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Connections & Reconnections

Updated: Jul 12, 2022

Being part of making things happen at The Mountain is a wonderful opportunity. In addition to various projects in which we are all engaged, sometimes amazing spontaneous events occur. It is these times when we are reminded why so many people refer to The Mountain as “a magical place.”


Recently, two sisters came for a personal retreat at the same time a UU minister came on retreat. As Mountain stories were told, what they shared was so inspiring we wanted to share with our Mountain community. So many of us have a strong connections with people met at The Mountain as well as s strong connection with The Mountain as a special entity. These connections enrich our lives.


Connection is the energy that exists between people when they feel seen, heard, and valued; when they can give and receive without judgment; and when they derive sustenance and strength from the relationship. ~~Brené Brown


Left to Right: Liz, Leah and Erin - Campers Reconnecting

Rev. Liz Weber

Liz in 1996 - (top row, second from left)

I was a MountainCamp camper in middle and high school back in the 90s. I carry the songs, the land and trees, and the memories from that time in my heart. I came back for a personal retreat because I felt homesick. I missed the view.


The view from Meditation Rock was as breathtaking as I remembered.

Being back made my heart soar.


But the warmth from current staff and counselors was what reminded me that I am always welcome. And a surprise meetup with other camp alumni led to more reminiscing, a reconnection with the roots that have made me who I am.


I remember the unexplainable magic of camp: The sense of being with kindred spirits when we circled up at vespers. Adventures rock climbing and white-water rafting. Morning Circle songs, both silly and sappy.


I remember milestones of growing up: Nods of affirmation when I came out as Queer on the first day of camp, the first time I had come out to anyone ever. Extra hugs and encouragement the year I was struggling with depression. Celebration when I got up the nerve to ask someone cute to dance a slow dance.


I remember inklings of my professional calling: Claiming my strengths at Leadership School for Social Justice, a camp program that launched me into district and national youth roles. Learning to craft worship, a big part of my life now as a Unitarian Universalist minister, by planning vespers with my cabin.


In these ways and so many more, the Mountain is in my heart and made me who I am. It was and is a place of unconditional love – and of being gently pushed to grow. Being back was like a homecoming. I can’t wait for next time. I hope you get to be back soon, too.


 

Leah Thompson

Leah in 1996 - (top row middle)

My first visit to The Mountain was in 1986 or 1987 as an 8 or 9 year old joining my family for Lobsterfest, a weekend retreat with our congregation. My memories are a little fuzzy about this particular weekend, and the handful of other weekends spent there when I was young, but I remember spending the evenings hanging out with adults in the old Lodge Great Room, the best pancakes I had ever eaten (thanks Richard Arends!), searching for garnets in front of the Tower, and one magical April 9th when I was there and it snowed on my birthday, an impossible dream for a kid living in the Atlanta suburbs.


In 1988, my younger sister and I went to our first session of MountainCamp. I remember bunk beds, thinking my counselors were so very amazing, and trying to sing ALL of the morning circle songs for my parents on the drive home.


Through middle school and into high school I began to go to MountainCamp regularly. I enjoyed those sessions immensely. As I got older, I began to form very strong relationships with other campers that stayed strong throughout the rest of the year through letters, phone calls, and the occasional visit to one another. In my late teens, The Mountain became my safe place. It was a place where I felt I could comfortably be myself, but also be pushed to be better. I remember trying things that seemed scary, like overnight hikes and rock climbing, but feeling secure and trusting the adults would take care of me. I also remember being challenged to question my perceptions of gender, race, representation, and privilege. Those were scarier than the outdoor adventures and had a lasting impact. Being trusted to handle these topics as an adolescent and having adults around who calmly offered resistance to what I thought I knew was an invaluable gift.


I was a camp counselor for two summers. These experiences were challenging in new ways. I had never experienced being “on” for days at a time and I took the responsibility of caring for the campers very seriously. It was important to me that they saw the same magic that I did as a camper. It was also important that they felt pushed and challenged to learn and grow. The year round and summer leadership teams I worked with during those years were the reason I felt capable of such a big task.


Spending the weekend at The Mountain in June gave me a chance to reflect a great deal on how my experiences as a young person in this intentional community shaped the adult that I am. The foundation of my conflict resolution skills come from The Mountain. Learning how to use I statements and how to be an active listener serve me on a regular basis and I first practiced those skills as a child in nightly Family Council meetings with my cabins. I also learned how to question my beliefs. I was challenged by older mentors to evaluate how I viewed social justice. I thought I was so very informed about issues of gender, race, representation, and privilege as an adolescent. I had uncomfortable conversations at The Mountain about these subjects and was resistant to changing my mindset. It wasn’t until years later that I understood how beneficial being challenged on these topics as a child informed my approach to them now. Another gift from my time at The Mountain is an appreciation of play. I think this is especially valuable for young people now. Our culture is very outcome focused for children. Particularly for teens, there is a tremendous pressure put on how something will serve them in their careers. The most blissful experiences I had at The Mountain were pure play - singing songs with my friends at morning circle, dressing up in silly outfits with my cabin mates, laughing at ridiculous coffee house skits, and dancing my heart out during the dances. I am so grateful that I experienced these things, and I am so grateful that The Mountain is still there for other kids to have similar opportunities.


 

The Mountain and The Mountain Endowment Fund ~~ Erin Thompson

Erin in 1996 - (middle row, right)

My relationship with The Mountain started when I was four years old and my parents took me along for Lobsterfest weekend. Our UU congregation took many trips there for Oktoberfest and weekend retreats. I started attending MountainCamp when I was 6 years old, then weekend CONs. I kept up with camp and CONs as long as I was old enough to attend, then I worked as a camp counselor, where I met my husband Benjy. (Benjy also attended MountainCamp since the age of 8, but we were a few years apart.) Benjy and I had our wedding at The Mountain in 2005. Five years later, I started volunteering at The Mountain seasonally, then joined the Board of Trustees, where I served for 6 years. Two years ago, at the age of 39, I joined the Endowment Board.

