Lessons from Redwood – Week 0

“What is celebrated is repeated.” ~ Chafer Cox

Today is October 27th, 2016. It is one-thirty-nine in the morning. It has been approximately 75 days since Redwood Camp ended, 73 days since I said my final goodbye’s as each of my friends went their separate ways. It is neigh time to flip through my journal, relive the experiences I quickly jotted down, and reflect upon where I had been, how far I have come, and what I hope the future may bring. My hope in writing these thoughts, undoubtedly expanding my journal with my own memories and annotations, is that someone, somewhere would be blessed and encouraged that the best of times can also be found in the most unlikely of places.

However, before I begin writing about week zero, I must begin just slightly before arrival. To explain, in a quick and lacking fashion, a few truths I had formed as principles of living that eventually led me to Redwood Camp.

First, I have quickly discovered that in life there are two paths for personal development: either you accept criticism, learn from it, and become a better person, or you reject criticism, act as if nothing has happened, and cease becoming a better person. There is no possible way in which we never accept an ounce of criticism and become a better person.

Second, if I were to sum up all the criticisms I have received from friends, family, acquaintances, and random people who cross my path and give me a good run for my money, it would have to be this: “You’re often too quiet, not at all engaging, and difficult to connect with.” Whether or not it is true to the point is irrelevant to the question of if I will learn from it or not and try to improve.

And third, hospitality isn’t always natural. Making people feel comfortable in our own homes, as fish out of water, isn’t as simple as a three-step plan. Often hospitality is deliberate and seeks to serve those around you in a way that you may never see returned. And in times when your guests are still uncooperative, it is not your cue to close up your house, give them the boot, and try with someone else. It is opportunity to refine, to practice, and to try, try again.


“Go for it and see what happens.”Many of my friends have insisted  this has been my life motto. And, for it is worth, I have always replied that if I ever wrote a book about my life, the first chapter will be dedicated to Leeroy Jenkins. That little man who knew that sitting down, calculating your future sometimes isn’t enough, you have to shoot from the hip even at the disgrace of the rest of your team.

But as it were, I remember driving home from school one afternoon. I was sitting at the light just across from Home Depot when I thought to myself, “Why shouldn’t I become a summer counselor? Sure, I have no experience working with children. Sure, once I sign-up I’m locked in for ten weeks. Sure, I was told that there will be a moment I will ask myself, “Am I in hell right now?” So why not? Let’s go for it and see what happens.”

Arriving at Camp…

I arrived at camp on June 3rd. The weather was decent and the ride wasn’t too long. But I distinctly remember two things. First, the realization that there is a lot of nature at Redwood Camp and the Redwood trees are much larger in person than I imagined. And secondly, there was something oddly depressing about the accuracy of the title, “Craft Shack” – the spider webs hanging about and dead flies as though a cleaning rag had never been dedicated to the shack’s service – and something not too comforting with leaving my bags inside. But perhaps this was just the surface of my deeper concerns – can I really call Redwood my home?

Soon I was greeted by fellow staff. I can’t recall their names, but I do remember hearing camp names for the first time and throughout the summer. There is that initial shock of knowing “Mr Incredible” isn’t his real name but having to go with it anyways, or the awkwardness of calling someone “Honey,” which is probably more closely inspired by honeysuckle or a sweet additive than a nickname husbands give their wives.

But I do remember my first conversation with Peanut and Ragamuffin about Starwars, Star Trek, and several other movies in the pavilion. It was brief as we were quickly told to place our luggage into to where we would be sleeping.

I took my stuff to my cabin and found three gift bags which indicated I’d have two cabin mates for the week – my friend Peanut and, a late arrival, Rocket. The feeling of entering that cabin alone, for the first time, reminded me of those scenes in the movies where the child is sent off to a boarding school and arrives at his room. There was the same thud as my bags hit middle of the cold floor but instead resounded in that hallowness that doesn’t permit an echo. The cabin was dark, and the webs from the ceiling only indicated what terrors scurry along the floor. I sighed deeply to myself, “This is it”, ensured my bags were zipped and my pillow case tied, and headed back to the meadow.

