugh and smile. That is my definition of magic.

And this is the prayer I wrote:

I ask for power to make good decisions this day and every day

I ask for wisdom to see the magic in the world

I see magic in the wind

I see magic in the sun’s rays

I see magic in the greens of the trees

I hear magic in a friend’s voice

I hear magic in a bird’s song

I hear magic in music

I know the magic of loving friends and family

I know the magic of learning new things

I know the magic of peace, the magic of hope, the magic of love

Let me take these things with me through this day

And home with me this night

May we know we are blessed and that we carry blessing

To those we meet

May we be blessed.

And we ended with sending the blessings of the weekend into the wind in bubbles.

More because I’m campsick

You may think my dear, when you grow quite old,
You have left camp days behind.
But I know the scent of wood smoke
Will always call to mind
Little fires at twilight
And the trails you used to find.

You may think some day you have quite grown up.
And feel so worldly and wise
But suddenly out of the past a vision will arise
Of merrie folk with brown bare knees
And laughter in their eyes.

You may live in a house built to your taste
In the nicest part of town
But some day for your old camp togs
You’d change your latest gown
And trade them all for a balsam bed
Where the stars at night look down.

You may find yourself grown quite wealthy
Have all that gold can buy
But you’d toss aside a fortune
For days neath an open sky
With sunlight in blue water
And white clouds sailing high

For once you have been a camper
Then something has come to stay
Deep in your heart forever
Which nothing can take away
And heaven can only be heaven
With a camp in which to play.

Unknown

Coming out is never easy — part 2

Part 2

There were a lot of things I had to work through. My parent’s church was heavily anti-gay even though every minister at the church just about had a gay kid including the executive pastor and the one my mom went to when she began to figure it out, who told her there was no such thing as lesbians when his own daughter was a dyke.

The next year at camp I was almost ready to come out when this woman I could not stand kissed me in front of the kids in the dining hall and told me to come out and I went running to our camp director who was also an out lesbian that year who just laughed. I’m afraid that scared me into the closet for another year especially since I later got that counselor fired for molesting some kids and assaulting another on a backpack trip and all I kept thinking was “I’m not like that” even though I knew the rest of the camp counselors were really nice people. Some of the one’s friends still haven’t forgiven me to this day for getting Huggie fired.

The third year at camp I spent edging out of the closet a toe at a time because I was in love and because I was A&C/ Nature Director I had a place to sleep in Lakesite Unit but no kid responsibilities so I could sleep around the camp in whatever shelter my crush was living in that week and people were convinced something was happening even though it wasn’t. It was also the year we had Peter Pervert running around at night torturing counselors by appearing at their bed after we were lights out and trying to sleep so I had an excuse of being extra security in the worst hit units. By the time I was out of camp that year I had finally admitted at least to myself that yes, I was a lesbian but it was not easy nor a fun process.

It would be years before I was out to my parents. I only came out to my brother because all my friends said Cam was gay so the first time we were alone I asked him and his answer was “Are you because all my friends say you’re gay?” We ended up abandoning the errand we were supposed to be on and went to the grand opening of the first Different Light bookstore when it opened in Silverlake and meeting a bunch of Cam’s friends.

Mom confronted Cam first about being gay and it wasn’t that bad for him when he said yes. When she finally figured out I was during an Oops moment on my part, she started screaming because my being gay made her getting grandchildren had dropped by 2/3s. Good thing my little sister wasn’t really out until mom had dementia.

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“2 queers and a question mark”

Meanwhile my friends were convinced my sister was gay too and used to call our family, “two queers and a question mark”. My sister played softball and was really good in sports, refused to wear dresses unless my mom threatened her lifetime and would only wear her hair really short. She had better dyke credentials than I did.

