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
Jennifer Koch Finney started at Don Webb Nature Camps in 1978 as a Camper and wore multiple hats over her more than 15 years at camp, including Co-Director in 1995.
Current Hometown: Boulder, Colorado
Education: Naropa University Graduate School
Masters in Art Therapy
In Jennifer’s Words: I feel a great deal of gratitude as I recall and reflect on the wonderment that infused my childhood summers. Even though 17 years have passed since I last ‘attended’ Nature Camp as the Co-Director, my mind often turns to the many memories from my summers spent there, which spanned the majority of my formative years from ages 5 to 22.
Don, a teacher in the truest sense, was the first person to teach me that happiness lies in living simply. With not much more than a sleeping bag, a change of dry clothes,nutritious food, and a handful of good friends, I had the time of my life each and every summer I spent at camp. Again, and again, and again.
My favorite camp memories include joyous and spirited singing in “Big Circle” each morning and afternoon; berry picking and making jam, water battles in pouring down warm summer rains, all day all camp hikes to Beaver Dam (at Nature Camp’s original location) and the Gunpowder River, epic “Capture the Flag” game s, making candles, basket weaving, group problem solving activities, stream walking, pool games, making leprechaun houses, horseback riding, canoeing, tug of war, traversing the ropes course, food preparation, singing by the campfire, late night talks with friends, sleeping under the stars, cooking many meals over the fire, building dams, wood carving, making & drawing in journals with hand-crafted walnut ink, making sassafras tea and pillows, tie dying, weaving on a large communal loom made of sticks, and making clay figures & a pit kiln.
During my summers at camp, I played with complete abandon, discovering salamanders, mucking in the mud, and splashing around in the streams in the woods surrounding camp.
I discovered an intuitive sense of direction, developed endurance, and a sense of adventure by hiking frequently, ever delightfully surprised by what we happened upon…whether that be a good solid walking stick, an intricately spun spider’s web, a funky tree hollow, a swampy marsh, a captivating small waterfall, or a thicket of raspberries just ripe enough for picking & eating off the vine. And, then there was the exhilarating feeling of swinging up high enough to touch the tree branches — oh, the awesome tree swings — to know what it feels like to fly!
There were activities that I went into tentatively, like night walks (without a flashlight) and trust falls, but I always learned something incredibly important about myself and my fellow campers/counselors — that we were mightily capable of tapping into our lesser explored senses and strengths.
Equally as important, these activities nurtured feelings of interpersonal trust and camaraderie. At camp, I learned what it meant to be resilient by pushing past personal limitations and conquering fears. I discovered my own competence and burgeoning sense of independence.
With gentle urging, Don was the first person to teach me the value in stretching beyond what is comfortable, to look outside the confines of complacent thinking and seek a deeper understanding of myself in relation to others, to the Earth, and to recognize the interconnectedness of all living things.
Don’s teachings, as well as simply being at Nature Camp, a wooded sanctuary, instilled within me a deep respect for the ecosystems upon which all life is sustained and dependent.
This respect translated into a deep knowing that I, that we, each have a responsibility to act as environmental stewards, to care for our Earth as though she is indeed our Mother.
The impact of camp in my life has been far reaching. Often, sometimes several times each day, I see the interconnectedness and interweaving of its and Don’s influence. I see it in choosing to eat organic, locally produced whole foods; in choosing green energy and natural materials for our home; in creating and using organic, unrefined body products; and, in finding resonance with Waldorf education for my own children’s schooling.
The impact extends to finding Spirit whenever I look out or step outside. I experience Spirit when I see flora and fauna; I smell it, breathe it and feel it on the wind, and I know it when I get down on my knees to dig in the earth, with the rich sensation of soil squishing between my toes. I know that by going out in nature, I will find calm, balance, and serenity.
Those years at DWNC-NC formed the basis of my spiritual philosophy, to approach my relationships with all living things with purity of intention and mindful presence.
My heart weeps when I witness land being clear-cut or a large tree being taken down. Have we not learned that we, as a global community, lose vital life force when we behave in these reckless ways? It is up to those of us who have been taught about and have clarity around this fundamental relationship with nature to carry on the message:
~to help others develop a love of,
~to witness and experience the inherent beauty and healing qualities of,
~to cultivate sustainable practices in support of, and
~to leave a much lighter footprint upon the land, and especially upon
Currently, I live too far away to take my own children to Nature Camp during the summer months, but as I am able I hope to recreate something similar in their own childhoods — and at the very least to pass on a genuine reverence and love for the environment — to know the awe and wonder of communing with nature.
Thank you, Don, for the many ways in which you’ve taught me ~and the many~ of our one-ness with each other and with nature. I am forever grateful.