In celebration of the 40th anniversary of Nature Camps, we’re introducing 40 alumnae, counselors and parents over the next several months.
These alumnae are dispersed around the globe, are passionate about their life’s work and the environment — many raising families and delighting in watching grandchildren — all continuing to work in the service of others.
Meet Amanda Brown, RN, BSN, MPH, a nurse in Chapel Hill, NC, who followed in the career footsteps of her mom, who worked as a nurse at Nature Camps. In fact, Amanda started at Don Webb Nature Camps in 1984, while her mom was pregnant with her, attended camp and moved up into the counselor role, spending her summers at Nature Camps through 2000.
In Amanda’s Words: Nature Camps has been my home ever since I was just a little bump in my mama’s dress at camp – she was the nurse there, in the ‘Happy Hollow’ woods when she was pregnant with me. My sisters, just little girls then, were flitting through the forests like tree sprites, learning what I would later know too – of magical trees, dear friends, of the secret stillness and beauty of animals and plants native to those woods, the notes that make up our symphony of nature and ultimately a gentler way of living.
The family I found at camp stays with me still, and I love the thrilled way that counselors now (who used to be my campers when I was a counselor) say, “I’ve been coming here for 11 years!” They have found the same family there that I did when I was in their muddy shoes.
Camp nurtured me as a child, an adolescent, and young adult the way that all parents hope that children will be cared for by the larger community: with tenderness, guidance, and plenty of space for growth and wild play. I was free to wander through the woods and examine the natural world with wide curiosity and joy, holding the hands of more genuinely loving friends (both child and adult) than one young girl could ever hope for.
These friends helped me grow into a confident, secure adult with values rooted in the traditional Quaker way: humility, passivism, consensus-building, equality, gentleness, responsibility, and acceptance. It was a place that I learned how to recognize and celebrate the innate goodness in myself and in others.
This was and continues to be a real family to me – in the same way that Don’s is for so many other young people. Camp is a place I’ll always return to for safety, belonging, nourishment.
At camp, I felt heard, understood, appreciated and challenged from the littlest age onward. Gradually, I took on new roles: I quickly mastered the art of choosing my activities for the morning and moved on to figuring out how far I could take each new adventure – could I learn how to hold a snake, a turtle, a rabbit? Could I ride a horse? Just how muddy would I get if I jumped into the swamp (and did I care)?
I walked through streams, picked up new rocks, wrote stories about magic fairies in the woods, made leprechaun houses by the streams, and lead night hikes for wary parents. I learned to identify plants, make stew from wildest ones (with help from books), and even make a fire from wet wood.
I can remember, as a 5 or 6 year old, leading other kids (and counselors) to ‘my’ secret berry spot. We picked berries and sassafras leaves and roots, and used our harvest to make wine colored pillows full of the sweet smell of sassafras leaves, and drank a tea to celebrate our labors.
I remember lying on my belly on damp pine needles for hours, tracing the path of the ants and spiders that crossed the paper of my journals.
I remember searching the woods of the Gunpowder River for onion bulbs to spice our stick-and-stone stew, and ending up hiking farther than I ever thought my little legs could take me. I started thinking of myself as a tough little girl, one who could do anything (!) – even if at school I was so shy, so quiet, and had a harder time making friends. At camp I was free . . . felt confident, sure, and so wildly happy. I wished those feelings could go on forever.
Eventually I officially became an ‘explorer,’ then a junior counselor, a senior counselor, and then I led the teen groups on their own adventures. And then I moved on to other things – college and beyond to work and a lot of travel.
I figured out that the older I became, the more challenging it was to stay connected to the dreaminess of childhood – much international travel demonstrated a whole new world where I saw poverty, fear, inequality, and hatred. It would have been easy to let it change the confident, secure person I had become, but I still strive to see goodness in people, even when their actions shadow the genuine ‘light’ they posses
As a mother, I have taken many turns in the path towards a career, at different times teaching reproductive health with young adults, at another time managing a clinic in the highlands of Guatemala, pursuing a masters degree in public health, working as a doula. A college education in a Quaker, liberal-minded approach formed my critical thinking abilities and secured my commitment to work with under-served populations. I managed a community health center that primarily serves immigrants.
Through all of these loops and curves in my path, the principles of Don Webb’s approach stay with me. I think about the conflicts that arise in this traditional southern community where I live and the challenges of accepting a new, often different group of immigrants.
I imagine ways of negotiating peacefulness between the multiple groups struggling to obtain limited resources, and am reminded of the sweet safety where I first learned peacemaking principles as a child. I’ve even asked Don for a copy of his “operating agreements” to use when meeting with my large staff as a group – and yes, we meet in circles, just like we did at camp – doctors, nurses, assistants all on equal footing and striving to work together as a unified, consensus-seeking team.
Several summers ago I visited camp on a family overnight. After dinner was finished, the raucous crowd of children and their families settled into a circle around a campfire. Don posed the questions, “What does everyone feel about conflict?” “What are ways that we can transform hard times into opportunities where we can grow and learn from each other?”
In the Quaker way, one person spoke at a time, when they felt moved to share something. Children and adults took turns sharing their feelings about conflict in all areas of their worlds – from sharing at camp, at home or at school, to worldly conflicts like Iraq and Afghanistan.
With such elegance and grace, children matched their own words and feelings to conflict-resolution possibilities – which included pea-shooters instead of guns (aiming at bellies-below only, of course), taking turns talking by using talking-sticks to discuss problems (one at a time), crying together when we are sad or scared, and being able to step aside when your opinion isn’t shared by the broader group.
If only such sophistication was shared in the international political and economic realms. If only adults could take a break from our seriousness to imagine such simple possibilities.
Nature Camps is an idyllic retreat. A place for healing, re-connecting, to slow down enough to allow growing and exploring, where everyone can find their niche, their strengths, and be reminded of their innate goodness.
I’m so grateful for my carefree years there, and for the millions of ways those days shaped the adult I am now. I’ll go back this summer for visit with my own family.