Coming our is never easy — Part 1

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I came out in 1979 and it wasn’t easy. I didn’t know why or what I was growing up. I just knew I had no desire to having anything to do with boys. I spent a lot of my time in high school avoiding dates. My senior year in high school a bunch of us gravitated together and went around in a big group. I now know that most of us were gay and the rest just liked being in a group with no pressure. We confused the hell out of the rest of the school because we seemed to be always switching partners and the rest of the school sometimes thought we had something very weird or kinky going on but what we were was a mutual protection society. My brother, Tony, and Jerry were cute and always had some girl after them and hanging out with me, Georgia, and Michelle meant we were nice beards for them as they were for me. Clayton was a good friend and a late bloomer, 10 years after high school he turned out to be gorgeous but then he was over 6 feet tall, pizza faced, braces and skinny. There were a few other girls that would join us but we were the core. We’d go to the movies and sit in different couple combinations so no one could figure out who was supposed to be with whom. It was also cover for things like homecoming dance that we wanted to go to but didn’t want a date. Cam, my brother, Jerry and I all went to the same church and Tony when to another Presbyterian church in Glendale so we had that in common too. None of us were out to ourselves let alone each other.

I spent the first 2 years of college avoiding dating except for when a sorority sister would ambush me with a blind date. One poor guy I ended up with twice and there was absolutely no chemistry. Many years later I found out why when I monitored the AIDS quilt and found his name lovingly embroidered on a large panel. I wish I had known in college and we might have been friends instead of something to avoid. That hurt.

I left school to work at a year round camp and things started to relax and for the first time in my life I felt free to be me. I started at a YWCA camp in 1975 and worked all of 1976 until we ran out of money in the spring of 1977. My boss, a Camp Fire Girl like myself talked me into working for her a the Girl Scout camp she has been hired to direct to be her Arts & Crafts Director. That year was a year in hell and it was a wonder that I decided to try a different camp the next year and not just stop

. That year I fell heavily in love with a straight woman and scared the crap out of her and me since I really didn’t understand what was going on. That year there weren’t any out lesbians or if there were they didn’t come out to me and I felt really alone. In July I got struck by lightning and pissed my friend, the boss off for scaring the kids and then in August I ended up getting poisoned by buckthorn and almost dying at camp because they wouldn’t take me to the doctor until I was unconscious but that is a story for another time. The poisoning happened during a staff game and my boss got mad at me for that too and even though I was really sick she sent me home with a concussion, a deep wound from surgery on my calf to try and get the thorn out and shock and a fever of a 105 and a blood pressure of 80/60 when they finally took it a day later. Camp was done for that year and I never heard from my boss again.

I learned then to keep things to myself and when I went to my next GS camp I thought I would do the same. The first night of precamp was a full moon and I got invited to a top of the road party by an bunch of the staff. We couldn’t drink in camp so you had to go to the top of the road to partake and this group of staff turned out to be lesbians and had assumed I was but I still didn’t really even know what a lesbian was. They were very confused when they figured out I was clueless about why I was invited. They left me alone for most of the rest of the summer and I had started to process that I might really be like them.

Wildlife at Tahquitz Meadows Part 2

More on Wildlife at Taquitz

Tahquitz ran year round. We had summer camp for kids and we had family winter camps. We had an Easter week camp and we had Outdoor Ed for a couple of schools during the school year. I did a lot of nature talks and walks and occasionally a Nature Ride.

One of the things I loved about working at camp was all the different animals that lived around camps. We always had a lot of gopher snakes around because they were attracted to all the mice because no matter no you tell kids no food they always manage to sneak some to hide. This is especially bad when you are working with kids that come from group foster homes. They feel the need to make sure they have something that is theirs and food often fits the bill since it’s portable and hideable until some critter decides it’s theirs.

I was always rescuing some poor gopher snake that had gotten penned somewhere by panicked children and I would take them out to the meadows and let them go but sometimes I’d keep one in a cage for a few days to try and get the kids to get to know snakes. There was one particularly docile one that I carried around in the front top pocket of my overalls. She liked to ride with her head sticking out of the pocket not unlike an Egyptian headpiece. She liked it there because it was nice and warm and safe from panicked children.

One of my favourite things to do was to walk into the Dining Lodge to give a talk with her riding head out in my pocket. I could clear that room in about 30 seconds flat and I would just stand there and pretty soon the heads would pop back in the door and the kids would return and they would start to ask questions about my passenger. City kids have a tendency to assume that all snakes are poisonous and evil so for me, someone they liked and trusted to stand there with a snake in my pocket and obviously not running around crazy had an impact on them. Soon they could gently touch the snake and stroke her smooth scales and we’d talk about how I knew she was a girl (egg slit) and what she ate and what she did for camp and what I was going to do with her. I’m hoping those kids stayed respectful of snakes when they left camp but I have no way of knowing.

