IMPORTANT NEW NOTES FROM JUSTIN:
US Tour Day 107: St. Dorothy's Rest and Magic
Saint Dorothy's Rest. I could write a million pages about this place and what it has meant to me through my life and the countless ways it has shaped me. I've sang there, swam there, laughed there, cried there, learned, lived, loved, longed, lost. I started going there for their summer camp program when I was eight years old, so I guess it was 1984. I went there every summer until I was sixteen. Then I was old enough to be a counselor. And I did that until 1996. Or was it 1997? So many things happen in the years, and it makes it so hard to remember what happened when.
While I can't remember exactly what happened when, I am 100% sure of what happened where. And the where has, since 1984, been primarily at the place we lovingly call Saint Dot's.
It is my favorite place on this rock that floats through the endless darkness of space. The people there are my favorite people, the memories my favorite memories.
Why? What is it that makes a summer camp that hibernates into a quiet retreat center during winters such a superlative place for me? I've thought about this ever since my mind was capable of doing so, as this place has been a part of me since long before that.
As a camper it was a place of fun. And, unlike school or the homes of the kids in my neighborhood, it was a place where I was accepted and even liked. I had few friends at school and even fewer near my house. I was a loudmouth and a smartass and had a knack for irritating the daylights out of everyone I came into contact with. I had the symptoms of ADHD before there was a simple acronym for it—before it was trendy and every mom used it to describe why they had to medicate their children.
So, without medication my only soothing relief was the week or two I spent in the warm mountains of Sonoma County swimming, canoeing, hiking, and making arts and crafts. They were beautiful times, and I received constant reinforcement that I was OK and that people would like me, no matter what the kids at home said.
So these early years were consumptive in nature. The camp gave and I took.
When I graduated from camper to staff I got to experience a level of fulfillment and satisfaction beyond what I could have imagined. Now I was the one who spent his summer showing those kids how special they were, helping them to see that there is a place for them in this world. It was now my great opportunity to make them the stars of their own show called their lives on this planet. It was my turn to give back.
Often I've thought that the incalculable rewards of giving that I experienced during my years on staff were what made the place so special. It's no secret that the more you give, the more you have—especially when it comes to love. But, I've long had a sense that there was more to it than just that.
The camp was founded in 1903, just years before the great earthquake ravaged nearby San Francisco. Thousands of campers and counselors had passed through the redwood arches and heard the song of the chapel bell before dinner as the hot July afternoon faded into campfires and songs and bedtime stories. I could find some reasons for why this place was so special to me. But, with such a legacy, could I find explanation for how it remained this way for 81 years before me and for the years after I left it?
Some people working on staff at the camp went there as campers as long ago as the early 1960's. They tell me they felt the same thing. So what was it? Was it the people? Was it the collection of traditions, passed through generation after generation of campers and counselors? Or does there live some metaphysical energy in the trees and soil and trails and the old stone steps that brings electricity where there was once none? Has this mountain been blessed by some spirit which my mind can not fathom or doesn't believe in?
I've juggled this idea around in my mind for years. I think about it when I drive, especially through the redwood forests of Northern California.
And I haven't found any answers. Only more questions.
Recently I got an email saying that the couple who has worked as directors of the camp for 21 years were resigning. Mark and Jeannie Farmer went there as campers during their childhoods, and they had been as integral a part of the place for me as the trails and the feel of the wooden pews in the chapel and the smell of the air in the evenings. Imagining Saint Dorothy's without them would be like, well, like imaging life without the sky. Sure, you could imagine it, but why would anyone want to?
Their resignation party would be on December 30 up at the camp. I knew I had to be there to celebrate our years together and their huge part in my life and the lives of people I know, people I don't know, and the lives attached to the names and faces I once knew but can no longer remember.
And while there I had the chance to write a letter to them. Some counselors were putting together a book full of letters and photos and songs and poems dedicated to the Farmers. I took out my pen and began to write. It felt strange to write using pen and paper, as I've used nothing but my iBook to capture my thoughts for some years now. Writing felt awkward at first, but soon the technique came back to me. And words flowed out.
Now, I'd always wanted to write some sort of essay to try to work out what it was that made Saint Dorothy's so special. But, I used time as an excuse for not doing it. I figured it would take a million hours or more to get it straight in my head. And with so much backstory to write about, how could I ever get it all out before I died? I hadn't even figured it out. How in the world could I actually write about it?
But, somehow in fifteen minutes I think I finally got it. And I got it on to paper, as well.
Here's what I wrote:
I'm getting older, and soon I think I will be too old to be counselor there anymore. Jobs, traveling, and music have kept me from working there in the past few years. But, I hope that this summer will be the summer I return to that place of great giving for one last chance to pour out a waterfall of love and energy onto some growing hearts.
And, maybe I can add a few more thousand pages to the million I've already started in my mind—a boundless tome overflowing with stories of love and fun and sharing and learning and mischief and the song of the chapel bell filling the warm valley as the sun retreats into the ocean to my west.
Here are some pictures from the Farmer's Resignation Celebration at Saint Dorothy's Rest:
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