On the first evening of our time together, around the crackling fire, an old story was shared. It was the story of a village that barely survived a cold and hard winter long ago. The people of that village believed that if they went through one more cold winter that they would not be able to survive, so they lived in fear. As another winter approached the people asked nature to be kind, but the winter was hard yet again and the people barely survived. So, as in many good stories about the past, some of the villagers walked to the outer edge of the village to ask the wise old woman what they were to do. Her answer was to send a young warrior into the woods to look into the eyes of a wild animal and through that look a message would be communicated.
Many of the people of the village were not compelled to look a wild animal into the eyes and they shrugged away from the idea, they went about their regular business. But there was one young girl who accepted the challenge. She was nervous but she knew that her people needed her to face this challenge courageously.
I won’t share the rest of the story now… but as the dark of the evening set in we all, three mentors and nine girls chose to look into the eyes of the wild courageously for our week together. We each tossed a piece of cedar into the fire as we spoke about an “edge” that we are facing during the week: challenges like making new friends, solo time, and sweat lodge.
As the night faded into the next day we started to find connections within our group. Friendships began to form and we played goofy group building and awareness awakening games together. Laughter began to erupt across the Meadow of Sacred Groves on Bainbridge Island. One girl said, “Is this my life?!” and another said, “This camp should be named the Awesomist-Awesome-Camp!” and we were introduced to what would become our camp motto, “YOLO!” (or “You only live once!”).
In the days that followed we participated in meaningful ceremonies, learned some primitive skills (like starting a fire with a bow-drill, cooking directly on the coals, and making herbal medicine), and stepped into the woods for solo time.
On July 4th, Independence Day, the girls were sent off for their 8-hour solo time in the woods. As they faced a long day alone in the woods, something that many young people and adults never experience, the mentors maintained a Sacred Fire in honor of the girls. The 8 hours may have passed slowly in the woods but all of the girls met the challenge with grace. And as they returned to the Meadow to the sound of a celebratory song each girl smiled with pride. After the song ended and the silence was broken the girls began to chatter, excited to return to their new friends. The group became a community that night.
The next morning we shared solo day stories, this poem called The Forest was written by Sophie Altaras (age 12):
I sing as I tiptoe in my mind through the forest softer than you’ll ever know
I can’t really describe it, the feeling I get when I come here
It’s sort of a calmness, like in the eyes of a mother deer
The sunlight shining through the trees makes me come alive
Because it’s been a long winter when it takes power just to survive
The rest of the week sailed by quickly. And soon it was time to return to the “village” of Seattle. Each girl was given the new title of Young Woman and handed a few small gifts and insights that she could carry into her future. Just as in the story that we shared on the first day of our time together… through facing the challenge of staring into the eyes of the wild, a gift was bestowed and has now been brought back to the village. YOLO!