I grew up going to a church camp called Camp Cazadero. The first time I attended was in 1982, the summer before I entered 5th Grade. It was marvelous. To get there, you had to drive to Sonoma County, along a two lane road that headed toward the coast, but just before you hit the Pacific, you turned right and headed up into the coastal hills, through stands of redwoods, up, up, up, along a winding road that got narrower and narrower and dustier and dustier. Finally, rounding the final bend, you caught a glimpse of the Camp Cazadero sign with letters made out of twigs. That camp was a rustic oasis in as remote a place as you could find along the California coast.
The best part of camp was the people. We came from all over Northern California, from cities and small towns. This was the 80’s and there were still plenty of young people attending mainline Protestant churches with their families. We didn’t have many other things to do during the summer. This was our parents’ chance to have a week without us, and it was our chance to practice living in a community other than our immediate family. The counselors were mostly people in their 20’s and 30’s, which made us youngins feel like we’d graduated into the adult world for 7 days. It didn’t take long to make friends in that setting. To this day, I can name 20 or 30 people whom I’ve known for most of my life that I met at that camp.
One of my closest friends is Joe. We met at Camp Caz, as it was affectionately called, when we were in high school. He’s one of the funnier people in the world. During the summer before our senior year in high school, Joe and I co-Emcee’d the Thursday night Talent-No-Talent show at camp, but we renamed it TMT, which we decided stood for “Talking about Meatloaf Tonight.” As part of the show, we led a rousing rendition of Rawhide ala the Blues Brothers and staged a water-drinking contest, the result of which was that our bladders (water balloons tucked in our belts) spontaneously exploded.
After graduating high school, being able to counsel at camp was not always a given. Some summers I could make it work and other summers I couldn’t. In 1992, I was in college and about to study abroad in Ecuador. I couldn’t be a counselor – it didn’t work with my schedule. But Joe could do it that year – it was the last summer he did it. He must have missed me being there because he had a bunch of campers – some I had known and some I had not – sign greetings on a large piece of butcher paper. I did not know that this enormous greeting card existed until a couple of weeks ago when I received a thickly stuffed envelope in the mail from Joe.
Camp Cazadero was sold last year. It had been owned by the Northern California Nevada Conference of the United Church of Christ, and had survived precariously for a number of years before the Covid pandemic hit. The late greeting reminded me how important and formative those summer weeks at camp were to me. And how important my friendships are, including with Joe. And how it’s never too late to “clean out the crap in your attic” and follow through on what you said you were going to do. It’ll still make a difference to someone.