Twilight Play and a Golden Glow

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In the deepening blue light of late evening, silhouettes of campers pedaling bicycles down the long Gwynn Valley driveway grow more distinct. Laughter and chatter more audible. This is a group of nine campers and counselors after a late evening bike ride to the nearby Hunt Farm. Twilight activities were proceeding across camp, a favorite among campers as they seized the last rays of daylight to play. The flickering dance of sunlight through bicycle spokes was evidence enough of circular movement. Wheels moving. Energy harnessed by joyful campers.

Camp focuses a childhood need for simplicity, for intense play, for wonder. It dispels the complexity of a world addicted to technological gadgets which offer only an illusion of life to young minds. Youth camps offer young minds the opportunity to fully grow, catalyze synapses to connect. On a walk down Gwynn Valley paths on a busy summer’s day…energy abounds, is visible with every glance.

Glancing into the pottery shop, two smiling campers stare intently at a whirling disk. Their hands are folded intently over soft gray clay. The clay is obediently responding to the pressure of small hands. Voices are murmured, intent on hearing the pottery instructor, Leo. Vases, mugs, bowls, and rainbow fish will parade out of the Pottery Barn this summer. Each item will find a new home across the country, in some cases around the world. In a sense, each object has a certain magic, able to transport a young mind to “camp” and countless happy memories.

On the green in front of the lodge, yet another source of circular energy harnessed by campers. A full-sized parachute shakes and rotates, with campers in control at the edges. A favorite game is quickly pulling the parachute skyward, then downward while stepping under the edge…creating a temporary parachute cavern. Participants sit on the edges of the parachute, smiling faces directed across the space, while the colored fabric ceiling slowly descends. This game triggers a certain thrill for both adults and children. The multicolored parachute offers a doorway to a new world, a space where hope and experience are exchanged. Gwynn Valley, for both children and counselors, is a living parachute.

The lake is hosting multiple activities on a summer’s afternoon. Kayaks, canoes, and a water mat attract campers of all ages. Two kayakers are practicing rolls with an instructor, who is standing adjacent for their safety. One boy, with an intense expression, rocks the kayak to the side and in a flash disappears underwater. Seconds pass. The boy’s kayak paddle emerges on the opposite side, a disturbance is seen at the surface, and the boy reappears. He is smiling. Pride is evident here. The child has corrected his position from an unsafe place, under the water, to a space where he is upright…he can smile and breathe again.

Spinning bicycle wheels, pottery wheels, energized parachutes, and the circular roll of a kayak…all manifestations of joy and youthful energy at Gwynn Valley. However, the real magic of camp is more elusive and elemental. A spectacular valley in the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains is a starting point. Wonderful camp staff, from around the world, infuse life and vitality into the mix. The precious opportunity to learn a new outdoor skill or create art are key ingredients. And history is required for magic. Gwynn Valley Camp is 88 years old. Think of the many children and adults who have enjoyed this special place, walked the same paths, sang the same songs…they all remain here.

The mysterious life force of camp is irreducible and remains unseen. However, it is very much alive, forever imprinted in a child’s brain. Camp’s power surfaces when a child makes a good decision and turns away from a poor one. It is summoned when courage to try a new activity or pursue a difficult goal is needed. Camp is an antidote to loneliness. A camper’s time here, while brief, illuminates the rest of life in a positive light. The energy continues…it is sustaining.

 

Dr. David Adams

Assistant director

Gwynn Valley Camp