This post was originally posted here.
Kaspar M. Wilder, 12, is a published poet, National Latin Exam Gold Medalist, a mythology buff, and all-around science fiction geek. She was diagnosed with Asperger’s, Attention Deficit Disorder, and Generalized Anxiety Disorder while in early elementary school. She recently celebrated her bat mitzvah by leading services at Temple Beth El in her hometown of Portland, Maine.
For the past four summers, Kaspar has been a camper at Ramah Outdoor Adventure (ROA) in the Colorado Rockies. Kaspar has participated in ROA’s Tikvah Program for campers with disabilities, both as a participant in the Amitzim edah (division) for campers with disabilities and, most recently, as part of the camp’s inclusion program.
Ramah Outdoor Adventure has become her second home and, according to her parents, has been a big part of her everyday happiness and success. Kaspar hopes someday to become a member of ROA’s tzevet susim (“horse staff”). Below is her take on life at Ramah Outdoor Adventure.
Four summers. Four summers bursting with the harmony of cycles. Every year, the drive up, and up, and up. That in itself is enough to break some spirits.
But there it is: the homecoming. The cheering, the screaming of names. If you are a returning camper, you are passed around, admired, and soon bear the mark of a hundred dirt-encrusted hugs. Newbies are taken in, enveloped in a new universe that welcomes you with every ventricle of its beating heart.
The first day is a whirlwind. Pick your chugim (electives), be assigned your ohel (tent), unpack, meet new people, write your ohel brit (tent “covenant”), and crash into an unfamiliar bed. Even the hardness of the bunk feels like down pillows after your day. A million new names have overwhelmed your mind: kfar (village), amitzim (“brave”–the name of the division for campers with disabilities), mitbachon (cooking), beezbooz (waste, usually waste of resources).
This is the pattern of life at camp. Up at 6:30. The weight of your bakbuk mayim(water bottle) feels strange? Get used to it. Time to throw yourself into prayer, song, and dance. Some days this feels beautiful, even ecstatic. Other days you are only praying for breakfast.Then you wake up your body, wondering when your mind will catch up. Relax. You are home, in the calming shadow and soon-to-be-warm arms of the Rockies. Then finally breakfast, but it’s over all too soon. Your electives become normal, eventually. Things settle into a rhythm of heart and mind and body and soul. You grow stronger. You make friends. You begin to understand not only the dances at shira (singing activity), but the dance of the earth. You begin to realize why we eat everything we’re given, even those awful sun-nut butter sandwiches. (Be glad. My first year they had something even worse.) Dreams are a rarity. Sleep is essential. So is water. Your stomach hurts? Drink water. You’re dizzy? Drink water. You have a twisted ankle? Drink water. Trust me, do it. It’s not as crazy as it sounds.
Finally, after six days, there comes a soft undertone to this wild rhythm. It swells, overtakes you. Take a deep breath. There’s time for a shower now. The drumming stops. Finally, it is Shabbat.
This is a day that moves to a different song. Hours to yourself, to spend in the village playing cards or reading in one of the numerous hammocks that inevitably pop up. Prayer becomes less of an ordeal, even though you have to do more of it. You get to eat more, and better. It’s time to let your body rest and your soul soar.
Shabbat ends when three stars are in the sky. Havdalah begins. The drumming starts up again, filling your mind, awakening your heart. Another week. Masa week.
My first year at camp, when we were still young and over-simplified things, “masa” was defined for me as “outing.” This invoked, for me, undirtied picnic wear and parasols–even perhaps, since we were at camp, a tent, complete with a blow-up mattress for inside. Psych!
“Masa,” correctly defined, means “journey.” That means rain. That means sleeping on the ground and freezing your eyes out in your pitiful so-called sleeping bag. That means waking up at the crack of dawn to climb that mountain, by God. But it also means triumph. It means beauty. It means camaraderie and strength that will change you, inside and out. It means Ramah. High place (the literal translation of the word “ramah”).
Eventually you must return to the faraway world you once called home. Where showers are daily and machines a common sight. But you are different. You have returned from a high place. So when your friends ask, “You went to the mountains?” your response will be, “Even higher.”
This post is part of a three-part series sponsored by the Ramah Camping Movement. The National Ramah Tikvah Network of programs serves children, teens, and young adults with disabilities. All eight North American Ramah overnight camps offer programming for campers with disabilities. To learn more, click here.