Meet NC’s 18th of 40 Alumnae: Rachael Tanner

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.

Rachael Tanner, who continues to call Baltimore home, is a poet, artist, yogini, therapist, with a Masters of Divinity and Masters of Social Work. She recently received her LCSW-C, and is looking toward working on a PhD in English.  She started at Don Webb Nature Camps in 1984 as a camper and later worked as a Counselor followed by Co-Director.  While these days she visits camp, she lists her end date at Nature Camps as “infinity years.”

Rachel colage

Take a Flower in Your Hand

When you take a flower
in your hand and really look at it,
it’s your world for the moment.
I want to give that world
to someone else-
~Geogia O’Keefe

There was a child went forth every day;
And the first object he look’d upon, that object he became;
And that object became part of him for the day, or a certain part of
the day, or for many years, or stretching cycles of years.

The early lilacs became part of this child,
And grass, and white and red morning-glories, and white and red clover, and the song of the phoebe-bird,
~Walt Whitman (From ‘Song of MySelf’)

When I was young, or at least much younger than I am now, a phoebe-bird made her nest on the porch of the lodge. I watched her through the early summer, tend her nest, sitting quietly above the heads of humans busy with their own tending of little ones. Sometimes she would sit on a branch above the carving table and sweetly chirp her name. “Fee-Be, Fee-Be”, and it would sound just like a person saying Phoebe, which is how we learned to call her the Phoebe-bird.

One day in June, two of the three babies flew across the stream to the birch tree that used to grow there. But the last little one looked warily out of the nest, uncertain about this whole flying thing. Phoebe, his mother, sat on the lowest branch of the birch and called to him.

After some time and much trepidation, he leaped from the nest and zigzag flew and met her on the branch where she sat. Without any pause, she was up to the next branch and calling him again. And again he peered up at her as if to say, “You want me to do what?!?”. But in less time than it took him to get up the courage to go from the nest, he zipped up to the next branch. And up and up, from branch to branch until she got him up to her other two babies, and then, all three of them flew off behind her into the forest.

So often I find these memories from my early childhood circling around in my mind, memories from quiet times spent outside, at Nature Camps. And I know for many of you too, these memories, whether from the Monkton woods, or from other moments spent outside, touch the mind and heart, in ways that are often hard to put into words.

One way we have of knowing ourselves is through our memories that come up quietly again and again to us, like strands of water floating to the surface of a river. What truly touches us, and the things that in quiet moments we harken to and reflect on, shows us who we truly are, what we believe in and what we are meant for in this world. In our memories and in our stories, we find the virtues that inspire us, and the values that guide our life.

For me, many of those moments were at Nature Camp. I have enduring memories of delight and wonder in the woods, and what seems even more lovely to me now is that these were shared with friends and loved ones. And of course the occasional unexpected rendevouz with my prankster brother, as he would quietly bush-stalk me for hours, under-covered in mud-paint, in order to launch a full scale mud-attack!

And these treasure-pocketed memories, and all this great adventuring I was doing as a child, helped me to learn what values were going to be important to me as an adult person.

The greatest gift I received at Camp was the ability to know my own being in the midst of a sometimes confusing world, and to live that life with courage. And I find, as Maya Angelou says, that it is true that “Without Courage, we cannot practice any other virtue with consistency.”

For me, once you begin see this beautiful life that you hold, the life that is your own, and really pay attention to it and care for it, it makes you want to give that same gift to others, the gift of holding their own life with just as much awe, respect and wonder.

There are so, so many ways that we can live our lives with truth and courage, and we all have different paths. I am always so touched by the parents who chose to make Nature Camps a part of their children’s lives, because as an adult, I know that for me, having Nature Camps as a part of me, has helped to illumine my own journey in life; it has helped me to stay close to the things that really matter.

Joseph Campbell says, “You enter the forest at the darkest point, where there is no path. Where there’s a way or path, it is someone else’s path; each being is a unique phenomenon.” The gift of an illumined path makes my heart very glad and grateful, and it makes me want to share that with others in all the ways that I have learned I can give that gift to others: with my own small life, my own two hands, and a lot of love and compassion.

Nature Camps is a home to me and even when I am far away, I always feel close in my memories. So often I find myself there, and know that those memories remind me of the many things I learned at Nature Camps.

I am brought closer to living from that calm, still, gentle place in the heart. This is for me a sense of place, knowing the loving-kindness of the woods and the mountains, giving space for one’s own adventures and the adventures of others, sharing those adventures and sharing our experiences together through talking and listening, through writing and art and play, and the ability to reflect on our experiences and to build new paths towards wholeness. And mostly to bring a sense of joy and wonder to this place, this earth, to bless those we know with peace, and a sense of their innate value as people, and to protect the vulnerable, whether they be people or animals or trees!

These are the kinds of ways of being that Nature Camps helps children and families to find in themselves. And my life has been so much richer for being a part of creating this experience for children year after year, watching so many grow into beautiful, kind and creative young adults. With so much gratitude, til my cup is filled to overflowing,



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