Words for Wednesday: Jean Smith, a Coppercreek Camp “Vintage” writes about her experience

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

Place, Possibility, and Potential… A Coppercreek Vintage discusses the meaning of camp

Place, Possibility and Potential

A Coppercreek Vintage discusses the meaning of camp

Sarah Margolis Pearce

Nearly fifty years ago, my mother showed me the Summer Camp Directory in the back of Sunset Magazine. The page featured several large advertisements for camps around the country. From Maine to Michigan to Georgia to Hawaii, every variety of camp imaginable showed off their activities. There were photos of kids on horseback, canoes on lakes, girls sitting on potter’s wheels, boys shooting arrows and promises of “fun-filled, character-building” summers. I saw a picture of a dining hall with dozens and dozens of camper-lined tables, hundreds of faces turned to the camera. It looked like my entire elementary school in one cavernous room. I tried to imagine myself sitting at one of those tables. I could not. I would be lost in the crowd. I was shy and not fond of large boisterous groups. Those camps looked like nightmares.

I might have closed the magazine altogether but my eye caught a very small advertisement near the bottom. It was the size of a return address label. It said “Coppercreek Camp” in a font that looked like a wooden sign from the old West. No pictures of kids or corrals or sailboats. Just a couple of paw-prints next to the name. Small and unassuming. Like me. When the sepia toned Coppercreek Camp brochure arrived in the mail, it was unlike the splashy, shiny ones that came from bigger and more well-known camps. It was understated and hopeful. Like me.

When I first arrived at Coppercreek in June 1969, two people stood on the porch, smiling and waving as my parents drove up. Anyone who remembers John and Lynne will recall their warmth and gentle ways of making even a shy camper come out of their shell. John, who walked like a cowboy and pronounced Los Angeles with a hard “g”, would be to many of us, a father figure well into our adult years. An admonishment from him was devastating; a compliment coveted for life. Lynne’s earth mother-ness, her distinct choices for “Morning Music” and her quiet but firm guidance offered security.

I felt that I could be something different here because there were  people around me who wanted that to happen. Over the years, I came to value John and Lynne’s vision of a place where nature and the outdoors provided subtle lessons about self-sufficiency, resilience and confidence. As a camper and, later as a counselor, the lessons I learned at camp lasted a lifetime.

The meaning of these lessons has taken a lifetime to understand.

The Vintages [former campers and staff who, despite age, distance and varied lifestyles, come together yearly to celebrate camp at Reunion] frequently discuss the meaning of “camp”. The notion of possibility, potential and place, as integral parts of the camp experience, is a common thread. The possibility of a new friend, a new skill, a new goal to reach and the chance to reinvent yourself at camp.  The potential for a changed self, one that is positive and confident, recharged for the school year.

And then there is the physicality of Coppercreek. The place. Is it the setting beneath Keddie Peak or the smell of pines, firs and cedar or the light through the trees or the cool little town of Greenville that defines “camp”? I feel the place called “camp” in my heart the minute Highway 36 opens onto Child Meadows.  It is here that I know I’m back The Vintages refer to as The Motherland.  It is here that the blissful ache of returning catches in my throat.

When The Vintages converge at Coppercreek each September for Reunion and set up chairs on Battleship’s porch, we embrace our shared and personal meaning of “camp”.  Some of us recall with tenderness, nostalgia and an almost religious respect, the idea of camp as a respite from the outside world. Or a refuge from difficult personal lives. Or a time where we felt best about ourselves.

What makes The Vintages keeping coming back to camp? Sutter, Taylor, Becky and Craig welcome us at camp without question. They “get” that camp is an important part of our lives. I am positive that each day that Coppercreek is in session, Sutter, Taylor, Becky and Craig know that there are campers, like The Vintages, who will carry camp with them forever. It’s a big responsibility and a huge honor that Coppercreek takes on with love, joy and sincerity. And then there is the chance to spend time with like-minded folks for whom camp is a jewel in our lives. A moment that was all too brief but remains a strong and steady beam of light.

Happy New Year from Coppercreek!

We are wishing everyone a happy 2018 full of adventure, laughter, and joy!


