martes, 5 de agosto de 2014

I Miss Lark Camp, the Music – the Music...

So a series of events has kept me away from my normal summer-camp sojourn, a most welcome escape from the city starting with a ride up twisty mountains roads to Mendocino, then a turn onto Little Lake Road and into the Jackson State Forest to Lark Music Camp, where I’m immersed in a full week of music in the redwoods.  

(Above, Steve, Alec & Mitch, ready for the after-dance rush in 2009.)

Nestled within Jackson State Forest is the area of the Mendocino Woodlands – a WPA project built  during the Great Depression – comprising three separate campgrounds complete with cabins, eating & meeting lodges, and tent camping areas.

(At left, 2008's stripey canopy, and look at Mitch's beauteous butterflies... definitely the best-looking C2CH of all time!  And yah, this is really a lark week here at the green tiger lounge...)

The cabins are rustic, most with stone fireplaces, bare wood floors, tiny closets and metal-frame spring beds with thin mattresses covered in oilcloth.  Getting anywhere in camp requires a good deal of walking, most of it on uneven ground, often using switchbacks to scale seventy or more feet of elevation between places.

(At right, Lawwy on the night shift in 2006 - after shredding 4 pounds of ginger, midweek fatigue begins to show...)

 A stream runs through the valley, wending its way among second- and third-growth redwood trees, many arranged in ‘fairy rings.’  The fairy rings are actually new growth of trees springing out of the radiating roots of trees that have been cut down.  All along the seven-mile tortuous road leading from the end of Little Lake Road to the Woodlands, fallen trees and burned-out stumps (some eight or ten feet high, most about that diameter as well) line the forest on either side of the road.

The forest is beautiful, despite a covering of dust all over all the trees & ferns & undergrowth lining the roads.  The dust comes from the road, churned up by cars – the cars that run that road all summer long, as week by week the camps fill and empty when the campers come and go.  All kinds of camps rent space at the Woodlands – family camps, church camps, youth camps, music and dance camps.   

 (At right, Hakim, Vytas & DB in 2007. Vytas really wasn't as pissed off as he looks [probably just annoyed at losing the rhodopsin in his eyes]... The other two goofballs just couldn't see for ten minutes or so, blind as opossums [which is ok, because Hakim & DB are/were members of the Opossum Clan].  Can you tell I'm missing Lark?)

The family camps are few, since there aren’t that many families who mount summertime rendezvous of 100-500 people.  Most of the other camps are pretty ordinary, but the music camps are best.

(Below, A big parking lot jam in 2009, with Crystal standing at left & Lori center in group at right...)

Mickie Zekley, captain of a cohort of loyal musician/volunteers, hosts the week-long Lark Camp, which occupies all three of the Woodlands’ camps to play temporary home to about 800 campers, and a bus runs twice an hour from one camp to the other taking campers to music classes and jams.

I’ve been going to Lark off and on since the 80s, when I discovered a great escape in the redwood forest filled with music from scores of cultures.  Any kind of music you can think of is played there at all hours (well, mostly no rock ‘n’ roll, nor rap, by choice of the campers), and a short walk will take you through many distinct paradigms:  Irish folk, Balkan bagpipes, Andean flute, Western Swing, jazz, bop & hard bop, Greek dance, Turkish, Egyptian, classical, American folk, etc.  

Over there a very funny raconteur plays 300-year-old French tunes.  And a little way beyond is a wacky Armenian American jamming on accordion with some Tunisians playing old tribal music.  A dance class down by the creek shakes the dust from a stage built in a few hours by that cohort of volunteers, and a jazz band is cooking in a rehearsal at the striped pavilion for the swing dance on Friday night.

(At right, The Kids, 2009 - it's crazy love you know for Rosie & Jed...  That's Sarah in the middle...)

And in front of the coffeehouse – an impromptu service counter set up under a tent at the far end of the parking lot which is used all during camp as an outdoor dining area, flea market and gathering place – a fire in a metal firepit warms a group of guitarists having a little jam.  The coffeehouse staff buzzes about, keeping the coffee brewing & the goodies coming... an expertly-run bakery in Camp 3 turns out excellent baked goods at a fraction of the price you'll pay down in town - or anywhere else. 

 (At left, in a daytime concert, Eric Hoffman in a cool faux-mudcloth hat! 2009)

That coffeehouse was for years my domain.  I managed Camp Two Coffeehouse, also known as C2CH and called by many the best of the three simultaneous versions of the Inn of the Mullah Nasrudin’s Donkey.  I ran the joint like it was my own.  Which, in a way, it was.  

