by Hillary Jade, Program Manager
Robert Frost’s 1923 poem Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening has spoken to me more times than I could even begin to count – on both personal and professional levels. Whenever deadlines loom, I reflect on Frost’s yearning for the peaceful, serene power of nature – how it unassumingly wields a force larger than life, almost as if to say that nothing else matters, even though we know, resignedly, that is not the case. The quiet, yet almost jarring, juxtaposition of freshly-fallen snow and jingling horse bells so perfectly evokes December’s ability to make the world stand still for a moment, take in the smell of a wood-burning stove, and embrace the silent, though recognizable, sound of nature peacefully existing.
In the last stanza, Frost laments:
The woods are lovely, dark and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.
Though the woods I traversed the other night were light, (June, here, replacing December’s winter solstice with its summer counterpart), my mind kept circling back to Frost’s pining. Oh, were we to have the endless freedom to escape into the woods until we’d exhausted its mysteries; oh, the satisfying snap of twigs and crunch of leaves underfoot.
Oh, to be a Yunasa camper!
For they are afforded such luxuries. For seven days, 42 campers, ages 10-15, did what Frost wanted to do, but ultimately couldn’t, on that evening: simply be. Unencumbered by the tethers of technology, deadlines, homework and competition, they were catapulted into a Colorado wonderland of campfires and kayaking, starry nights and sing-offs, dancing and digging. They bunked with peers and trekked up and down the hills of Camp Shady Brook, alternatingly dusty, wet from paddle boarding or smelling of campfire smoke. They had no connection to the outside world – and were all the happier for it.
On more than one occasion, a few “barbaric yawps” (to quote another poet) were released in the face of water balloon fights and gaga tournaments, card games and puzzles, the last piece of cheese pizza and the last glass of sparkling cider at the camp social. On Friday, campers sported red, yellow, green and blue bandanas for the mini-Olympics, the ball field a rainbow swirl of friendly competition and team spirit. Most of the time, the four corners of camp echoed with raucous laughter, impromptu guitar solos and thunderous applause.
But there was also a beautiful serenity that blew through camp each day before lunch: psychosynthesis. Campers grounded themselves as they listened to Fellows describe situations meant to engage the heart, mind and all five senses. Through a quiet lilt, as read aloud by Fellows, campers were transported to settings that stretched their imaginations far more than simple geography (beach, mountains, spring) would have one believe.
Like Frost, Yunasa campers also had promises to keep, though theirs revolved around broadening horizons, trying new things, facing challenges, being brave, discovering new truths and, most importantly, embracing themselves for who they are. Many tried the climbing wall or Giant’s Ladder for the first time; others found their voice during Heart of the Matter and shared previously-unspoken truths about themselves with others. There is no safer space anywhere; Yunasa allows one to share as much or as little as they’d like to – all the while being encouraged to share more than they had before. Nowhere else exists a place with more open hearts, minds, spirits, perspectives or intentions.
During the Closing Ceremony, fifth-year campers and a bevy of their compatriots shared what – and who – they were most grateful for. Though varied in their responses, one underlying theme stood out: Yunasa West is a place like no other and, even though it only exists for a week, its spirit and the friendships formed sometimes carry more weight than anything else in the campers’ lives throughout the rest of the year. There is a spirit here – a trust that forms through intentional reflection, building the new labyrinth from scratch, trekking up to the fire pit for an amazing view and an even more amazing variety show, tie-dying fresh white t-shirts and dancing to Toto’s Africa surrounded by glow sticks and string lights.
There is beauty in the intricate, organic support systems that evolve from the moment one steps foot on Yunasa West’s ochre soil. Homesickness is overcome by a high-five or an invitation to join one in a game of ninja; the challenge course doesn’t seem quite as daunting when you have five friends cheering, “You got this! Keep going!”; it doesn’t matter that no fish were caught over a span of four days. (Talking about Harry Potter during the futile hour-long fishing excursion was far more interesting than any snagged trout would have been, anyway.)
Oh, to be a Yunasa camper! And to stop by woods – lovely, [light] and deep – for a week on end. Deadlines or not, I need to walk through the woods more often. This shall be my promise to keep.
If you’ve been to a Yunasa camp, what is your favorite memory?
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