environment / photos

The Littlest Tree Huggers

In my teenage years, I was a camp counselor. It made for glorious summers, up in the hills above the beach town of Capitola, California.

With the backdrop of an old logging town, we spent cool foggy mornings doing pottery, crafts, riding horses, swimming. By lunch time the sun would break through the fog, reminding us that it was in fact summer and we were in truth in California. And the activities continued, some in the hot sun, some under the branches of a forest of redwood trees.


As counselors, we were responsible for a cabin of eight kids. This was the quintessential sleep away camp, four sets of bunk beds nestled in wooden cabins with corrugated tin roofs. The sounds of these cabins still ring in my ears, the crows hopping on the roof, twigs and pine cones dropping from trees, the sound of the drops of dewy fog dripping on the metal. The cabin doors screeched on springs before they shut, making a loud hollow thump as the door met the frame.

Once a week, all of the cabins headed out to sleep in the woods. We called this “Outpost,” an event that had its own song, which we all sang as we marched out with provisions for the night, and began setting up for the evening. Without tents, the little ones slept under those big trees, woke up with dampened hair, and played all day in the streams and hillside. Dinner was cooked over the open fire, and then s’mores were made, with the accompanying Hershey bar undoubtedly being the most discussed delicacy after a week of no candy.

 The next morning, after pancakes were made over the same fire, many cabins would clean up and hike to the giant redwood tree, to see it’s massive size. The hike wasn’t easy, but the most anticipated moment was when the campers, holding hands, would see how many children it would take to circle the tree. You needed more than one cabin to do this. If they were the younger smaller children, they sometimes needed three cabins to close the loop.

 And so, hand in hand, standing in silence and awe, the children would create a chain around the old giant. They’d count out their numbers, amazed at it’s size, measured in humans. My favorite memories are of the times when there were just enough children to make the circle, and so they stood, hand in hand, so close to the tree that they were each hugging it, pressing their cheeks to the bark, as close as they could get to nature.