Growing Alongside the Natural World

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If you’ve ever visited Gwynn Valley, you can attest to the pure, natural beauty that consumes you here. The rolling green hills envelope you as you come up the driveway, greeted by horses or cows on either side. As you continue on, a thick canopy of trees shade you from the sun, then you are greeted by a runway of pines that place you at the Gatehouse Office. Beyond there, waits a vibrant, temperate rainforest ready to be endured and explored. Nature is one of our first great teachers and guides. Observing and living in nature exposes us to two key constants in life; expected growth and unexpected change. 

Appreciation for the natural world is one of GV’s core values and one that I hold close to my heart. Life can move so quickly and to live amongst the flora and fauna allows us to witness the passing of time in a gradual pace. Growth is cultivated externally and internally at camp. When I first arrived in early May, corn had just been planted, pregnant momma pig had just arrived, flowers began to bud and no campers in sight. Now, campers energetically fill this lush space with their curiosity and earnest spirit to be in nature. External growth is seen by our first corn harvest this week. Followed by shucking after lunch and then enjoyed during dinner, marking the harvest that summer brings after the Summer Solstice. Momma pig down at the Farm is due in the next few days and the baby goats have started to gain independence in their pins. Rhododendron flowers are abundant on the path to Connestee Falls. Campers can gather and greet plants on the Farm that end up on their plates, seeing how tall corn grows or how deep to dig for potatoes provides a connection to nutrition as it passes through loving hands. This growth is anticipated by campers who look forward to filling their plates with cleaned corn cobs and the potential to name a baby animal. 

Internal growth happens at the pace of a tree, adding a ring inside the trunk for every year it has stood tall. It takes years of enduring seasons, weather and tests of external forces to rise above and grow into your roots. Just like the trees at camp, we stand alongside our friends and elders as we grow at our own pace, surrounded by a network of exchanges that make us who we are. Gwynn Valley helps create our rings, whether you return each summer or spend a formative session here, these experiences linger. Campers live in a community setting here and their way of life directly impacts others. From keeping a tidy bunk to comforting a friend, these compassionate acts instill empathy and grace for others. We are all part of the bigger picture at camp, what we put into it, we get out of it. A teacher once told me, “Look at living externally through your internal nature, we have to pour kindness into those around us from our own goodness”. I went tubing with the Raines Cove cabin yesterday, lifeguarding from the raft and surveilling campers on the French Broad River.  Along our journey, I had three campers join me in the raft as we drifted along quietly breaking into a Beatles song from time to time. Creating a contemplative and thoughtful space for children to enjoy nature and take in the goodness around us is one of my favorite responsibilities at camp. Sometimes we need to take a pause, zoom out from our experience, and let the natural world consume and restore our senses. 

Unexpected change presents itself at camp in many forms and its greatest companion is adaptability. Campers have experienced varying weather conditions this session, different from last month’s heated days. Rain has been a blessing to our Farm, rivers, creeks and Mill race. Staff are well equipped to handle weather delays with Bingo in the Dining Hall, improv games and icebreakers. Unexpected change can occur in many forms for campers; from navigating a crowded boat ramp at Wolf Creek Lake on the Mountainside whitewater expedition mini adventure to resetting your expectations for sign ups available in the afternoon, these sudden events catapult campers into the present and places problem solving at their feet. Staff provide guidance and real time recognition of these changes occurring for campers, it can be challenging to navigate the emotions that come with unexpected experiences. 

Campers experience a wholesome way of life in nature here; sleeping in a cabin with air conditioning provided by nature’s changing temperatures, playing after dinner with light provided by the sun, organic sound machine for sleep provided by serenaders in the shape of frogs and bugs, chirping birds and the Bell greet campers out of their sleep and into the chilly embrace of breakfast. I find it very endearing to think about all of camp waking at the same time each morning, igniting the valley with excitement for the day’s Discoveries or Mini Adventures, knowing it’s another beautiful day on this Earth.