The end of summer is strange. If you don’t have kids, you don’t have the hectic running around for school supplies, new clothes, meeting teachers, helping them figure out classes. Nevertheless my cells get tingly at the end of August. It’s embedded. 

I only went to summer camp twice; once when we were living in South Africa for six months building a new boat. My sister and I were enrolled in school in Cape Town, and my mom was excited for us to have the camp experiences she’d had growing up: she had visions of us singing songs around the campfire, roasting s’mores, making friends. 

My sister and I feeding deer in a park outside of Cape Town, NOT Camp SOS!

The camp was called, wait for it, Camp SOS. I kid you not. That huge red flag aside, and the fact that it was one of the few things we participated in that was not integrated (this was still during Apartheid), off we went for a week of what turned out to be more like forced labor camp. We marched in drills, had to drink either coffee or tea at meals (I was eight years old). The counselors would burst into cabins after lights out to do toothbrush checks. If one toothbrush wasn’t wet, the whole cabin was forced to go outside and run laps in their pajamas. In the dark. Raining or not. 

The two things I remember most about that week were that I didn’t change my socks even once because I was so distressed, and that my sister came to check on me any chance she could (she was in a different section because she was older). Oh, and there was sheep poop everywhere. Needless to say I was unimpressed.

About to board the train for Santa Cruz with my buddy (I’m the short one).

I had a MUCH better camp experience when I was 11 at a place in the mountains above Santa Cruz, California. I was there for three weeks with two of my best friends from 6th grade. The camp was full of horseback riding and hiking, archery, ceramics, yes there were s’mores, the counselors were great, I was homesick but had a lot of fun, and we sang songs every night. My mom was vindicated. The memory of SOS faded.

This summer has been interesting. Park City is lovely. The mountains are green. The aspens shake and shimmy and the pines smell sweet and like sunbaked bark. People are nice. But it hasn’t felt like home. We both missed our pillows. And our coffeemaker.

I’m fortunate to still have my parents with me, but I worry about them now like they worried about me when I was at camp so long ago. There have been some mishaps and scrapes and Denise and I decided to come home early. So the other morning we packed up our suitcases, dog toys, food, monitors, laptops, books, guitar, one huge wooden bowl embedded with crushed turquoise we bought at an art fair and all kinds of other stuff I don’t remember having when we drove up, and headed 670 miles south to our home in Phoenix. Throughout the day we came upon the aftermath of massive thunderstorms, always after the flash floods had subsided and the roads were muddy and steaming. The skies were swollen with clouds and light. We passed around and between Bryce Canyon and Zion, weaving through cattle pastures and Navajo Nation, below the dam that separates Lake Powell from the Colorado River with the Grand Canyon on our right, through Flagstaff, down past Sedona and Bloody Basin Road and Horse Thief Basin and into our city. 

Jolene and Teddy were underwhelmed with the beauty.

There are those who say that being alive is like being in school, that you never stop studying and learning and when you graduate from one big lesson you get a rest and then it’s back to school again. I’m inclined to agree. 

So it’s back to school. Camp is over and September is peeking around the corner. Change is in the air, and the crickets are out in force tonight making noise about it all.

I wonder what classes I’ll get. I hope I like my teachers.

It was a quiet week at Camp Dashew Park City this week. First Denise’s neck went into spasm from working at a not-ideal office setup here at camp headquarters. Then my lower back went into spasm from working at a, maybe, um, I’m not sure? 

Regardless we were not feeling our best. Plus Teddy got sick. I don’t have children, but I have it on good authority (and a bit of experience) that it is well known that if children and/or dogs are going to get sick, it is almost always going to be at, say, 1:30 am, and then maybe again after you’ve spent a solid half hour cleaning things up and getting them into the laundry and finally going back to bed and getting to sleep at, say, 4:30 am.

When he’s feeling good, he’s quite the dandy.

Teddy is our lovely wheaten terrier who is a distinguished-gentlemanly almost-9-years-old. As sensitive as I am, he is more so. Allergies? You got it. Really tender tummy? Heck yes. A massive panic brought on by any kind of flashing lights, shadows or reflections which can turn into approximately 48 hours of panting and pacing before he steadies? Don’t mind if he does! 

As we all get older, I am looking towards frustrations and irritations and spasms and middle of the night sickies as opportunities. As a way to reflect on whatever is going on that I might want to take a look at and shift. Mind you, this is not foremost on my mind in the middle of the night as I am furiously cleaning the carpet in our rental. But the next day it is. So it was that yesterday, while Denise was taking natural muscle relaxers and gently stretching her neck, while Teddy was pacing and barking, and while I was rolling deliberately on a red lacrosse ball, I started to think about things.

Before Garrison Keillor got fired for sexual misconduct, I was a fan of his storytelling. (I still think he’s a great storyteller but I haven’t decided yet where I fall on being able to separate art from the artist.) When I was a teenager I had a copy of his book Lake Wobegon Days and I devoured it. In these stories set in a fictional town in Minnesota, people had mishaps and learned lessons but for the most part they were funny, genuine, good people and I loved reading them and imagining Keillor’s voice: deep, nose whistling when stopping for a breath, calm and dry and affectionate. 