One spring we had an Outdoor Ed camp and it snowed about 3 feet at camp. I have to admit that winter of off and on snow is why I can happily live in Southern California and never go near another place with snow. I don’t like being wet, frozen or cold. I went out early one morning to the Arts & Crafts building to get ready to make some candles and do some nature crafts and the snow was absolutely pristine. Nobody was up at that end of camp and it was quiet and mine were the only boot prints through the snow. I was going about my chores and set up when I heard the funny sounds that quail make and across the snow came Mommy and Daddy quail and about 15 tiny little quail all in a long line. Peeping as they went. It was totally enchanting and funny as hell when a pair of the babies fell into one of my boot prints and got stuck. There was a lot of agitated peeping but I knew they would get out and they eventually did. If they hadn’t my leaving the building would have done it. But they got out and left in their long line and it reminded me of a Madeline story of the little girls following the nuns.

Wildlife at Singing Pines part 1

Wildlife at Singing Pines Part 1

Of all the camps I worked at Singing Pines had the biggest variety of wildlife. According to the camp legend it was because an old Indian woman protected camp. A lot of us believed in her with all our hearts. I have good reason to believe, she touched my cheek once. Scared me into screaming and I had to apologize.

That camp has never burned because of her protection the heart of camp is always safe and there is always wildlife harboured there safely. We had a three legged fox and we had bears. We had giant raccoons that weighed around 45 pounds. We had grey squirrels and ground squirrels and field mice. We had a mountain lion that passed through, we had Audubon cottontails and we had rattlesnakes and gopher snakes and we had aquatic garter snakes in the lake. We had bats and we had several kinds of lizards. And we had birds, lots and lots of birds.

I was Arts & Crafts Director there for 4 years and for a couple of years I added the title Nature Director too. I had the Long House and the Nature Nook to work out of but I spent most of my time in the Long House above the Lake. I had a refrigerator that ran on propane that only worked the first year I was there after that it was a convenient place to store food away from critters so I didn’t always have to go all the way up to the Dining Hall. It was a long walk up that hill some days.

I had a lot of time along out there because there were so many other things to do in camp like horse back riding, canoeing and swimming that seemed to come before A&C unless I was making candles and tie-dye. I had no electricity and a limited budget so there were things I couldn’t do that I had done at other camps like enameling. I did have a propane stove for melting wax and heating dye. So we did a lot of that. And one year I added screening for a select few and the staff.

Some days I felt like Snow White in her cottage because the birds went freely in and out of my huge doors. Several times I looked down and a Scarlet Tanager would be hopping in to look up at me in my director’s chair with a cocked head. He always looked like he had a lot of questions he wanted to ask. The Stellar’s Jays were the biggest thieves and loved to steal things especially if some unit had a cook out there on my concrete porch/pad. I once saw one steal a whole cube of butter of the table.

The first thing I was ever warned about was to never build a fire during the day in my fireplace because the baby bats in the chimney might fall into the fire and the mama bats would dive down to get them.

I forgot this one cold day in my third year and luckily the baby did not fall into the fire but mama did come down to get it and put the baby on her chest. She flew up and hung on the wall looking at me very upset and I hurriedly put out the fire. Baby bats and their mamas are really cute. Mama is at the most about 4 inches long so the babies are really tiny. Anything that can eat 1000 mosquitoes in an hour I like a lot.

One night at twilight I had left something in the LH and had to go get it and the bats were just coming out for a night of eating and one poor bat smacked me in the forehead. I guess I was moving too quickly in the door for his sonar to track me. He looked as confused as I did and for the record, he did not get caught in my hair. He just bounced off my head.

One night the CIT’s were camping out in the outpost for a skill session and I had gone out there for dinner and went to get my guitar from the Long House for a sing along. In the fifteen minutes I was gone a mountain lion had gone up the road and I had just missed it. I know there were no tracks when I went to the LH and when I came back there were huge cat paw prints. Much as I love kitties that was one I could do without coming face to face with. I told the CIT Directors so they could keep the kids from going to the bathroom until campfire was over because I wanted to keep everyone in the unit until some time had passed. I don’t think we ever told the CITs. Those paw prints were as big as a large size paper plate. Really big kitty.