I’ve never been one for leaving.
I love to travel, sure – a weekend getaway or a weeklong trip to an exciting new place, even a semester (and later an entire year) studying abroad. And, of course, last fall I pulled up stakes and set off across the country with my husband, on a new adventure.
But I’ve never been one to bolt when the going gets tough. I’m the stick-it-out type, the girl who wants to make it work, to salvage something beautiful from the pieces of a wreck.
However, at the end of my junior year in college, I was ready to chuck it all. The year began with a severe case of post-Oxford reentry shock and a car wreck that killed my friend Cheryl, and continued with a breakup, the divorce of a friend, a risky surgery for my choir director and the death of my six-year-old cousin, Randen, in a car crash. And a rough finals week that culminated in a shouting match with my housemates, leaving our friendships, and our souls, battered and bruised.
One of my housemates moved out the next week. The other took off for a vacation in London and Paris with some friends. And me? I threw some jeans and T-shirts into a suitcase, grabbed a pillow and sleeping bag, and hit the road for the mountains of New Mexico, where I’d signed up for a writing workshop/retreat with three other students, and an English-professor-turned-camp director. And as I drove through dusty Texas towns surrounded by cotton fields and then into the wide, bronzed hills and steep mesas of New Mexico, I could feel my shoulders begin to relax, my spirit to exhale.
I’d never been to Camp Blue Haven before, though I’d come several times with my youth group to Glorieta, just down the road outside Santa Fe. But I’d never taken this winding road through tiny Las Vegas, New Mexico, and turned off onto a rutted dirt track, crossing the bridge over the creek, heading for a group of cabins nestled on the side of a hill. I’d never hiked up to Eloi’s Meadow or had an English class in a grove of pines, or spent a day toiling up Hermit’s Peak and down the other side, all the way back to the dining hall for a dinner of vegetable stew and hot cinnamon rolls.
But I did all those things, and more, during those two weeks at Blue Haven. I did my laundry in the shower house on a rainy Sunday, sitting in the doorway and reading Kathleen Norris while I waited for my clothes to dry. I walked slowly back to the cabin every night, gazing up at the indigo sky pierced with stars, diamond-bright in the absence of street lights and city glare. I watched Basil, the little dachshund who belonged to the camp’s caretaker, trundle around among the cabins, intent on some secret errand. And I spent hours at the picnic table on the porch of the old dining hall, scribbling in a notebook and eating M&Ms, and soaking in the silence of this place, green and wood-planked and deeply peaceful.
Every May, the urge to be back there hits me again – among the rustling pines, walking barefoot on their sun-warmed needles, smelling their spicy scent on the air. I see the faces of my fellow writers, an odd, mismatched little community, listening intently as we shared our work and talked shop and read poetry aloud. I hear Scott, the director, strumming his guitar and singing in a rough-edged baritone voice with a hint of loneliness in it. I smell the campfire smoke and taste Beth’s cinnamon rolls, and hear the booming bark of Jake, the golden retriever, shaking himself after a dip in the river, and I wish I could go back there – just for a little while.
(Writing “class” at Blue Haven)