There is one story in particular that has stuck with me for the past 30 years, not because I remember the whole plot, but because I remember that it is about the end of summer coming, the feeling that rolls into place as the seasons start to shift and cool and darken even as you bake in August heat. The thing I remember most is that as the story winds down he writes, “Thank you dear God, for this good life, and forgive us if we do not love it enough.”

So I was thinking about how grateful I am for my family, for the fact that Teddy is still around and kicking and reminding me to take a pause when he gets too worked up, how grateful I am for all our challenges and for all our gifts (often one and the same), for the fact that our bodies work well (mostly), and that we can explore and talk and hear (sort of) and touch and feel where we are. 

Blurry night, beautiful night.

Last night I took the dogs out for nighttime potty, and as I was walking on the grass a wind stirred the aspen trees. They rustled. The moon was rising gibbous and gold. Someone was playing “Into the Mystic” by Van Morrison and it drifted across the hill to me and rocked my gypsy soul. I was overwhelmed with love. 

Thank you dear God, for this good life, and forgive us if we do not love it enough.


My friend recently posted a meme that said something along the lines of, “I don’t know who needs to hear this but living your most fulfilled life does not have to include hiking.” 

The hiking up here is spectacular. We’ve hiked this one trail twice. It’s called Blood Lake. The first time we went I was dubious; was it called Blood Lake because everyone was bloody by the time they got there? Or because the mosquitoes were so intense the lake was filled with their heavily-swollen-with ill-gotten-hikers’-blood bodies?

It turns out the trail is delightful. It’s about 1.5 miles undulating through dappled meadows of late summer wildflowers and rippling groves of Aspen. It’s so beautiful that Denise kept having to call to me, and finally at one point said, “Okay Skip, can you put your camera away and actually be here enjoying it please?” (My dad is notorious for long photography stops. So was his dad. I happen to believe it skipped me but there may be those who disagree.)

Denise smiling just before she lost her patience with me constantly stopping to take pictures.

The last 1/2 mile is pretty much straight up. You turn and start climbing up the back face of some very chunky granite walls, which eventually spits you out top to Blood Lake. Your heart rate climbs quickly, too. Your legs feel it. There isn’t much room to think about anything other than breathing and climbing up heel toe one step at a time.

I was born sensitive. I got sick a lot when I was a kid. I grew up feeling like I was fragile. I think really I was strong, I just didn’t have the tools to work through things and express myself. When I started to try I was told I was so sensitive. Not in a good way. Is there a good way? I think so. I think it’s wonderful to be so sensitive that you can feel things vibrating in you like a hummingbird even though someone might have barely whispered. Or not spoken at all. I think it helps me feel the world and I want that. But it used to scare me down to the core. And since I believed firmly that it was a bad thing, I shoved the feelings under and through and down. Which led to a lot of anxiety and panic as I got older.

The thing about a lot of emotional challenges in life is that what seems counter-intuitive is often what I need. When I’m depressed and scared I want to hide, when sometimes what I need is to get out and remember that I am in my body. Move. Sweat. Feel the heart rate rise. 

It’s even better to be able to feel safe enough to say, Here is how I feel. Really. I feel scared of rejection. I feel antsy. I feel like I don’t matter. I feel like maybe nobody really knows what they’re doing and what’s the point of it all anyway? 

I think one of the things that drew me to music was the understanding that you could express whatever you want to through song and it is safe. There is a way in which, through performance, you can hide some of the true vulnerability. Strip yourself all the way down, but it’s still song, you know?

Lately I’m working on saying things without music. Just speaking. Without wondering if it’s okay or not. Without melody. It’s a work in progress. My friend and teacher Terri said to me that we humans haven’t gotten to the point where we can truly be raw and vulnerable, that we play with it, we dance around it, but we haven’t quite dropped the costumes. Because it’s scary. But I’m trying.

Anyway back to hiking. So we’re about halfway up to the end, huffing and puffing, and we come across two parents and their son. The son looked to be about 6 or 7 and he was really feeling. He was hurling it out across to his parents and all of nature and other hikers. He was TIRED, and he was MAD, and he felt CHEATED, and he DID NOT WANT TO KEEP GOING. 

As we got closer, we could hear the parents calmly responding. “Well, Connor, we all made this choice. I think it’s worth it to keep going. You can swim when we get there, it’s supposed to be really beautiful. You can explore the rocks. I get that you’re upset.” etc. 

We passed by, and I said, “Connor, I don’t know you but I feel you! I believe in you! I think you can do it!” The mom said, “You see? They’re doing it too!” 

The thing is, we’re all doing it too. All of it all of the time. Some of us admit it and some of us don’t. 

I do love that burn.

The payoff.

About 10 minutes after we got to the lake, we were sitting on a bench enjoying the view and feeling the sweat dry, and we saw Connor and his parents make their way to the water’s edge and put their backpacks down on a big boulder. “See? We made it!” the mom shouted, waving to us.

“Hooray Connor! I knew you could do it! Isn’t it great!” I shouted back.

Connor looked up and yelled, “Yes but I’m A THOUSAND TIMES TIRED!!!”

We all are, Connor. But it’s worth it.