Once most of us had arrived, Topanga gave us a camp tour.  I can’t say my initial excitement increased…. What jumped into my mind were those scenes where a terror-stricken parent walks into a Chuck-e-Cheese for the first time and greeted by a staff that couldn’t have been sustained by anything else than soda, pizza, and energy that is the offspring of something wrong in the head. I remember crying to myself, “If all the staff is like this, I won’t survive long.” What I do remember quite distinctly was that the men’s bathroom smelled like some disease. I can’t say it improved much over the summer, but it was enough to make you want to gouge out your own eyes.

At this point, my memories and journal begin to become jumbled – I remember and wrote down events, but not necessarily in order. So pardon me if a careful reader finds several severe errors, what happened is true, but perhaps not the order they are found.

“Find a Freak”. We were informed that Santa Cruz has many freaks, but we must find the correct ones (the staff were going to be dressed up along Pacific Avenue). I knew I’d get along with the camp director. I laughed, knowing that at least one other person had a sarcastically saturated and egotistically imbued sense of humor: To be willing to laugh at yourself and at others almost indiscriminately. I also remember meeting Kuya and Meadow for the first time. Not only were they in my group, but I remember talking to Kuya along the way about some of his life troubles, life perspectives, and some of his philosophy of how he bridged the two. Meadow spoke to me along Pacific Avenue about college life, answering hard questions, and what our future life would be like after we tried to find our third freak.

Rocket becoming quite sick. I remember listening to him cough well into the night and thinking, “Oh man, that has to suck so bad.” He ended up feeling so bad about, despite Peanut’s and myself constantly telling him to not worry about it (Actually, my greatest concern was changing my sleep schedule from 2am back to 11pm).

First counselor meeting. I remember standing in the main rec room, just across from the dining hall, after we were told to find a counselor, get to know him, and share that information to the other. From across the room I made a quick, and I ensure it was no more than momentary, eye contact with Tank. I knew instantly he would come over and be my partner… And he did. He introduced himself and I found out that his camp name wasn’t inspired by neither a military vehicle nor a container of some sort but from a sort of contraction of his last name – having a somewhat enjoyment in hearing unique and elegant last names, I was glad to find this one in possession of both.

Bats and Apples. Our male counseling staff took the the male counselors down to the meadow for “some fun game.” Obviously, we all knew that contextualizing a “game” and “fun” meant it would be utterly something else that required a bold-faced lie to get us to actually come down. And it was somewhat true, but in a good way. We were all given apples and told to write down the one thing we’ve been struggling with, something that we believe doesn’t allow us to fit-in, wouldn’t allow us to counsel to the fullness of our ability, anything as Christians we were holding onto and unwilling to let go. After we finished, they all gave us bats (or tennis rackets) and told us to explain what we wrote on our apples, and then hit the apple like a baseball, asking God to forgive and to allow us to smash what we were holding onto. All the touching moments were periodically interrupted by how bad of baseball players we actually were.

By midweek I developed a classification for spiders:

  • Spider-mites: These were the spiders that you didn’t know were spiders until you looked at them really close. Is it a fly? Is it a flea? No, it’s a little spider-might.
  • Jackals: These ones were the non-jumping spiders that somehow learned how to jump if you came too close to them. They were fairly harmless, but their presence preceded their reputation as some flying object approached your face.
  • Widow-Maker: These were the decent sized spiders that were roughly the size of a common black widow. You could still step on them, if firmly pressed into a corner with no escape or during a hostage crises.
  • Corvette Class: Wolf spiders. Fast. Big. Hairy. Gross. These ones you just picked up your stuff, dust off your shorts, and pretended you didn’t see it and hope it didn’t see you.
  • Camp-Ending Spider: This was the one that it’s mere existence haunted your dreams. They were about the size of a small child. The most horrifying encounter I had was with one on the bathroom wall, just before I entered into the shower. It was fifteen or so feet away, but when I got out, it was gone…. Little did anyone know, I kept my stuff packed for all of week zero knowing that if I woke up with such a tarantula on my sleeping bag, I was ubering my way back to Sacramento. Peanut and Rocket thought I was joking… No, it was definitely real, every night felt like it could have been the last.

Tri-Group meal. I think the only thing that matched my disinterest in speaking to more people I didn’t know was the awkwardness that ensued. But, looking back, I was glad to know that my feelings were greeted, not in word, but in deed. Everywhere I glanced about the room, I could spot fellow redwood counselors, many alone in a new group, popping their heads up about the dinning room in a silent but desperate plea for help… for someone. I was fortunate enough to be in a tri-group with our male counselor lead. One thing I do remember is my male counselor lead insisting that I did not work for him but worked along side him. I had mentioned it over the table and he simply replied, “No.” I looked at him, knowing I was right and knew his responsibilities. So I said it again, maintaining eye contact, and he replied again, “No.” And so I invited him to describe his job to me, which he gladly said, “I’m the male counselor lead which means I work along side my counselors to make sure they’re okay.” Fine. You win.

