Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Takahano, Grief, and Camp Fire USA.... and Hope.

Yesterday, I became a member of an alliance dedicated to preserving some incredible land outside of Boulder for future generations... I can take clients, children or adults, up to this incredible 640 acre parcel of land and get to know this place deeply... as deeply as I knew Camp Takahano, the camp I grew up going to.
Inspiration Hill at Takahano, with The Rocks in the background

And, here come the tears. What are these tears about? Camp Takahano was my home away from home. I knew every acre of that 200 acre camp. I knew where the streams led, where the wild mint grew, where the spring was and the monkey bridge that led the way toward the Appalachian trail.
The Monkey Bridge

Takahano was where I felt the most joy of anywhere. Takahano was the home of so many memories, of so many magical places hidden from view.... It was my escape from a difficult school life where I was constantly tormented by bullies. I learned about knots and knives and firebulding, started assisting in those classes by age 10, was teaching them on my own by 13, and was first paid to be the “lead outdoor skills instructor” at a Camp Fire camp at 16.
The Pond behind the Farm House

The tree house

When Takahano went up for sale, I sobbed. I was 18, and wondering how the hell I could afford to purchase that 200 acre piece of land so it could continue to be the source of so much for kids in the Washington, DC area. I was petrified that it would be purchased by a developer and that my 200 acres of heaven would turn into a housing development. This grief of losing Takahano has seated itself deep into my being.
Meals around the fire behind the farm house
Camp Fire's logo from my childhood
Grief is a part of my path. I grieve for the loss of the camp I called my second home. I grieve for the death of Camp Fire's club program. Which, by the way, is doing well now due to the dedication of Rosemary Pezzuto and others who volunteered countless hours and years of their time and passion to revive the Patuxent Area Council of Camp Fire. See for the exciting news of what Rosemary has created with my childhood organization. Rosemary was one of the Camp Fire club leaders when I was a child. She was the one who stepped up when the council was in danger of shutting down, and held the vision of continuing the hundred years of Camp Fire tradition and memories in the Washington, DC area, even after our camps were sold and our club program dissolved.

Camp Fire's logo today

Rosemary has hundreds of kids attending summer camp as I write this. She has created a resource for thousands of kids and their families, as I sit here across the country and grieve about what was lost. As I look at Camp Fire's website, and Rosemary's Facebook page, my tears become tears of joy... and of hope... What do I know about what has happened with Camp Fire in the 16 years since I graduated from high school and left home? Very little, honestly. In the 16 years since I moved away, Camp Fire's Patuxent Area Council has revived and grown, and is thriving in a way that fills me with immense gratitude for Rosemary's dedication to the kids of Maryland and Washington DC.

What can I learn from that dedication? What can I learn? I realize, now, as I sit here writing this, that I share the dedication that Rosemary has. I have also dedicated my life to creating the same kind of deep connection to place that we all had with Takahano. I went to school for Animal Behavior and Environmental Studies, and got a master's degree in Environmental Leadership. I've been an outdoor educator for how many years? 18? 21? 24 years? Where do I begin? I've been a naturalist for close to 30 years... Why not start that count with my obsession with identifying every salamander and snake and tadpole at Takahano?

I have the opportunity, now, to create the same kind of memories here in Colorado. I've already done a lot, exploring the open space and national forests outside of Boulder, teaching about the plants and animals that live there with my meetup group, Boulder Naturalist Outings. ( I've explored many miles of rivers that stretch out onto the plains, and made friends with owls and eagles and coyotes along the way.

Lefthand Alliance
But now, by joining the Lefthand Alliance (, I see so many possibilities of deepening my work by getting to know the Alliance's land deeply. I applaud the work of the founders. This area is so rich with wildlife and magical places. I barely know any of it, honestly. But, I share the vision of my new friend Ira, who is dedicating his life to this place. He says on the Alliance's website:“The Alliance offers an invitation to directly connect with the Father Sky and Mother Earth. It offers a sanctuary to enjoy a 'Rocky Mountain High'. She offers abundance in the earth, the forest, the wild- life, the water that continually flows as the Lifeblood of the Father Sky and Mother Earth dancing with love. This is my version of heaven, and I love sharing it with each of you.”

This very well may become my version of heaven, too, as Takahano was when I was a child.

Special thanks to my mom, Marg Bond, for leading my Camp Fire group, being the director of Camp Takahano for so long, and, you know, for everything!
Mom and I on my wedding day!

Friday, June 1, 2012

Dementia and the present moment.

When I'm not canoeing or leading hikes, I spend a lot of time with elders, helping them bathe and keeping them company. Caregiving came to me in synchronicity and has become a major part of my working hours. I enjoy it, because I enjoy hanging out with people who have much more history than I have. I love hearing their stories, learning what they care about and being able to help them have the quality of life they desire as they edge toward a century of living.

Tonight, something has changed in my appreciation for this "job", this way that I'm spending my time.

It hit me today, as I walked around the block gathering flowers with my senior friend, holding her hand and trying to keep ahold of the growing collection of blooms in the other hand... I realized that my friend's experience of the world is completely different than mine.

For her, the only time that exists is right now. She has absolutely no short term memory left. I believe that she recognizes me and she always smiles when she sees me, but she will never remember my name. She does not remember anything that happened ten minutes ago, and can't recall the heading of a newspaper article when she's a paragraph into the story. Five minutes later she will read the article again as if it was the first time. Once, she even laughed at herself and told me how absurd it was to try to make sense of what she was reading when she has no short term memory left! She said this not with the grief that I imagined I might feel if I lost my memory. She said this in laughter, and it made me smile.

It's easy to feel pity for her... To imagine what it must be like to not remember what happened yesterday or even remember she has a caregiver sleeping in the other room when she doesn't see me in the moment.

But, something changed in my perception of my friend tonight. What happens when there is no memory of the past and no thought of the future? She has no memory of the flowers we gathered an hour ago. But, each time she reached down to pick another one, her face lit up and she just glowed in the beauty of what she had found. When we sat on her porch watching the sunset, every time she looked at the clouds, she smiled hugely as she exclaimed "the clouds sure are pretty aren't they?"

What is left when memory is gone? Only the present moment. What must it be like to live in that perception? I only saw one sunset tonight. She saw hundreds, a different snapshot in every second... Each moment held more beauty than the last!

I wonder what gift there is in that way of being. Maybe dementia isn't something to grieve for. In the loss of remembering what happened yesterday, my friend is sitting in the present moment in a way that I will never know, even with years and years of meditation and mindfulness practices, years of sitting with the birds and feeling the water glide by under my canoe.

I looked at her with new eyes tonight, and I realized that this moment, right now, is part of my path.

This moment, as I sit quietly, pondering memory and presence while my friend sips her nutrition shake and nibbles on her dinner, and nods off as the last light from the sun silhouettes the mountains outside her window. This is the only moment that there is. There is no future, and no past... There is only right now. Isn't that what she is experiencing? What would it be like for me to experience this moment in the same way?

This I ponder, and I appreciate the chance to spend this evening with her, and not planning for tomorrow's events or thinking of the incredible events of the last few months. I look at my friend's world in wonder, and in gratitude for having the chance to experience her world with her.

I have much to learn.