It’s kind of like Narnia. I entered the wardrobe. So much has happened that nobody else quite understands. I just returned and I haven’t been gone more than 32 hours, but it feels like I was gone for weeks.
Every one of us has a touchstone. It may be something small like a scarf or a security blanket. Or it may be a place, a sunny spot on the couch somewhere. In my recent years I have found Pescadero to be that place. A house in the northern California that calms me and brings me back to my center. It is where I found my new sisters and the place where I have grown and changed and made friendships and connections I haven’t felt in decades. Decades.
The perpetual comparison for all things moving in my life, the place and feeling and connection that will hold every other thing hostage has been Camp Monomonac.
I was there for the last 24 hours for the first real time in 25 years.
There was a sacrifice, some kismet, a turn of events that occurred and things just flat out led me to that place in the woods of New Hampshire again because, plain and simply, I needed to be there. I was supposed to be on Cortes Island off the coast of Vancouver for a writing retreat. As I made the decision not to go I was left with an emptiness. But I realized that I would be able to attend my camp reunion. It’s funny, my friend Jen said to me on the way there that she never doubted I’d be going to camp. She just knew it. I just had to sit in the sand and dirt and pine needles of a space so sacred to me that I am often at a loss to explain it to others.
Places that hold this sort of power are not simply left at the end of the weekend or summer. They stay inside of you and little things will bring it all rushing back. There’s a certain smell of a summer rain, of a bathroom at the beach where wet wood and cement mix with hand soap. The way a campfire, any campfire anywhere on earth will be the most comforting smell in the world. I can never be in the woods without thinking of the circle of cabins I spent so much time in.
Camp Monomonac is gone in many ways. It is now Camp Starfish and changing the lives of children and adults every summer, just like Monomonac did. But despite being similar it was definitively no longer ours. We had such an ownership of that place and took for granted that it would always remain as it is in all of our collective memory. Whatever each of us experienced there has historically been confirmed by the physical space.
This is the chapel.
This is the boat beach.
This is Deer Cabin.
This is the Swamp Bridge.
These are the outdoor showers where I learned to become comfortable with my body in front of other women, even if in the smallest way.
Tiny changes have betrayed my memory. The front porches built onto each cabin, while adorable and sweet, combat my recollection of the slap of the screen door and the rumble of sneakers down the steps of the cabin. The shower stalls and countertops that were installed brought the rustic bathrooms into a different time frame and scraped against my memory. I found myself defensive, even angry at moments.
The rules of the place have changed and although I intellectually understand the need for them, I was defensive and rebellious. I was swimming out too far with my friend Roselee and the lifeguard whistled us at. We complained and reluctantly swam closer to shore, grumbling that this place was no longer ours.
It was a bit of a gut punch. “We’re Monomonacers, I thought. We have a damn HISTORY here. This was OUR place.”
It was hard and we all know and support the work this new camp does with children. There is a one-to-one camper to staff ratio, what an incredible program for these kids. They have rules and regulations, but it is also 2018. I went there in the 80’s and 90’s. We had very sound safety regulations and as we joked this weekend, “never lost a camper”. But it was a different time. We enjoyed a great freedom to entertain and nurture kids in a way that I think is definitively different than modern times.
Many of the buildings have changed and there were many new ones added all throughout the property. Fire pits that all of us used at one time or another in our summers there have been filled in. This was perhaps the biggest change for me. Each one of us had a specific memory of fire. Candlelight walks through the woods, a roaring fire in the lodge on a rainy night, strapping canoes together and making a fire in a grill set atop, dinners cooked on one of about 15 different fire pits. We were a fiery bunch, us Monomonacers. We ate and shared songs and stories and prayers around crackling flames in those woods. We walked paths so familiar to us we didn’t need flashlights but knew in our bodies where roots and dips lay, carrying candles that dripped and left wax on our hands. All the while singing and laughing, maybe sneaking a hand-hold in the dark. So many things happened at Camp Monomonac and while I didn’t remember all of them, the feeling and comfort and complete familiarity of that place burned within me. And after a mere 24 hours I was devastated all over again to leave.
There’s no great take-away here. I don’t have a revelation. I know my heart is a little more filled than it was before I went but it also hurts again, a wound opened up. The joy of the place and the pain of the leaving are swirling in my bloodstream. No time had really passed with most of the friends I saw, but, in a way, all the time in the world has passed. Growing up is a drag, man. So I guess all I can say is to linger a little bit longer in the places you love, be them in your day to day life or in your memory, because going back is a gift, no matter how you do it.