Tuesday, October 16, 2012


The Nature Center at 4H Memorial Camp

THIS MORNING I AM REVISITING A SCENE FROM MY CHILDHOOD. The 4-H Memorial Camp. I am here for a retreat. The cabins have been rebuilt since my time, but the arrangement is the same. I slept last night in Cabin 3, Girls' side. The bunks, I believe, have the same cornhusk mattresses from 30 years ago—petrified now, and covered with a plastic ticking that crunches and squeaks every time you roll over. The cabins are arranged in pairs and I'm sitting at a picnic table between 3 & 4. The table is covered with graffiti drawn with gel pens and sharpies, which we didn't have in my day, but the messages are the same. Confessions of love, names and dates, and to my right, “Showers are cold.” Come to think of it, I might have written that one. The yellow bug light between our cabins is still on this morning, and a spider has built a skillful web, catching the sunlight and casting elaborate shadows.
My Cabin

The retreat itself has been inspiring on many levels. First I went to a quilting workshop with Kathy Martin who coached the beginners like me on details such as threading the needle with the grain, directly off the spool, to keep the thread from tangling. She shared photos of her grandmother's fine work and told stories of Mennonite thrift, showing footstools hmade from seven large juice cans arranged in a circle and covered with upholstery fabric. From the top it makes a sturdy scalloped pattern, like a third grader's drawing of a flower. I want to go home and make one for myself. Thanks to Kathy, I gained inspiration and confidence to sign up for the quilt we're going to make for a Habitat family.

Here I scared up a flock of
Wild Turkeys.

From the quiet murmur of friendly needlework I went out into the sun for a raucous drumming workshop led by local musician, Matt Croissant. I had brought Dylan's toy Bongo Drums from home. My middle boy has left parts of his childhood in a closet, and he didn't seem to be using these drums, so I borrowed them. Most folks, however, used plastic buckets and wooden spoons. With Matt's skillful direction we created rich, energetic rhythms—even those of us who would swear we're not musically inclined found inspiration. We began with simple math—each choosing a secret rhythm to play, which came together to produce complicated tonal patterns—and then gradually began improvising until we built enough energy to “take this thing on the road.” We got up and walked, marched, and danced down the mall of the camp. Each drummer marching to a different beat that somehow merged into one song; each drum beating with a different voice to play complex melodies.

Next the pastors, Janet and Michael led a workshop about telling Bible stories. The story they chose was from John, where Jesus turns water in to wine. It's a pretty simple story, one I had always heard about, but may not have ever actually read. We first read the verses, and then were invited to retell the story to a partner without looking, and then to re-imagine the story from the perspective of one of the characters. I chose the perspective of the mother, Mary. This simple act made the concise verses come alive for me. Without that re-imagining, I would surely have missed a very important dynamic between the mother and her son. Since we carry with us our own perspective and interpretation to any text we read, I'm always grateful when another dimension enriches my understanding of a story.  

The day ended with a fabulous session with local writer and storyteller, Janice Harrington. We had the opportunity to tell our own stories. Janice engaged us from the moment we sat down, first with the rich story of how her mother learned to drive, and then by asking us to share some of our own stories with a partner. Her lively, elaborate telling and the spirited details brought us right into her tale, so that by the time we paired up, our own narratives were virtually bubbling up out of us. Next she told us about a few literary devices, and then showed us examples of how to use them. We were set with our storytelling toolkit, and were ready to spin our versions of our unique perspectives, casting light and shadow onto a rich and varied world.

Spin Beauty; Narrate Peace; Blessed Be.

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