By Green River Preserve
Here are the connections: I am sitting up on the Health Hut porch as four of your daughters rock in chairs around me, writing personification poems about trees they chose to develop a deeper connection with yesterday. This is the Creative Writing Activity, so we began the hour by reading a Mary Oliver poem, “The Summer Day,” for inspiration. This poem is dear to me just as Green River is dear to me, and we read it from my friend’s book, which I borrowed two weeks ago and have since been holding hostage (although, in honesty, he has yet to ask for its return). As we finish the reading and begin the day’s writing activity, I hear a delighted laugh coming from barely fifty feet away, and without turning I know that it is the same friend whose book I still have. Does this coincidence mean something in the grander scheme of things? Perhaps only if I decide it does.
I read a collection of works by Joan Didion maybe ten years ago, and something in it has remained in my mind for these many years. She wrote that “we tell ourselves stories in order to live.” The narrative structure, sequences of events and the meanings that we assign them, both reveals our values and helps to define them. The way that dust motes collect on the upper side of the sassafras leaves outside of the Health Hut, the way the very last of the Blue Ghost fireflies stumble confusedly about the forest floor searching for their bygone early-summer friends, the way the wind sounds as it sifts through the needles in the tallest branches of the white pines – this is all a part of our story, or can be, if we decide to include it.
At Green River Preserve, we tell stories of respect: for ourselves, for others, and for nature. We create meaning around exploration, growth, and inclusiveness. Maybe this looks like a group of campers encouraging a friend to tell herself, “I can catch the stick” during a game of Etcina rather than, “I cannot catch the stick.” This is what happened during my Mentor Hike this morning, and can you guess who ultimately caught that stick? Maybe this looks like the memories Sandy recounts at the Respect Circle on Opening Day. He tells of the mountain people taking him in and showing him the ways of the land when he came to the Green River Valley as a young boy from Charlotte, of Mr. Cox down Green River Road warming his teeth inside his coffee cup each morning and drinking, instead, from his saucer. The people here were so interesting, he says. He thought, “Boy, I’ll just never go home.” Every story I’ve ever heard Sandy tell has seemed to me an origin story, steeped in the tradition of this place, this land, and this community.
I realized at Upper Council Fire on Opening Day how much you have given your children by enabling them to live for three weeks on this land. I wish you could have been there to hear with us the reading of the Woodcraft Laws and Chief Seattle’s letter to President Pierce, to experience the reverence of this tradition and also the intense joyfulness. In ways, though, you are here: in your children and in your support of the core values of GRP. These are the ties that bind us, that take our many stories and make them one. The first day at the girls’ Respect Circle, Sandy told the female campers that “good people are always welcomed here.” You are the ones who mold, all through the year, the good people that make up this community. We welcome our campers here gladly, because in their return each year, the story of the Green River Preserve is written.
Holly, Whippoorwill Mentor