MountainCamp gave me the best summers of my life! It felt like such a safe place for me, compared to the judgmental popularity contests that are so present in school. MountainCamp also provided opportunities to step outside of my comfort zone and really develop into a confident young adult. We gained life-long values, skills AND it was just plain FUN!!! I would come home each summer talking about it non-stop. My most memorable summer started with 5 weeks as an ASCENDER, two weeks as a Senior High camper, then a week of Leadership School.


Benjy and I consider our combined 22 years of MountainCamp to be the biggest positive influence on our adult lives, and we feel incredibly fortunate to have had the formative experiences and awesome memories. As a teenager, I never imagined myself as a leader, but it seems the skills and experiences I gained from growing up at The Mountain have pointed me in that direction in my professional career. Specifically, the Mountain values of leading with compassion, celebrating diverse viewpoints and communicating with respect have carried me far in life. I continue to grow personally, even in my adult years, with my last 10 years volunteering with The Mountain. I've learned more from my fellow board members than I could have imagined learning in my professional career.

Even though my years of MountainCamp are long gone, I still get a surprising amount of excitement every time we drive up The Mountain road. The fresh air, the beauty of the ancient oak trees and the smell of rhododendron never fails to give me a sense of peace and relaxation that I can't find anywhere else. And I still get that MountainCamp excitement about old friends I'll get to see and new friends I'll get to meet. Most recently, I had the pleasure of taking my sister Leah to The Mountain for a sister weekend together. Leah also grew up with many of the same MountainCamp experiences as me, just a few years ahead of me, but she'd not been to The Mountain since my wedding, almost 17 years ago. We had a wonderful couple of days spending rare quality time, just the two of us, and also enjoyed reminiscing about all of our Mountain memories.


It didn't occur to me until after the visit was over, that despite many combined years of memories at The Mountain, this was probably the most time Leah and I had actually spent together at this special place we have both been so influenced by. The icing on the cake of Leah’s and my trip to The Mountain last weekend, was running into another former MountainCamper from our age-group, Liz. Leah and I both immediately recognized Liz's face and knew that we'd at least spent some time together as youth, but couldn't put our finger on exact memories. Liz exudes kindness, openness and a gentle calm. After looking through some old camp photos together, we found the summers we would have overlapped, and turns out, Liz was one of my campers my first year as a counselor! What a cool opportunity to meet her again so many years later.



Erin, (top right) counselor, and Liz (bottom right) camper.

Although Benjy and I have chosen not to have children of our own, we feel very strongly that this world will be a better place, for each child that gets to have a summer at MountainCamp. We contribute financially to The Mountain because we want as many children as possible to get The MountainCamp experience. We also contribute to the Endowment Fund because we can't bear the thought of a world without The Mountain. The Endowment Fund is a way for our donation to be invested to generate more income, to make sure our donation is used in a sustainable (long-term) way, and to make sure our money goes to something we care about when we are gone.

We give to The Mountain today, so it is here tomorrow. We give to the Mountain Endowment fund so The Mountain is here forever.


 




Rev. Liz Weber

The Mountain: a Spirituality of Place


6/22/2022


I knew this mountain from about the time I knew the prairie. Not before I knew fields, which are just prairie put to human use – hay and corn, soybeans and berries. And not before I knew streams – those wasters of shale and trilobites, crawdads and minnows. But from the time I really knew the prairie, planted her after the burn, sowing my soul into that land as I sowed sunflowers and tall grass, black-eyed Susans and cone flowers.


It was then, too, that I found the Mountain. This was my first mountain, the first that felt right, anyway. Not just big or beautiful, but a home for my soul.


These mountains, with high and clear ridges, yes, but also with rolling hills that spread like roots into valleys. With mica and laurels and ancient, ancient oaks.


This mountain, The Mountain. We fit. My heart sings here. She welcomes my spirit to rest and to play. The Mountain reminds me to slow down, to allow spaciousness and gentleness and so much joy. To soak in all of the beauty, wherever I find it (which is everywhere). She reminds me to say yes to myself, to follow my desires, and to simply be. She reminds me that I am sacred, that I am precious, just as I am.



As Annie Dillard says, “You can heave your spirit into a mountain, and the mountain will keep it, folded, and not throw it back at you as some creeks will.”


And as we sang, “Listen, listen, listen to my heart song. I will never forget you, I will never forsake you.”


Sheltered, nestled, nested.

Expansive, flying, free.


The Mountain says I can always come home.

 

Message from the Executive Director, Steph Anderson


When I first came to The Mountain in February of this year, I told everyone I wanted to hear their stories so I could better understand the history and memories of this place. Every week, sometimes every day, I meet people and continue to hear the amazing stories and connections that The Mountain has given them.


These experiences from all of you enforce my resolve to keep working hard to ensure this place continues on for a long time and continues to make a difference in so many lives. I am really beginning to “feel” what this Mountain means to all you. Thank you for filling up my heart with the love you all have for The Mountain.

 

A view of Monkey Face at sunset, where each of them learned rock climbing.

We are all storytellers. We all live in a network of stories. There isn’t a stronger connection


between people than storytelling. ~~Jimmy Neil Smith



Each of us has a Mountain story. How have your experiences in this special place impacted your life? We look forward to you returning to The Mountain for a program or personal retreat. Please share your story with us as you continue to build Mountain memories, as you reconnect with Mountain friends, and develop new connections.




 

Camp is in full swing right now, and we feel so inspired by the stories and memories so many people get to build here. Look at what campers have been up to this year!




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