At Camp Me Wa Hi (“by the water in the hills” in some native American tongue, or a pidgin language they’d made up), the Camp Fire Girls’ camp I attended in grammar school summers, even tripping over a rock became relevant to my spiritual journey. I tripped and fell throughout my life so often I could not begin to count, particularly as a child who tried to be equally active as my peers. (Now I trip only once every month or so, but often I can catch myself before I fall.) As a child, after I gave up some of the bracing apparati that supported my weak leg, my drop foot caught on just about anything including an uneven sidewalk. (In my forties, I again began wearing a light ankle brace which helps to correct this.) I was quite vulnerable in the mountains, and still am, to some extent.
At camp on the first or second day, I saw myself going down when my toe caught a big rock, but the process was quick and the next thing I knew, I awakened in the nurse’s office. When I got up from the cot, I threw up. I’d hit my head on a large, black, eight-inch drainage pipe and knocked myself out. Big goose egg on my forehead, but I’d had them before. I then got a large dose of homesickness. I’m sure they had called Mother, and she would have said, “Well, let me know if she’s not okay when she wakes up.” Or maybe they waited so as not to alarm her, but in any case, I did not get to talk to her. I wrote home telling her of the experience and wanting to come home. Then, the next day, the last thing I wanted was to leave! The letter I got in return a day or two before anticipated departure said that I was staying, so just buck up; I would be all right.
One afternoon we hiked up into the woods and were told to make shelters out of found materials. I did find enough tree bark to make a little lean-to, but it would not have been much protection in a storm. I got the “wavy hand OK,” saying it was acceptable but not that great, from my much-adored counselor. I did get the point; if you were out in the woods alone for any period of time, you might need to protect yourself, especially if you got lost. Afterward, the counselor had to carry me back to camp; my little leg gave out and my knee was buckling, as it sometimes did after too much activity. I could tell she had not expected to have to do this but she was a trooper, a tom-boyish high school or college-aged girl. She just put me on her back and hiked back down the mountain, and was pretty tired at the end of the day. I’m guessing this was a topic at the counselor’s meeting; that the little crippled girl probably shouldn’t be going on any extended hikes. I do remember a couple of instances where part of the group did one thing or another off someplace and some of us stayed in the arts and crafts area making lanyards, the inescapable craft activity for organized youngster camping. (Mine was silver and royal blue.)
I had a pivotal moment of spiritual privacy one afternoon in a little fern grotto, when I realized that I was totally alone, with my exact location unknown to anyone, for the first time in my life. I saw in that week that moments of elation might bear the price of accompanying experiences of pain and suffering. I didn’t, of course, see it in exactly these terms at age nine, but I was very glad I had not gone home after my fall. I realized that being on my own in the world was going to have its ups and downs, maybe even extreme ones. This was already somewhat familiar. And the woods, the camp fires and singing, and communal spirit of joy and appreciation of nature were always worth it.