Our final January post by the wonderful Vintages: Emily Balestrini-How did camp shape me?

How did Coppercreek shape me?

Music. There is music everywhere, and with campers and staff from all the corners of the globe, I mean literally *everywhere*. To misquote liberally:

All my memories gather round music

Evening campfire

Waking up to music

I hear the music over the loudspeakers it calls me

Radio reminds me of my home far away…

And John Denver isn’t even a natural fit for me!

One truly and deeply fabulous thing about this place is that it is not a specialist camp. We offer many opportunities, and those things are indeed headed up by specialists, but you, as a camper, are required only to bring your open heart and willingness to any new endeavor you choose to try this day. Lornie put me in a kayak at 15 because I was willing. I was not a natural at it and I was not skilled, but I not only survived running my kayak into the willows and meeting the damselfly larvae there (those things are alarming!), I enjoyed it and it inspired a life-long confidence in my own ability to navigate new experiences: I can have some skin in the game, and even if I get scraped up in the process, the education will support me moving forward. Pete Seeger asked a rhetorical question: what’s the difference between education and experience? Education is what you get when you read the fine print, experience is what you get when you don’t. The specialists have both the education and the experience to guide the rest of us beginners through portals of adventure.

Go outside and play with your friends.

Wake up early and go to bed tired. Sit down to meals with your people and happily quench that appetite, and then go sleep it off! Rinse, lather, repeat.

We wake up to music in the mornings. There was always a radio playing when we groomed and tacked up the horses. There was always a boombox at the pool. The boys in the Swamp were a reliable source for something new and interesting, musically. Someone brought some Leonard Cohen cassettes to camp around 1981 (was it you, Karly? Or was is a Ballard sister? Maybe it was Theo.) and I had Famous Blue Raincoat bouncing around in my head until 1990, when I found the album it was on and bought it. One day recently, I was driving from Sacramento to San Francisco, and Let’s Go by the Cars came on my stereo, and I was transported to the back deck of the house where we used to hold our Friday night dances and I remembered the smell of the night and the way we make those floor boards vibrate. Music turns out to be a powerful sense trigger for me. Ryleigh put the Hamilton soundtrack on at art last summer and everyone there that hour sang their hearts out while continuing to work their projects: music, man – it’s a heck of a drug!

I started at Coppercreek 1978 as a pretty sheltered, moderately shy little girl who didn’t really care to brush her hair, and people who were new to me then became instrumental in shaping the direction of my life. John Lindskog had a vision for a place where we could all be our truest and best selves, and by choosing his partners wisely, that vision grew to the camp we have today without ever losing the true heart of the place.

Words for Wednesday: Greta Dedmon, another Coppercreek Vintage, writes about her time at Coppercreek

After several other summer camp experiences, which were disappointing at best, my Dad agreed to order the ACA pamphlet listing all the camps around.  We set out on a mission to find me a FUN, co-ed camp with a horseback riding program that would satisfy my horse-crazy teenage self.  After looking through the brochure, Coppercreek stood out.

So that summer my 14-year old self embarked on what can only be described as a life-changing experience.  The instant I got to camp, I felt I had come home to the place I longed for but never knew.  The staff were fun and creative, I made 2 camp BFFs right away (Thanks Liz and Mia!), and the riding program had me riding hours every single day.  I was in heaven!

How surprised my parents must have been when they got the call early in week 2, asking if I could please stay another week.  After that, Coppercreek Camp became my summer routine.  I was a camper, teen counselor, relief counselor, assistant riding instructor, riding instructor, and then art teacher over the many years I was blessed to be at camp.

For myself, like many other campers, this place and these people helped me to learn who I really was as a person.  Growing up in an alcoholic and tumultuous home and having had early childhood traumas then going through my parent’s divorce, you can imagine that I was a confused mess.  Camp grounded me.  It gave me hope.  It got me through each year.

When I think about camp, it’s difficult to say if the people or place meant more to me.  It was the combination that gave me all the good feels.  Papa John was the stern yet supportive father figure I wished I always had.  Lornie was a mischievous funster and we had a grand time.  Karly and Jean Ann were the counselors I most looked up to for their individuality and spunk.

Our annual trip to camp reunion has become such a beloved event each year.  Blessings to Sutter, Taylor, Becky, Craig, and Lornie for letting us continue to play.  Just as summers at camp were our anchors, now reunion has become the high point of our year!

As a camp family we stick together through the peaks and valleys of life.  I could not ask for a better family I chose for myself.

Speaking of family… I am so thankful that my son was brought into the fold of the camp family.  It warms my heart to think that his confidence and peace at being an individual is, in part, thanks to camp.  There’s nothing quite like being oneself as a child away from your family of origin to get your feet under you.  He has been able to know the wonders of this little slice of heaven on earth and that makes me smile.

It would be impossible to impress how much this camp means to me and the people I love, even 37 years after I first attended.

Greta Dedmon

Words for Wednesday: Another Vintage, Karly Drake Lusby, writes about Coppercreek

Coppercreek. That name is magic to me. It has been for close to 50 years and I am proud and honored to be a Vintage! We have a deep history and I can’t wait to see what my fellow V’s write here.

I was an awkward and odd kid from a troubled home, uncomfortable in my own skin and without any friends. My mom recognized that things weren’t going well for me at home and suggested a stay-away camp that I could pick from the advertisements that used to be in the very front of Sunset Magazine. I sent away for a passel of brochures from various camps and lived in delight as they came. I studied each one, weighing the options, pouring over the photos. Along came a big envelope and in it was a brown sepia tone full size, fold out pamphlet; it was captivating. There were quotes, too. The one that made my decision for me? “We are apart yet a part”. How I craved that feeling.

I arrived, nervously, to the red dirt that would soon be in my very blood and heart (and feet!) forever. The founder and Director was a tall, handsome, lean, silver haired man. He would become a warm and accepting presence, one that in later years I was able to call friend. My counselor was big hearted and fun. She greeted me as though she liked me right away; this was new to me. Within minutes I had a cabin full of friends who thought I was just fine the way I was, also a new experience.

The whole place was joyful, full of games, activities, crafts, horses, water fun whether at a lake or the icy pool that I grew to love. I was enchanted, truly moved, relieved and over the moon at this sanctuary. I made friends that first year that I still am friends with all these years later. We cared for each other so much that we stayed in contact all those years and this was before the ease of e-mail and texts. I have several boxes of letters from my camp years, some I have given back to their authors, others that live in my huge camp scrapbook…as does that first brochure.

Though home life remained challenging, I could see CAMP at the end of the tunnel and it was enough to get me through. At home I started doing little jobs and babysitting, anything I could do.

I saved enough each year to go back  for many years. Camp was the fuel that got me through the rest of the year as were the constant stream of letters from those dear, dear camp friends. As time went on the lessons from camp seeped into the deepest parts of me and I found that the experiences of camp shaped me, even in the ‘real’ world. Since others liked me, I started to like myself. Since other kids had struggles at home or school I felt less alone. I was good at stuff! Since I could shoot an arrow, take a jump on a horse, sing all the songs with gusto, I started to have more confidence. I was OK just the way I was, wow! Who knew? Camp folk. My Coppercreek years made me a better, happier, more secure person. Those lessons and experiences continue to encourage me to be the best person I can be, a person deserving of being an alum, a Vintage.

I returned for several years on staff, doing everything from being a counselor to being the laundry lady; there was no job that I wouldn’t do with glee just to be at Coppercreek. Later, as a parent, I was thrilled to drive my son to camp and set him free; he returned for 10 years, camper though staff. But that’s another wonderful story.