Summer of 2007 was the first summer in 15 years that I haven't spent at least two nights at Alta Mons. The last summer I worked there, 2006, I spent nights watching moonrises in the blue truck with Amy Cox, wandering starlit gravel roads with Clark Ramsey, and drinking tea on the staff house front porch with Rhiannon Violette and Corey Dalton. At night there are cicadas, bullfrogs, crickets, lightening bugs, owls, even bobcats. Campers squeek in their beds, counselors done a single flashlight for story time, and the valley exchanges a slumber of people for an alertness of the wild. Admist the twinklings of bugs and stars, a dew falls over the vegetation. It is damp, mysterious, comforting, frightening, and intoxicating.
Days are glorious on those acres; summer sun beating down, temperatures building all morning while campers and staff bebop between low ropes, meals, home in the woods sites, the pool, and crafts. Around 3 or 4 the heat may break, sky turn black, and thunderstorms send units from the pool towards the dining hall for some intense four-square.
I feel at home at Alta Mons because so much of my growth has happened here. When I was an elementary camper I packed far too much and always came with friends, usually Bethany Stevens or Keelah Andrews. Sometimes I idolized staff members, sometimes they were grumpy and sick and we made their weeks torture. I always bounced across the bridge from the cabins to the bathhouse, and usually developed crushes on that week's lifeguard or some other non-suspecting male staff member.
In those days the pool was fed by the creek, there were snakes in the pumps, and wild contests Friday afternoon before we went home. We worshipped in the back 400, nothing but trees, mountains, grass, and us. I first heard the legend of the phoenix in that amphitheatre, while a flaming arrow lit the fire pit. It was everything I understood magic to be.
Like the Harry Potter craze I was glued to Alta Mons. I came back every summer, for a coveted week. I looked for returning staff members, cool college kids that seemed legendary to me. On the drive from Troutville to Shawsville I would count down roads; Kirk Ave, Butt Hollow, Strawberry Ln., the yard with the rooster huts, the vine gazebo, Purgatory Creek, Sisson Dairy, Boogie's Wrestling Camp. Finally the valley would open, with the promise of lightening bug summer dusks, hand churned ice-cream, guitar around a fire. Back then I only got to stay a week at the longest. Six days I anticipated all year.
My first summer as a Junior High camper I stayed in Unit 9. We carried the entire thermal to the site from the old barn for breakfast. For lunch we ate summer sausage, saltine crackers, easy cheese, granola, and apples… every day. For dinner we cooked over the fire, every day. It was only after I was a staff member that I understood why my counselors were stressed out this week. I learned how to canoe. I fell in love for the first time with my canoe partner.
My life changed a lot between that year and my first year as a Senior High camper, by that time I went to camp alone. Katie Moser and Josh Dietz were my counselors, I met George Dickenson, and Jamie was the only other girl in our unit. We spent the week traveling, biking, canoeing, all the way to West Virginia. It was… perfect.
The next summer I was a C.I.T. That was a whirl wind of confusion, growth, and reality. I attempted to bond with staff while being told C.I.T.s were not allowed to develop any kind of meaningful friendship with staff members, never mind, as it turned out I was the only C.I.T. for that summer. I was lonely and searching most of those four weeks, but loved being at Alta Mons, learning to work as staff, and developing one close friendship I would carry throughout life.
Two summers after that I was a high school graduate and a real staff member. I felt respected more but sometimes things were a struggle. It was perhaps my best summer at Alta Mons- things were new and wild and fresh, and everyone seemed to be stumbling through the learning process together. My loves were there; Marie, Sheri, Steve Opetia-Williamson, Sarah Perry aka Big Veg, Mike Jamison, Elaine Smith, George Dickenson, Greg Moench, all people that throughout college would stay very near and dear to me.
After that I was in a groove, while school years were wild and wandering from Emory & Henry to the University of Montana, summers were spent on these 800 some acres. New staff came and went, I loved and lost, learned, kept, and stayed. Despite all my love for the place I tried many times to quit the addiction.
Every summer seemed to surface me further and further in experience and respect until I found myself one of the oldest returning staff members taking on battles I pieced through with God. It is wildness; wildness to grow up, wildness to search, wildness to battle, wildness towards wisdom and grace.
Memories cascade my mind- crying on the dock with Josh at a C.I.T., watching Will Williams and Paul Inge break bread wearing togas reinacting Jesus' last days, walking circles in the baby pool with the Muscatellos to create our own whirlpool, night swimming with Greg Moench, KK and I joking about dancing under the pink roof on the weekends, quoting Thoreau plunging in and Heather Taylor carrying that tattered letter through life with her, singing the Elephant Medley with Maggie, running around camp smothered in mud to lift morale from a week of rain, God. God pulling me, shoving me, isolating me. I think the best way to explain what I have gone through spiritually in this place is to think about the enormous amounts of pressure and process coal goes through before it is a diamond.
Different folks have different interpretations of a place. Dedicating my college years to class and life in Montana- ideas and theories floated through my head about natural resources, how vast our country is, how diverse this world is. I think it is undeniable that some mixture of memory and affinity for a parcel of land strikes every person. Whether it is as small as your bed or your grandmother's house, or as big as Virginia or the East Coast, I believe each person has a quadrant that awakens and stirs the depths of their beings.
Luckily for me, God has always been involved with my depths and my places- trusting his hands to guide my steps in his will. I tried to leave Alta Mons, and Virginia for that matter, many times (a regular prodigal son). Run as I may, there are always two firm definitive hands pushing east, luring me back to abandoned homesteads, bottling companies and Willie Jack's. Stories echo off Bear Mountain, Turtle Ridge, Purgatory Creek, and Christmas Tree Mountain.
In many ways this camp has been a testing ground physically, spiritually, and socially for me. It has turned me into a singer, naturalist, guitar strummer, trail runner, paddler, leader, lover, climber, gear junkie, writer, worshipper, and friend. My dreams revolve around memories and models here – thru hiking the Appalachian Trail, finding a career where I'm paid to be outside, marrying a man who can stand beside me on the East Ridge after scrambling up the ravine and loose dirt to abandoned logging roads overlooking the dairy and camp's tree-lined boulevard. I have been betrayed and befriended, broken and blessed on these acres.
Through the years, people, adventures and stories I've grown into the understanding that Camp Alta Mons is the love of my life. I can breathe here, cry here, soar here. God meets me HERE.
It is my ardent hope that others feel this way, and together, for generations past, and future, Camp Alta Mons will dynamically shine God's grace and wonder in its mountains, trees, waters, creatures, and people.
May you forever find graceful magic here,
~Rebekah aka Little Veggie