Ice Cream Night. They say that our memories are more often tied to our senses than to our ponderings. One night, we were given a small, make-shift ice cream social on at the edge of the craft shack. I don’t even recall the name of the ice cream (many swore by it, but it didn’t affect me the same), but it was in that moment, for the first time, I realized that this was it. This was the group of people I was meant to be with.

Beach day. On our last day before our first wave of children would arrive, we headed down to panther beach (I hope that was the name, it had a small cover which connected to an adjoining beach via a cave. There was also a pathway to the top of a large cliff with a memorial to a son who had fallen off). We played ultimate frisbee, spike ball, football, almost pegged a few bystanders (we actually knocked a case of beer out of one man’s hand, but he took it all in good fun). We also watched and laugh at Topenga’s “joy dance”. I’m not sure what she was happy about, but it definitely made it quite fun.

When we ended our time there, I remember making the climb back up to the tracks, turning around, seeing the sunset, and thinking, “Tomorrow, our lives will be utterly shaken to the core; chaos will come by force. And the team bonding we have sworn in our words will be tested in our actions.”… And they were.

Week zero began with shaky hopes but ended with excitement and determination. I was thrown into a group of people that, at the surface, looked all identical in personality and I was a bit of the sore thumb. As one of my later friends asked, “How did you even get here?” But by the end of the week I realized how varied the personalities were, that we were all coming from different lives, with different hopes, with different expectations, but we were all committed in our mission, willing to lean on each other, and, more often than not, laugh at each other.

Things I learned…

Looking back through all the training for that week, there were a few things I learned:

1.) Working together is a must. Find someone, find a project, and work with them to complete it. There’s nothing more effective than coming together with someone and see the project to its end. I spent a good deal of time working on the Victory Circle (VC) background and dock with Mr. Incredible, Stryder, Ragamuffin, Irish, and Kuya.

Mr. Incredible was extraordinarily concerned for safety. He always made sure the workplace was safe (obviously, my handling of the saw wasn’t up to pare, as he quickly left to go grab a tourniquet.). But, in his defense, when I began hanging off a twenty foot ledge, one hand holding a ladder for support, and the other fully extended trying to drill a screw, he said he’d get the camp murse (male-nurse). Stryder was a pleasure to work with. He was very much like myself: if you want me to do what you want, you must explain your plan. None of this, “just do what I say and don’t ask questions.” Raggs had a particular ability to multi-task: this includes painting extraordinarily well while dancing on a ladder. What can I really say about Irish? We were almost complete with our task of building a dock when I asked him to remove one of the footings so I can have it replace with a less rotted one. He flipped the dock, smashed the board clean from the dock, and almost destroyed all of our work – I loved it. Kuya, he’s such a character. Despite continually repeating, “Guys, I’m so glad you’re here because without you this wouldn’t get done,” he is one of the few people that I know who can carry a conversation all by himself while making everyone around him laugh.

2.) The only normal person is the one you haven’t met. I could describe this maxim, but I think experience will imbue this statement with more wisdom and laughter than I could possibly express.

3.) Small talk is important. Coming from a person who despises small talk, I learned how important this was by directly seeing how much other people  reacted. Some people need it, others enjoy it, and few hate it. However, I found that sacrificing what I thought was a waste of time always produced a wonderful opportunity to learn something about the person – the way they laughed, how they expressed themselves, what they enjoyed, etc..

In the coming weeks there are a few things I’m looking forward to:

1.) Reliance. We really don’t know what it means to work alongside another person when your own survival depends upon the duties of other people. When you’re put into a position where you rely or die.

2.) Working with Children. A part of me is excited to do something I’ve never done with a segment of mankind that is often the rich source of material for horror stories.

3.) Separation through adversity. When things become tough, emotional, and exhausting, you’ll see which characteristics are your crutch, that part of yourself you will begin leveraging in every situation. Don’t do it. Don’t focus on the easy things, keep pressing through the difficult ones.


Panther Beach


Training Week (Week 0) Video:


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