During the last week of my junior year of high school, an electrical fire broke out in the nearly-condemned art building and the art room burned down.
The art room had been occupied by Mrs. Post, the fairy godmother of art teachers, for over twenty years. Over those years, Mrs. Post cultivated and helped grow generations of creativity and art. Much of it was plastered over the walls, hanging on the ceiling, crowded in a corner, so many ideas contained in the vast room. The room had its quirks and faults, a bathroom which sometimes locked you inside of it, lockers that sometimes let you open them, electric switches which would sometimes work – all the odd temperaments you would expect from a room dedicated to the creative world of painting, sculpture, drawing, and any other art.
My older sister Katherine and I had spent many hours in the room, her as a student, and myself during lunch and after school. I often came as an assistant to whatever project my sister was working on – be it a face to make a plaster face mask out of, a hand model, a paint-getter. It was a place of deep creativity, a place of openness and acceptance, a place of wonder.
And, as I was walking to class Monday morning, I saw it was gone.
My class was just across the hall, and unscathed. I had to sit out in the hall because I was crying. My teacher, Mr. Kochel, came out to console me as the other students were working on the day’s project. He was a kind man, but his words seemed hard that day:
“It is just a place. In time you’ll see places come and go. It’s the people that matter.”
My seventeen-year-old self did not understand. I did not have the experience to appreciate what he was trying to teach me. Instead, I continued to grieve for a room which was gone.
Being a writer, I wrote a poem. It is currently in my writing journal for that year, somewhere in my parent’s garage. If I am able to find it, I’ll post it at the end. What I remember most is the main line: “Goodbye old friend.”
The following year, I took my one and only art class with Mrs. Post. In her endless spirit of positivity and hope, she worked with others to re-build the art benches over the summer, and then decorated the generic portable building classroom with new art, as well as art from her house. We did a project where we built wearable art and the theme was the Phoenix rising from the flame.
This came even more important as a few short weeks into my senior year of high school, 9/11 occurred.
Here, a place was destroyed with vicious intent, and the lives of thousands were lost.
Yet, the small loss of an art room and its history had prepared me for that harrowing and shocking moment.
We needed that wearable art show, as well as other projects, to help us heal and to understand the emotions running through us.
The phoenix, for those unfamiliar with this creature, is a mythical bird which bursts into flame when it dies and then is reborn from the fire. (If you are a Harry Potter fan, you should be familiar with this).
Today, the camp I call my Neverland is encircled by flames that have consumed roughly 20,000 acres of forest.
Camp Joe Scherman lies in a dry, desert region of the mountains. Fire is always a looming threat, but it is rare for the danger to come. Careful precautions are taken to protect the area and structures. Every so often, whole areas are cleared to prepare for the potential threat. There is always an emergency plan in place.
And today, that preparation is needed.
The campers, staff, and animals have all been evacuated. Now, based on the Facebook updates and news reports, fire crews are in place, battle lines drawn, and the fight to push back the fire and protect the camp and surrounding houses and other structures is ongoing.
We don’t know what will happen, but we hope and pray it will be safe.
Many of the hundreds whose lives have been touched by this camp have been singing the “Johnny Appleseed” song from Disney, which often brings rain.
There have been many days where a storm suddenly arrives. Maybe we need to throw a bunch of luggage out in the luggage circle, and then it will rain.
In the area, there are other great camps which serve a lot of people. Any prayers, thoughts, or hopes for these camps, and for the courageous firefighters, are appreciated.
However, as the flames loom high and threaten the place we love, we do not need to huddle in fear. While it would be sad and hard if the fire came, we need to remember Camp Scherman would not be gone. We each carry a part of the places we love with us, for it is not the place that is important but the people who have gathered there. If we need to, we can rally together and recreate the traditions, the stories, and the feelings of camp.
This is when I am reminded of Mr. Kochel’s words. In the year following the burning of the art building, the generic classroom used to replace it became just as magical a space. It became just as important. It wasn’t the building itself that mattered, but the people and what they brought to the place.
If things fall, we will rebuild.
As it stands, the firefighters believe the camp and surrounding homes are safe. However, the fire continues.
I would rather have the camp remain safe. However, I am at peace knowing the people who I’ve shared my time with there are safe and at home.
Once again, any thoughts and prayers for the firefighters, the camp, and the surrounding houses and facilities, are appreciated.
In case you haven’t read them, here are my previous posts about this camp:
ADDENDUM / BEDTIME STORY:
And, for all of my camp friends who have a hard time sleeping, here’s one of my stories to help you go to bed (this is better live, but, for now, this will have to do) –
Once upon a time there was a young woman named Cinderella. Her stepmother and stepsisters treated her cruelly and made her their servant. At night, she would sit in the ashes and make wooden clog-dancing shoes, and then, during the day, she would practice amazing clog-dancing routines while she would sweep and mop the whole house.
One day, an announcement came inviting all eligible maidens to a ball in the local prince’s honor.
The stepmother and stepsisters were very excited, and went to the ball, leaving Cinderella alone at home. Cinderella was okay with this because she could rest and make more clog-dancing shoes.
Then, a fairy godbear appeared.
She offered, “If you’ll trade me a pair of clog-dancing shoes, I’ll help you go to the ball.”
Cinderella thought this was a fair deal, and agreed. The godbear tried on the shoes, tested a few steps, and then set to work. In moments, Cinderella was standing in a beautiful gown, a carriage and horses waiting just beyond the door. Then, she looked down at her feet.
They were shod in glass slippers.
“I can’t dance in these,” she said. She tested a step, and the heel broke. So, instead, she slipped on a pair of comfortable clog-dancing shoes, and then left for the ball.
When she walked down the stairs of the ball, everyone was in wonder at her beauty. Then, she lifted her skirt so she would not trip on it, revealing her shoes. People scoffed, when the Prince stepped forward. His eyes met Cinderella’s, and then they stared at each other’s feet.
They were both wearing clog-dancing shoes.
Immediately, they began dancing together, and did not stop until the clock struck midnight.
Cinderella had to get home before her stepmother and stepsisters, and had to appear as if everything were normal.
She dashed away, pausing to leave her shoe in a conspicuous spot, with a note containing her name and address, and then returned home.
The Prince ran after her, but only found her shoe. However, he did not look inside.
Instead, he spent the next few days traveling from house to house, from stinky foot to stinky foot, until he arrived at Cinderella’s house.
Her stepsisters both tried on the shoe, but it did not fit. Then, Cinderella walked in the room, and the Prince recognized her. He gave her back the shoe, and she pulled out the note. They immediately fell in love and decided to get married.
After being married, they lived in the palace a while, only to realize they weren’t happy there. So, they moved into the town and opened up a wooden clog-dancing shop and dance studio. They bought their wood from Sleeping Beauty and her husband, and taught the Seven Dwarves how to clog dance, but those are other stories for another time.
UPDATE: As of last night, due to the miracle of Johnny Appleseed and thunderstorms, the fire is contained and going out. Thanks everyone for their prayers and thoughts.