(At right, Nancita Abuelita relaxes before an evening of playing music, 2009 [note freshly-washed hair...])

But the dust did me in.  The dust ended my carefree camp days.  That dust on the road – the stuff boiled up from the tires of hundreds of cars – contains spores from the bark of the redwood trees.  And amid all the things I am not allergic to, among the very few things I am allergic to, those spores are the most virulent.   

I was fine for years – I guess my youth and naturally tough constitution helped me out.  But then I started getting sick after camp.  For several years, my week in the redwoods confined me to three weeks in bed once I got home.  I suffered through terrible bronchial attacks that kept me from any sort of healing sleep and tortured me almost to the point of regretting my time at Lark.  Almost.  

(At left, Captain Slanty & Bonnie Barnum during the Scavenger Hunt held for the Sea Shanties Workshop, 2007)

But not quite.  I missed camp in 2010, when I was living in Greece. I’d been sick the year before that, quite badly.  And the year before that.  And the year before that one.  So when I came back to camp in 2011, I tried going for just four days.  That four days was not enough to let the spores get into my lungs with any strength, and I’ve been making that curtailed journey into the forest ever since… until now.

(At right, Sarah shows off her fine crocheted hats during the flea market, 2009...)

 Now I’m missing camp for the first time since Greece.  And my life this year has evoked much more of a need in me to go to camp – but unfortunately events conspired to keep me in Los Angeles (adding insult to injury).  So I pulled out some pictures and started posting them on Facebuchenwald.  And they got a lot of notice, much of it from other would-be Larkers who are stuck away from their preferred summer rendezvous.  And that got me thinking.  

(At left, a leisurely dinner in the Camp Two lot, 2013...)

 So I brought those pictures over here. Here, where I could tell more of a story than merely giving a gallery of pictures with some cute captions.  Where I might be able to find a way to say why & how I miss Lark.  

I miss seeing my friends.  I miss the smell of woodsmoke all around at camp and then in my clothes when I take them to launder after camp, back home where Lark is hundreds of miles and a whole lifestyle or two away.  

(Above, C2CH Manager Lori is delighted by it all, 2007)

I miss the coffeehouse, troublesome gamin that she can be, meting out lessons & rewards in a seemingly haphazard way, but always leaving the attentive observer with the gift of wisdom.

I miss the sounds day & night – of music floating on the breezes coming through the trees, of songs sung for centuries in scores of languages, telling stories, recounting romances and heroic deeds and country humor.  

(At left, Steve & Sam the NASA Man prepare for the evening rush, 2007...)

I miss the dueling marching bands, each coming from a different direction, each playing beautiful ancient songs from far-off places, coming this close to clashing as they try to drown each other out –  then the sudden shift as both entire groups play first the one song, then the other.  

 I miss seeing strangers sitting down to play together, people who many times cannot communicate in words because they don’t speak each other’s language, but who can and do communicate beautifully in the music.   
 (At right, James takes time out of being lost to offer cookies all around, 2009)

In the music is the history of our people – all our peoples.  In the music is stored our aspirations, our loves and our dreams, the ties of family and of loyalty, the emotions and intentions that make us human, that raise our spirits and give us our power, that send us into flights of hope and longing, that temper our hot blood and soothe us in our fatigue & sorrow.

And I miss how, in the late chill of the night, the sound of sweet musical notes comes faintly wafting like a melody woven only of smoke or fog, a welcoming, the music reminding you of home, as a curtain lifted by a breeze might reveal the warm glow of a fire on the hearth within to the traveler returning after a long journey…

(At left, Hakim demonstrates a well-tied Magic Headwrap, 2013...)

I miss Lark.

We never close.  Last call!
And I know that I shall make a return next year, that I shall see many of those good friends in the months between now and then, that I can always make contact (virtual & otherwise) – and all that will assuage my homesickness as time goes on, but it does little for the hiraeth, the sensucht that gnaws at me now.

I really do miss Lark.  Really.

(Artwork at left copyright 2014 Geonni Gray Banner - thanks, G!)


David Hakim is an internationally-published journalist and award-winning author who has run several newspapers – and recently received a commendation for his short story That Man in the London Aesthetica Competition.  He can be reached at dhakim at earthlink dot net

 © 2014 Hakim - ALL RIGHTS RESERVED: use without profit allowed only with author’s express written permission. Please don't make me wake up my attorney. Please.