We had a lazy start to our first full day at the Springhouse site in Timber Canyon. The cows had decided to stay where they’d been herded northward, and we sat around the fire—started by hand, of course—and had our accustomed oatmeal. After breakfast, we clustered in groups and got to know each other better.
Midmorning we were gathered into the middle of the meadow. Families were asked to pair up, and each team was given a topographic map and a compass. An instructor gave us a ten-minute lesson in how to read and use both. In our group, Ben was paired with Kay, a twelve-year-old girl. She was inclined to sit alone and be silent, but Ben shared the map with her as they tried to figure out where on the map we were.
Timber Gulch and Canyon
Soon enough, they figured out exactly where we were on a map with no markings except landforms. We were assigned to hike to four points on the map, and Ben pointed to the first goal. It was the top of “that hill over there,” pretty much straight up from where we were. Ben examined the map and noted that the back of the hill had a gentler slope, so he led us over the creek and around. As we climbed, he led us in a zigzag pattern so that those of us who hadn’t been hiking for weeks in the desert would have an easier time of it. We left the soft grass of the spring-fed meadow and soon were crunching dry grass and gravel underfoot. The heat wasn’t oppressive yet, but any sweat quickly sublimated in the incredibly dry air.
An instructor followed us silently, basically to keep us out of trouble and to guide the discussions that we would be having at each stopping point. At the top of the hill we could see down the steep slope into the valley.
View of Timber Canyon
The two families split and sat to talk about the metaphors of “true north” and “magnetic north.” Each of us was to talk about our goals—true north—and those things which pulled us away from true north—magnetic north. It was a revealing talk for all of us, and Abe and Ben and I agreed to gently remind each other when we saw magnetic north pulling us away from our true north goals.
"Children of the Sage" shelter
We were called back together, and this time Ben helped Kay read the map to find our next point. She led us across the rocky hilltop to a shelter that had been made by prior students. It had a sign inside that read “Children of the Sage.” We stopped briefly to talk together about our goals, and then it was Ben’s turn to lead us to our third point. See that bluff across the canyon in the previous photo? That was our third point. We had to go down the hill, across the stream and canyon and back up the rocks. Ben led the way.
As we crossed the stream, a number of cows were crossing the other way. One cow felt she needed to be coy as we neared.
At the top we split up to talk again, this time about what the students might expect after camp was over. Abe and I talked to Ben about school—and the fact that he was not going to boarding school, as were so many others—and the kinds of rules he would be living under at home. It was a calm and deliberate discussion, unlike most we’d had before Ben came to camp. I think it gave us all real hope that this was going to work.
We ended our trek at Wind Tunnel, a beautiful, massive carving of stone shaped into mulitple arches and shallow caves open to the elements.
Entering Wind Tunnel
The view from inside
The afternoon was spent in discussion with other parents about what we were planning for after camp. Ours was the only family which was bringing our child back home. (Frankly, boarding school was not an option for us. I’m pretty certain that we were lowest on the economic ladder of this particular group.) All of us were worried about this next step, as we had been for all of our decisions up to this point: was it the right thing to do? How would our children react? Would it lead to the peaceful and successful life we wanted for them? These questions were the silent substrate for our discussion, which led to the agreement to keep in touch by email as events progressed beyond this camp. Drawn together by fear for our children, we were bonding with hope.
After dinner, which was received with shouts by the kids—“Macaroni! Tomato sauce! CHEESE!”—we had a candlelight ceremony in the meadow in which each family came together again in metaphor and in life. First, our wrangler/instructor had to once again herd yet more cows up the canyon to clear the area. But it was a somber crew that walked to the tents with our candles that night, knowing that tomorrow was the last day together.
Next: Day Five