The mornings opened with clouds just about every day this week, but they cleared by the afternoon, giving way to warm sunshine. These are days that teach you, days that show you this world is varied and constantly changing. Days like these encourage you not to put your head down too long. Surely there is something else on the way, something you will want to see or hear.
The long days continued for me in the office this week, especially during the first half. My body was in this phase of low sleep, and I took advantage with late nights, locking down important emails that don’t need to wait any longer. During the day, at a camp, it is tough to depend on any stretch of hours. Visitors come in, and you want to be present with them. Someone is in to work on something that has been out of service for two weeks and you have to help. A staff member got the bug, and a group needs a lifeguard. These are the most pressing parts of camp. The paperwork must wait until everyone is asleep on days like this.
I’ve had Claude Debussy in my mind a lot lately. I really like the piano music from the Romantic Period. I like a lot of different types of music, so I don’t think I could nail down a favorite song, but with a gun to my head, I’d probably say my favorite song is Debussy’s Clair de Lune.
The song is beautiful, but it does a lot more than that for me. I’m fascinated with a lot of history, but for whatever reason the period from about 1890-1920 really sticks in my brain. It was on the verge of modern times. Life was speeding up with railroads and steam power. This time is were we have the first pictures, the first movies. I think of the clothes, the music that played. I imagine the sepia tinted times and what it would have felt like to live in this time with these hints of what we have, what we do now. The music from this time is the backdrop as I imagine it.
Thinking about the past helps me think about the present. I think about how the setting of the past is different than now, but how people were people then just like they are now. They dressed different, their technology was different. But, all those things equal, on a human level, they wanted most of what I want, feel the same way I feel. I imagine they got wrapped up in things just like I do. I imagine they were transfixed by something beautiful. I imagine they fell in love, felt worn down by life, wondered where this world was going, longed for something from the past while wondering what the future might bring.
Allyson and I have a special connection to San Francisco. We were married in the Bay Area. We’ve been back several times. Our best vacation ever was in Frisco. We love the Golden Gate Bridge. Fog makes me feel romantic. Songs about San Francisco seem to be winking at me, knowing something other people don’t know. On the northwestern edge of San Francisco’s peninsula is Cliff House. There has been a Cliff House at this spot for around 150 years. There have been several houses, but the most beautiful incarnation was built in 1896. It survived the 1906 earthquake but burned down the next year. Allyson and I found this magnetic attraction to this house that hasn’t existed in over 100 years. We have pictures of it hanging in our house.
I look at the pictures of people on the beach in their dresses and suits, their top hats. I know this West Coast coastline, what it feels like to step in that cold water. I know the feeling of stepping to this edge of the world, and more than 100 years ago these people in these different clothes, in the shadows of this beautiful house did the same thing, probably had some of the same feelings.
There is some deep longing inside me to be able to step back then and know how what they saw felt different. I want to hear that piano music like it is new. I want to know how they talked different. Overall, I want the same beautiful backdrop–I just want to see all the different shows. I think about this camp I’ve worked at for less than two years. I imagine what Camp Magruder must have been like in 1945 when church members first began leading camps on their Oregon Coast property. I think about the good professor, Dr. Magruder and his ill-fated camping trip on a rainy weekend, when he declared that they would have to build some cabins.
I imagine the music that echoed through Carrier dining hall over the years. The piano music, the sounds of voices singing hymns, silly songs, and camp cheers. I imagine how the clothes have changed over they years, how the musical tastes morphed. Like I imagine Debussy at Cliff House in 1906, I imagine swing and rock and folk and how they speak of their time and how now they help us have a soundtrack to know the people we try to remember.
I think a lot about ghosts when I walk the grounds of places like this. I’m looking for connections everywhere I go. I’m hoping to make my own memories that stick to places, that reoccur to me each time I sit somewhere. At my new camp, I am beginning to find places that speak to me not just now, but from moments past. My moments, moments from the stories I’ve heard.
On Friday, some of the summer staff lead worship in Sherlock Lodge. We read Bible verses spread out across the floor, read references to summer memories, read the names of our staff memories, read the name of God in the center, and held all these in prayer, walking the floor of this historic building together. Out the windows, we could see Smith Lake where campers have swam and boated for decades. I hear stories of this place from people who were at this camp nearly from the beginning.
When the worship finished, several of us, without prompting, went out onto the deck and looked at the lake, the trees and mountains surrounding it, the blue sky full of sunset soaked clouds. We just stood there and looked at it. I felt this strong connection to that view of the lake, a connection that was new in this place. It was refreshing to have that feeling, to know that this place is sinking into me.
I went inside to find Melia playing music on the old grand piano of Sherlock’s grand room. She began to play Clair de Lune, and I felt this great exhale come over me. I was exhausted, and my body was in the mode of readiness to keep moving on and on. But, this moment told me to relax, to slow down, to soak this in as long as possible. I look out the window, leaning in on the cabinet top, at those beautiful green mountains and that beautiful blue water as the beautiful notes came from the strings of the piano. How many people over these hundreds years have dreamed to that melody? I imagine as many of them as I can. I try to feel all the ways they stood in awe of this stage, this backdrop. I will try to hold onto this one for myself.
I told Melia, “thank you,” not sure I had clarified very well what I was offering gratitude for, but not have confidence I could explain it. I was grateful for the music, the talent, the willingness to play, the views from this place I live, the history that put all this here, the stories, the things I imagine, the pictures, the sepia, the ways they pull me closer, begging me to fall in love with more and more, even if it is beyond me.