Promoting Professional Development and Best Practice in EE
Sharing Nature - Camps - a Personal Perspective
Dr. Bill Belzer was a person who worked as a Nature Center Leader at a camp for underprivileged children outside of Philadelphia, PA for many years. He attended as a camper, counselor and became a director. He was most in his element taking campers on a stream stroll, not what he called it. To him it was a nature hike, a time for him to be ensconced in the complete opportunity to learn with children. He must have read Rachel Carson because he was never overzealous in naming things, but allowed campers to explore and use their senses in this wonderful, rich ecosystem. If he had not read Rachel Carson’s The Sense of Wonder, he created it in his life and the lives of many campers over time.
As time moved along camp drifted out of his life, but this did not stop him. His natural curiosity and love for nature created within him a deep understanding that all things are connected and are interrelated. Bill became involved in understanding the Box Turtle and was concerned about the fact it was threatened in Pennsylvania. He proceeded to explore its habits and habitat and this became a lifelong avocation. In this effort he retained and paid assistants to help him in trying to give a lift to Box Turtles. He was to become the “Box Turtle Man of Pennsylvania.”
One of his concerns was how pervasive people have been in impacting habitat for plants and animals. He knew Nature had a way of connecting to us in a very special way. His writing about this to me in multiple letters, he refers to our camp as making a difference in his life:
Sharing Nature and What It Has Meant:
“Those hills were so special – truly a paradise – WHO ever gets such a lucky break to grow up in such an idyllic, loving, country environment, with the social/psychological security of the leaders* being there year after year, like an anchor providing the stability one could always return to, to find life was still innocent and fresh and full. I still feel a deep pang (of loss) whenever I think of those wonderful days. Life was a beautiful cycle of winter school and summer of berries and box turtle and fox hunts (a camp activity where campers had to capture bed sheet tails that counselors wore), and haunted houses (another activity where counselors devised an impromptu program that was a contrived monsters talking and joking.)
Winters were just sort of like the “dues” I paid till the REAL time of life arrived EACH summer…when not only the flowers bloomed, but my life force bloomed with them. When I finally had to leave camp life (after more than 25 years of it), every spring was so painful – the force was as regular and as powerful as the lunar pull on the tides, but circumstances would not longer allow me to respond. For so many years, my body and soul felt detached – like the “SHOULD” be packing to go to camp each June, but nothing was happening…then later, that they should be running through the thorn patches and taking creek hikes about this time of years, but nothing was happening; the old life rhythm was incomprehensibly disconnected. I even looked for snake-loaded creeks around here that I could hike through to relive those missing moments, but could find none. (That’s another thing we were so fortunate about, being there when we were – there used to be lots of snakes and turtles and Luna moths, Cecropia moths and walking stick insects etc…but now all those things have become so scarce. It’s sad to see those things that made life so rich and full disappearing. That’s probably why I’m doing this turtle work…trying to retain a little of that lost Eden on earth for a little longer…and maybe generations from now some kids will wander the McKeever woods and enjoy the experience of encountering box turtles like we did at camp." (Letter from Belzer, 2003)
So it is with each of us who have experienced camp and Paradise Farms over time. Each of us has a different perspective as a result of the time we shared in the context of the time we lived at Paradise Farms. Nevertheless, we all came away from those years changed by nature that was shared with us. More accurately, nature sharing was more of an invitation to explore, experience, ask questions, become immersed in the beauty of the natural world. As a result this nature experience has become a part of who we are as persons, professionals and contributors to society. Sharing Nature is more than what people think of simple serendipity, it was experience that indelibly shaped us.