This January we will be posting blog posts from a special group of alumni that call themselves “The Vintages.” These posts share that the meaning of “camp” never changes. We are so lucky to have The Vintages still part of our camp family.


We also begin staff hiring! Within the next few weeks we will start announcing our returning staff for next summer!



Remembering Papa John

It has been 12 long years since we said, “Goodbye.” Amy Murray wrote about her special relationship with “Papa John” a few years ago and here it is again because it is beautiful.


There are relationships that happen in grand swoops of time, that build over cups of coffee and glasses of wine and slow meals and travels and adventures.

There are relationships that go from zero to sixty – total strangers to dearest friends, in a matter of one long walk, one summer job, one shared dorm room.

My relationship with Papa was one of moments, tiny, shiny, round globes of time that snuck up on me, so that I didn’t even know how much I loved him until, in the blink of an eye, I did.

He wasn’t always “Papa.” At first, he was “John.” Then, when I was less afraid of him, he was “Johnny” (and sometimes, behind his back, he was “Johnny-boy”). And then he was “Papa” to the two little girls who ran all over camp. And then, suddenly, he was “Papa John” to all of us, introducing himself that way to the whole camp, every Opening Night. Papa John. Papa.

Now that he is gone, I keep those moments like a little boy keeps a pocket full of marbles, running my fingers through them over and over, picking out my favourites, treasuring them all.

Papa picking me up at the airport when I didn’t know him well yet, wasn’t sure how to greet him. A hard, short, surprising hug. “Babe, we sure have missed you. Welcome home.”

Home. Babe. A warm glow around those words. Home. Babe.

Meetings, often brusquely demanded by him, to pore over transportation lists and logistics. Who needs to leave when, in which vehicle, stand where, at which terminal. I didn’t always understand what he needed, but knew it was the ritual of the thing that mattered, the conversation itself a sign that he believed in my competence.

Closing days with early morning flights. The chill grey dawn, where Papa was the driver and I woke tired campers, loading them into his truck with sleep still in their eyes. The first year of this: Papa pacing, worrying gruffly that I would forget, sleep too late. The next summer: Papa calm in the kitchen on those mornings, making his coffee. “I never should have doubted you, babe. I put that kettle on for you.” A nod toward the stove, where the kettle was just starting to whistle for the tea I drank every morning. When did Papa take the time to notice my tea?

The years I stayed after the campers had left, to help with special events and rental groups, I would often wander down to the pool in the afternoons, to read until the slanting sunlight grew too hot, and then to float in the turquoise water, look up at the sky, feel myself in the centre of a perfect orb of blueness. Many days, Papa would show up, swim a few laps, sit with me and chat about the weather, the trees, the history of this place that he built. He never stayed long, standing up abruptly after a few minutes. “Well, Babe, I’ll get out of your hair, let you have your quiet.”

As fall crept up, Papa would pull out his road atlas, to talk about my long drive home, through 4 states and 2 provinces. It seemed to me he knew every highway, freeway, and dirt road that led out of that valley. He liked the long, isolated side roads for himself, but steered me towards better populated routes.

Papa left us the way he loved us: quickly, almost gruffly. True to everything about him, his house was in order, both literally and figuratively. He left no mess, literal or figurative, for his loved ones to clean up. When more than a hundred of us gathered to say goodbye to him, the air was filled with music and laughter, the tight hugs of those who share a history beyond words. Writing his obituary was one of the greatest honours of my life.

When Papa died, I phoned my own dad, in tears. “Daddy…. Papa died.” “Oh, darlin. I’m so sorry. I know you loved him. And he loved you, so much.”

Papa built the place I love best in the world. He was father to one of the best friends, and strongest women, I’ve ever known. For those 2 things, alone, I would have loved him with my whole heart. But having him love ME…

That is the roundest, shiniest marble of all, the one I pull out when things get dark, running the pad of my thumb over it’s blue-ness.

Papa loved me.


Please visit Miss Night Mutters to read more of Amy’s thoughts.

An article written by a former camper, Alex White, published in the Teton Family Magazine

We received this article in the mail last week and read it with endless smiles. Alex White was a camper 15 or 16 years ago and now works to plan summer experiences for other youth. This article was published in the Teton Family Magazine and is about the importance of summer programs for adolescence. Thank you for sharing Alex White!