A timid 8-year-old didn’t realize, 48 years ago, that she was embarking on a life-long, passionate affair with a summer camp. No, she was frightened about being away from home, but thrilled to learn how to ride horses. The camp’s owner and director, a tall, calm man, came down to her Berkeley home and gave her parents a slideshow preview of this camp to seal the deal.
That first summer, back in 1969, began my long relationship with Coppercreek Camp, with John Lindsgog and his children, Lauren and Mike, and with many people I still call some of my dearest friends. That first session cemented my love of red dirt, tall pines, craggy summits, hot dogs roasted over a campfire, the smell of horse sweat and tack, and a million other wondrous crumbs that make up Coppercreek. I had to come back…again and again and again.
Over the next 13 years, I boomeranged back to camp each summer. It was a given; my parents knew this and bless them for making it happen. Camper…junior counselor…counselor-in-training…relief counselor…assistant riding instructor. The later years, when I could spend all summer on staff, produced some of the best memories I have.
Papa John was the anchor through all of it. He was a stern father figure for many of us, but loving and kind. He knew when to encourage us, and he also knew when to fix us with those icy blue eyes and let us know we had displeased him. That hurt…we hated displeasing Papa, and the transgression was never repeated.
Adult life intervened when I turned 21…it was time to get a “real job”, so I stopped coming to camp during summer. But I never lost touch with Papa John, and a few years later, when I started camping up near Lassen, John always welcomed me into camp for a visit with open arms. I felt I still belonged there, a feeling that has never left. I can still hear Papa’s voice…”Hey, babe, it’s good to see you,” followed by a huge hug.
Several years ago, the “vintages”, as we old campers call ourselves, started an annual reunion, held at the end of summer, after camp closed to campers. These reunions have allowed old friendships to roar to life once again, and new enduring friendships to be made. God bless Lauren and Becky and Craig for letting us “old” campers come back to our sacred ground and act like children. God bless Sutter and Taylor for continuing the tradition! Our reunions are the ultimate in life battery-recharging events.
Over the many years, we’ve lost some of our family…John and Lauren hurt particularly, in the heart-stung way of losing dear family members. But we’ve been given gifts in return…Sutter and Taylor and little Harper are the continuum of Coppercreek; watching Ryleigh and Kenna grow up into lovely young ladies has been amazing (good job, mom and dad!); and reconnecting with fellow vintages has enriched my life immeasurably.
As long as Coppercreek exists, and I can walk its dusty red roads, life will be alright. For that, I give great thanks, love and appreciation. -Jean Smith, CCC, 1969-1982