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A Quiet Moment at Camp

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Swim Dock sits unattended on a glassy Triangle Pond waterfront

 

Through the din and the energy and the chaos and the pure exhaustion that exemplifies summer camp, it is incredibly easy to forget about the place where you chose to live and work. The long involved days with an endless to-do list of activities keeps one distracted from the distinctiveness of your location. You grow immune to the landscape of the place you work, gradually forgetting the immense beauty of the natural surroundings that drew you to camp in the first place. With so much to do outside everyday, it is easy to take this close access to nature for granted. The subtle beauty of nature often slips the mind…

As the last summer campers file out the gates, the camp staff can pause and breathe deeply, reflecting on the summer past. Then there’s this sudden realization. It is quiet once again. But not a silent quiet—a quiet absorbed with sounds. All around are the songs of the earth. The chirping of the insects, the shrill call of the birds, the gentle breeze rustling the tree-tops. Breathe deeply and listen closer to these sounds. They have been calling forth all summer long, but not until now have they received an attentive listener. It is the contrast from the clamor of summer camp that reawakens the ears to nature’s melodies.

The quiet moment encourages you to explore deeper. No commitments now. Please linger and understand what’s here. The forest paths that you walked hurriedly past all summer are now empty. Slow your pace. Look up and gaze amidst the trees. See the dappled light filtering through their leafs perched an immense height above the ground. Then look down, closely, all the way to the ground. Amid the brush lie flowers, the embodiment of the fecundity of nature. Stoop down close and admire their elaborate forms. They sprinkle the ground in all their intricate glory, yet are often overlooked by man; their complex beauty is but for their own sake. Through the air wafts the fragrance of the bushes. Breathe deeply, and take it all in. How many times have you been here before and not noticed this?

It is moments like these when it gets quiet, when life takes a momentary pause, that I begin to reflect on what brought me to this place to begin with. This is where I live. This is where I have chosen to stay. For me, an enticing draw of the camp life is to live and work in these beautiful places, daily immersed in the wonders of the natural world. In the busyness that life often rings upon us, it becomes difficult to take the necessary moment to realize the beauty that surrounds you. It is here all along waiting for your attention. The question is: will you stop and notice it?

Breathe Deep.

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Towering pines provide refuge on the path to the low ropes challenge course

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A pair of Pink Lady Slipper Orchids rest unperturbed by a challenge course obstacle

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The nodding bell flower of the a-chlorophyllic parasitic Indian Pipe plant is delicate and lacy, but easily overlooked

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Reflecting its gaze on Triangle Pond, the Jones Homestead adds a touch of New England charm, dating to the pre-camp days when this area was farmland

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The approaching sunset on the Spectacle Pond waterfront issues forth a compliment of contrasts

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Back Where I Started

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I just moved back to Grand Rapids. I haven’t lived in this city for nearly four years, since the time I graduated college. In those intervening years I’ve lived in three different states and one country, but I’ve also lived in Michigan at my parent’s place in Zeeland as well. Though I’ve been back to Grand Rapids on many occasions for visits, I’ve never had the reason to call the city home again. Now, after a length of time away exploring other places, I’m back where I started—the same location I was as a fresh college grad looking to get out and explore the world.

Coming back to Grand Rapids wasn’t all that unexpected. I grew up, after all, in the far-flung suburban town of Zeeland. In between grad school, jobs, and travel, I’d always make it back to the small town my family calls home, and then immediately I’d make plans to visit the big city. To me, there’s a big difference between living in the town I grew up in and living in the town where I came of age. In reality, the physical distance between Zeeland and Grand Rapids isn’t very great—I have, more than once, biked between the two cities. Instead, it’s my personal associations with the two cities that constitute the realm of difference. Zeeland, to me, recounts a place of dependence, of conservatism, of childishness. Grand Rapids is where I went to college—the location of my coming of age, of my emergence into adulthood. Grand Rapids was the geographical context in which I began to understand myself and to shape myself as an individual, breaking from the mold in which I was raised. As a result, my perceived intellectual gulf between Zeeland and Grand Rapids is now as wide as it was back in high school—when I believed Grand Rapids was so far away that it required an overnight stay to visit.

Though I am back living in Grand Rapids for the moment, I’m not back in town indefinitely. I’m even hesitant to say that my projected tenure in the city—a mere two months—really even constitutes moving back. Very soon I’ll be leaving town again for the latest stage in life exploration. But even though this current move is rather fleeting, it came with an intentional purpose: I had to get back to the environment where I found I have thrived.

Is it just the physical geography of the city that lures me back? Is it that I know the landscape, the street patterns, the stores, and the bus routes? Is it that my social network is still based primarily out of this city? That I still have friends and connections living here? Could it be my associations with the past that continually draw me back in? That I have become educated, made lifelong friends, and found my independence here?

Undoubtedly, it’s a little of all of these things. Michigan, my birth state, is the place I’m most familiar with. But the most formative years of young adulthood took place in a city different than where I grew up. On a psychological level, familiarity breeds liking. And it’s no doubt I cherish Michigan and Grand Rapids simply because I’ve spent so much time here. But my connection to the city is so much more than that.

In the years I’ve been gone from the city, life for its inhabitants has gone on like it necessarily does. The relics of my time here have largely been consumed in the metabolism of the city. New people inhabit the house I lived in. Different patrons frequent the spots I hung out in. Grand Rapids has continued to grow and change, and though the culture remains largely the same, the city I left upon graduation has drifted ever so imperceptibly in character. Friends that I had in the city have either moved away—or moved on. I myself—I can’t deny that I’ve changed as well. So much time travelling and having new experiences has shaped who I am. Though I’m returning, it’s a different person coming back to the city as well.

Despite all the differences, things are enough of the same. I still know my way around this city. I can still find the nearest grocery store and I can still make a living. I still even know a little bit about cultural events that go on here. And though I lament all those who have moved away and changed, I still have many friends in the city. I still have those residual social connections that I formed when I used to live here—connections formed from investments in the past. It’s a network found only here that I really just don’t have anywhere else.

Moving back to Grand Rapids temporarily as I am, I’m here to see returns on investments I’ve already made in the city. Unlike my past few years of constantly moving to new places where I have no connections made at all, I’m looking forward to living in a place where I have networks already in place. This was a conscious decision, after all. I needed to move back to a place where I wasn’t a stranger. I needed to be where I could see the benefits of my past involvements and also know that time spent is not spent in vain.

There’s something about the old wisdom that in order to realize how much you love a place, you need to leave it and return again. After my years away, I’ve found, as I suspected when I left, that someday I’d want to return again to Grand Rapids. And though my stay this time is only temporary, I rightly suspect that I’ll keep coming back to this city many times. To come, as it may be, back to where I started.