If Camp Is a Tree, We, the Staff, Are the Roots

Camp Harlam treesBy Adam Zemel

If, at some point this summer, you find yourself in the Chavurah village – and I know it’s a long walk but please feel free to come visit us when you have the time – remind me to show you my tree. Well, it’s not exactly my tree, it’s a tree that was planted by Carmel Boys 2 in 1998 (shout out to Eric Berman). Berman and I have slightly conflicting memories of which tree we actually planted that day, so maybe I will show you a cluster of trees and we can sort of pick out the strongest looking one and say that’s it.

This was 18 years ago, I was 9 years old, and it was my first summer as a camper here at Harlam. Understandably, the details are sort of fuzzy in my memory. Here’s what I can tell you: Camp was celebrating its 40th anniversary, and to commemorate the occasion, at some point in the summer all of camp gathered down in the village, and each bunk planted a small White Pine sapling along the fence that lines the road across from Shmungleland.

I remember that we had a sound system set up, and there was some speaking, a blessing or two, and some singing. I have memories of digging up some dirt for our young tree with a trowel, and playing with a much bigger amount of dirt with my bare hands. We picked rocks out of our little dirt holes to make the soil more hospitable to our little trees, and we patted the dirt back down around the little trunk that my counselor, Dan Baratz, could wrap his entire hand around. The sun was strong and high in the sky, and I was talking to myself or whoever was around who would listen to me. Some things don’t really change.

But some things do. Come down for a visit and you can see for yourself. In 1998 those trees were shorter than my nine-year-old self, and in the nearly two decades since, those trees have grown strong and tall. Their shade stretches across the road in the morning sun, and on windy days like today they rustle like restless campers while their tops sway back and forth with the breeze. And the roots that 18 years ago looked like a small clump of tangled knots, now extend down into this rich, storied soil, anchoring each tree against the elements that ebb and tide with the turn of seasons.

Camp, also, is a tree with roots that stretch deep into the soil of these hills. This tree was planted in 1958, and nearly 60 years later, it is tall and proud and strong. Like many trees, it lies dormant in the winter, and blooms again each year under the summer sun, vibrant, green, lively, an ecosystem unto itself.

So if camp is a tree, we, the staff, are the roots. A strong, interlocking, sturdy network of roots, at one with our surroundings, providing anchor and support. Our campers are the leaves, new and green and awakening to the world. They are a canopy that rustles up against each other, busy and alive, each one a little summer flag celebrating in the breeze.

And if we do our jobs, do them together, dig down deep and learn to rely on each other, then our campers, in their thriving summer glory, will blossom and grow; small and vibrant parts of a bigger whole. Each one stretching, ever higher, closer to the sun.

Adam Zemel is the Chavurah Unit Head at URJ’s Camp Harlam. This post was a drash delivered at Shabbat evening services.

Cross-posted on Camp Harlam.org; reprinted with permission.