By Casey Cohen
The Rim Forest Fire of 2013 was the largest fire in Yosemite history. Camp Tawonga lost three non-camper housing structures to the fire along with hundreds of trees on all sides of our property. Thankfully, on the whole, Camp emerged largely unscathed, and over the years, the vistas from Tawonga (like from the ridge) have slowly restored, and most areas of Camp look and feel just like Camp. However, a few areas have felt more barren, missing the intimate seclusion the forest once offered.
In a long-awaited act of healing and redemption, last weekend 20 volunteers joined together at Tawonga to replenish those lost trees and to give back to the land. Together, these volunteers – mostly wilderness staff alumni and their partners – planted a total of 50 trees across two areas of Camp: in the garden, expanding our fruit tree orchard, and and in the Freedom Forest, an area of Camp that had been beloved due to its enclosed feeling.
Together with our Camp Director, Becca Meyer, Director of Wilderness Programs, Myla Marks, Buildings and Grounds Committee member Steve Catechi and Garden Coordinator and 2017 JOFEE Fellow, Leora Cockrell, this group planted 30 native trees in the Freedom Forest, including black oak, ponderosa pine and incense cedar. To begin the planting process, volunteers chose to plant a tree that they were most drawn to, in a specific place of their choosing. Years from now, perhaps they will come back to Camp (even with families of their own) and return to their tree, appreciating its growth and the redeemed seclusion of this space.
This group also planted 20 fruit trees ranging from cherry and peach varieties to apricot, nectarine, pear and apple! Carefully selected to thrive in Tawonga’s climate, most of these varieties were originally imported during the Gold Rush era and have adapted to rougher climates.
The concept of taking care of the trees and land for future generations was touching for everyone. Visualizing the camper experience several years down the road, volunteers were excited at the thought of kids eating pies under the shade of the orchard, sweet with the fruit that the trees will bear.
Jake Kramarz, staff alumnus and son of Ken Kramarz, reflected about the virtuous cycle of giving back at Tawonga, inspired by the planting. “When you take care of campers at Tawonga, it’s like raising your own kids of the future. Your camper could be your future child’s counselor.”
Though Tu B’Shevat, the Jewish holiday which means The New Year for Trees, took place last month, the spirit of the holiday was ever-present throughout the weekend. Trees have always held a special place in Jewish thought, and this holiday provides the opportunity to refocus on and appreciate the natural world.
On the second day of planting, a beautiful winter wonderland snowstorm took hold, adding to the wonder of the weekend.
No visit to Tawonga is complete without Shabbat, song session and a campfire. On Saturday night, Tawonga’s two previous garden coordinators, Rebs Wynd and Sarah Salem, inaugurated Leora in her new role as caretaker for Tawonga’s farm and garden by serenading her with the song “Inch by Inch, Row by Row.”
We look forward to the Spring Service Weekend becoming an annual tradition, calling Tawongans back home to replenish the land and their spirits as well!
P.S. Here’s a peek at how campers experience Tawonga’s garden during the summer.
Casey Cohen is Camp Tawonga’s Communications Director.