When I was in grade school, I spent my first summer at sleepaway camp. A Jewish camp in Honesdale, Pennsylvania, my grandparents were co-owners. Well manicured and tidy, there were little red-and-white bunks and lots of Adirondack chairs. We wore brown and gold uniforms for special events. There was a big gorgeous lake with canoes. Girls’ bunks on one side of the camp, boys’ on the other. Every morning, over the loudspeaker, my grandfather told everyone what to wear that day: short or long pants, sneakers or hard shoes. With the exception of a once-weekly “Arts and Crafts” class, all activities were sports except for Friday night services (where we wore white shirts instead of gold). I think the food was kosher-style.
It wasn’t a good fit.
Here on the other side of 50, I will tell you that I am an Atheist, a vegetarian, an artist, and a writer. My only sport is yoga, and I hate wearing shoes.
Fast forward to the summer of ’76. It was decided a more progressive camp would be more my style, and my grandparents—owners of the camp with the archery and soccer and tennis—were charged with finding me one: Appel Farm Arts and Music Center. That’s me, bottom right. You’ll notice I’m beaming.
Nothing at Appel Farm was manicured or tidy. Our bunks were converted chicken coops, the art building was once a barn. Our lake? Shallow and algae-filled and aptly named Lake Inferior. We had “majors” and “minors” and “workshops” in all things art and music. There were rap sessions and meditation classes. We didn’t have to wear shoes and we did a whole lot of tie dye. The food, while lousy, was “health” food. Once a session there was a junk food meal: a hot dog, potato chips, a Hershey bar for dessert. And there were boys, lots of boys, in bunks very nearby, many of whom played forbidden instruments like the electric guitar and keyboards. Oh my.
I spent five summers there. Appel Farm is where I learned to throw pots, it’s where I learned to write short stories. It’s where I learned to bake bread, and where I finally found people like me. I still cherish them.
You know that Blind Melon video? Awkward little girl, dressed like a bee, tap dancing on a stage as the audience laughs. Little bee girl runs off stage and starts a journey. Walks around, dances some more, then runs and runs and finds a gate in a meadow. Inside the gate? Bees. People of all shapes and sizes, dressed up like bees. She runs in and dances with them. She found her people, she found her bees. On a poorly manicured former chicken farm, where one of our chores was slopping pigs, I found my bees.