Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Summer Camp

During one of his poetry talks in Tuscany this spring, David Whyte told us a story about how his (now teenage) son used to call grown ups "growing ups" when he was a little boy. I love this. And when you think of it, that should be the real term for adults. I don't know that I'll ever reach a moment in life when I deserve the definitive title of Grown Up. I much prefer the idea of a work in progress.

So lately I've been thinking about summer camp, specifically summer camp for adults, and the idea of growing young again. Why not? I personally could use a good dose of bonfire-singing, sidewalk-chalking, finger-painting, smores-dripping, firefly-catching evenings. I want something to help bring back the magic of summer, its room for creativity, its freedom.

Over the past few years, I've been actively exploring a number or urban and rural "camps" for adults that render that feeling of the summer camps we had growing up. Those of you who shared in my Chicago chapter attended more than a few of my guitar "shows" at the Old Town School of Folk Music, one of my favorite adult camps to date. Whether you want to take an Appalachian dulcimer class, learn native African dance or simply start guitar lessons from scratch, Old Town School of Folk offers nightly and weekend classes for both adults and kids in over 50 different instruments, not to mention vocals, dance, yoga and a multitude of ensembles. They also offer the option to rent instruments from their on site store, "A Different Strummer" so you don't need to commit to a huge investment if you're just experimenting. Classes are held in groups - about 20 people in each class. Each class session ends with a collaborative "group jam session" in the main auditorium where all levels of practice have the opportunity to play and sing together. I've never met a more eclectic, happy and caring group of folks in one spot.

On a slightly different note, I've recently become pretty involved in the Laughing Lotus Yoga community in San Francisco, a relatively new yoga studio in the Mission (16th St. at Dolores). Laughing Lotus was started by Jasmine Tarkeshi and Dana Flynn in New York where their original set of studios still thrives. Here at their newer San Francisco location, every 90-minute session feels like an afternoon at summer camp. We eat animal crackers, drink tea, sing songs and jump around the studio like 8 year-olds. I'm consistently amazed at how fun the teachers at Laughing Lotus can make a class while still providing the spiritual and physical guidance we come to yoga for. Laughing Louts also offers a series of retreats throughout the year if you want to have a longer time away. I haven't tried any of the retreats yet, but the most recent one, "Ring Around the Redwoods" took place in Mendocino (north of San Francisco on the coast) and included an on site vegetarian cook, masseuse, daily hikes and morning and nightly yoga.

A friend of mine recently passed along information for Esalen, an adult learning center in Big Sur that's perched on a cliff overlooking the Pacific Ocean. In addition to its aesthetic beauty (seaside gardens, natural hot springs, etc.), Esalen offers hundreds of continuing education courses for adults, ranging in topics from writing to massage to organic gardening. The length of classes varies but many are held over a long weekend. Lodging is available on site (you can choose from dorm-style or single room). I hope to check this place out next month, if for no other reason than to sit with these people in the hot tub.

Lastly, time and funding permitting this autumn, I'm planning a pilgrimage to the John Campbell Folk School in Brasstown, North Carolina, one of the original folks schools in the United States. Located in western North Carolina in the Blue Ridge Mountains, the John Campbell Folk School was founded in 1925 by John Campbell and his family and is based off the folkehojskole (folk school) model from rural Denmark. More than a hundred years ago, these "schools for life" helped transform the Danish countryside into a vibrant, creative force. Similar to the original intention of the schools, the Campbell family designed the folk school in Brasstown as an alternative to the higher-education facilities that drew young people away from the family farms and community.

Today, the John Campbell Folk School has evolved into a nationally-recognized cultural center and offers year-round week long and weekend classes for adults in craft, art, music, dance, cooking, gardening, nature studies, photography and writing. A week in the Blue Ridge mountains at the folk school looks like good living to me -- 3 homemade meals a day, cozy lodging on the property (with the option to camp), day-long classes and plenty of gorgeous scenery. I should also mention the weekly barn dances and concerts, which bring together visitors and members of the local community in celebration of music and movement. It doesn't get much better than that.

There are still a few weeks left of summer and a long gorgeous fall ahead of us -- both are the perfect time to explore your own idea of adult summer camp. It doesn't have to be a week long, expensive commitment. Even buying a new set of watercolor paints and some apple juice can qualify. Report back with what transpires.

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