I Was Wrong. THIS is Paradise.

I’ve spent the past few days coming down off a spiritual and emotional high and trying to figure out how to describe our week at Sheltering Branch Baha’i School. I still haven’t quite figured it out. But I have a policy to write about my life honestly and openly (it’s not actually a policy, it’s just what I do), so I’ll just start writing and see what comes out.

Havarti and I met at Sheltering Branch when we were kids, maybe 7 or 8 years old. It’s a week-long Baha’i family summer school that’s been going for something like 40 years. It’s held at a facility in the Blue Mountains, which includes rustic cabins with bunks, a log-cabin-style rec hall, a mess hall, an indoor pool, and some rarely-used tennis courts. The bathrooms have improved greatly since we were kids, though they’re still nothing fancy. We both have many fond memories from here. It’s as close to a “home” for us as any place. So there’s that.

Every time we go, it’s a different mix of people. There are staple families who go every year, some who go when they can (like us), and there are always plenty of newcomers as well. This year the numbers were a bit low, partially because of the horrible weather forecast, so it was cozy and family-like. (And there were no long lines in the mess hall, which I have to admit was nice.)

A long-timer from WA visiting with a newcomer from China. 

Speaking of the mess hall, the food is fantastic. They even accommodated everyone’s gluten and dairy issues. Tad, the main kitchen guy, has been cooking and serving the food at Sheltering Branch ever since I can remember. I can’t remember a day at camp without Tad asking, “Want some bacon?” at breakfast. I don’t know how he does it. It’s an enormous sacrifice, getting up early to make breakfast, missing most classes and devotions, constantly preparing food and cleaning up. Maybe it’s because I hate to cook, but I admire the service those kitchen folk offer so much.

Everyone serves at camp in one way or another. Havarti and I taught a class of 4th-5th graders, and I can say without hesitation that it was the best group of kids I’ve ever taught. They were almost Stepford kids, except that they were totally awesome. There were eight of them, and they’d all gather together before the start bell even rang, playing some game like hot potato all on their own. During class, they were so engaged, asking questions, sharing thoughts – it was everything you’d want in a class as a teacher. And when the snack bell rang, they often kept right on doing their class activities. I just wanted to wrap them all up and take them home with me.

Our class focused on some of the main principles of the Baha’i Faith that ‘Abdu’l-Baha shared with people when he came to the West in 1912. Here are some of the posters the kids made:

Investigate Truth for Yourself
Elimination of Prejudice (That’s a racist man falling into a pit of lava. A bit brutal, but a clear visual symbol. :))
Oneness of God and Harmony of Science and Religion

Unity of Mankind and Equality of Men and Women
Here are some of them making Lego and clay symbols for each principle. They’re so creative. 🙂

(I have to apologize for the quality of the photos. My camera is totally on the fritz, so I don’t have many photos from camp at all. And what I do have are mostly from my phone. Sad.)

The only thing I don’t like about teaching a class is having to miss one of the adult classes. I love being a student. We have three class periods a day, two in the morning and one in the afternoon. This year one of our adult teachers was Bob Wilson. He happens to be Rainn Wilson’s dad (you can probably see the resemblance) and is married to a woman who was like a second mom to Havarti growing up. So that was cool. Awesome guy. Great stories. So fun to get to know him a bit.

The other adult class we got to participate in was also really cool. We discussed the difference between certitude and certainty, which is pretty intriguing (especially for a word nerd like me, who positively lives for such distinctions). We also explored how people approach science and religion and how the two relate. Very, very interesting.

But the best part of camp is always the music. There’s a rich sing-along tradition at Sheltering Branch, and every year I’m amazed at the talent of so many musicians.

BoyWonder with his songbook and awkward camera-smile.

We gather for devotions twice a day, and EVERYONE sings. The kids literally raced for the rec hall when the devotion bell rang. This year there was a group of boisterous male youth, and they would belt out the songs at the top of their lungs, even harmonizing certain parts (I’m telling you, talent!). So much singing. So much fun. So much joy and love. [Sigh]

The last two days of camp, I had a hard time keeping it together. Even writing about it now, I’m getting a little teary. Spending a week away from the distractions of daily living with people who share the same vision of one world, talking about how to build the Kingdom of God on Earth, consulting about ways to improve our communities and foster unity, all while sharing laughter and joy and prayer and stories and encouragement . . . there’s just nothing like it. Nothing.

Okay, a quick photo break while I compose myself again:
Enjoying a little late afternoon shade, trying to recover from the heat of the day.

I think BoyWonder spent about 80% of his time in this kiddie pool.

The Muse’s unbelievably fabulous junior youth teachers, Tom and Lynn. I got to hear their whole love story, which was completely awesome and actually has many similarities to mine and Havarti’s story (which I shall share with you all in August for our 15th anniversary – stay tuned!). 

The young kids somehow got hold of a bunch of food boxes from the kitchen and a rope and worked together to build a train for Dolittle to pull like a sled dog. It didn’t work (kids are too heavy), but man, was it fun watching them try. 

BoyWonder made some new friends, especially with the older girls at camp. It was so nice having some of the older kids to help keep him from wandering out in to the woods to be eaten by cougars or charged by a moose. 

BoyWonder with his cutie-patootie cousin. So fun to see my brother’s kids, whom we haven’t seen in a few years. My brother and his wife also met at this camp. And actually, my other brother and his wife also met at this camp. So did the couple in the picture with Havarti up there on the blanket. It’s like a Baha’i matchmaking haven. 🙂

I’ve been to lots of Baha’i conferences and such, and I’ve had many amazing experiences at each of them, but this week of living in the woods is something else. It’s like getting a glimpse of what a unified world would feel like. It’s paradise in the truest sense. I talked a lot here in May about Dana Point being paradise, and on a surface level it really is. We’ve seen some breathtakingly beautiful places on this trip so far. But true paradise feels like true love. And this week was so full of love, it broke my heart to leave it. I’m sure many of you have had similar experiences in various settings. It’s hard to describe. It’s just so deeply beautiful.

My friend, Sarah, who is on the Sheltering Branch committee, told me about her first time coming to this camp twelve or so years ago. She came alone with her kids because her husband had to work. After the week was over, she went home and told him, “We are never not going to that camp. I’ll take the kids by myself if I have to, but I am never not going.” And they’ve gone every year since.

That’s exactly how I feel this time. I never want to not go there again.

All I could think about before we went was how hot it was going to be, and now that part of it barely makes an impression. It did get hot. Ugly, nasty, icky, 100 degrees hot. But it cooled down considerably at night, so sleeping in the tent wasn’t an issue at all. And the junior youth class made a service project out of bringing ice-cold washcloths and water bottles to the adult classes, which was GENIUS. Seriously. We owe those kids forever.

So, that’s it. My heart and soul got all filled up to overflowing, and now coming back to normal everyday life (well, as normal and everyday as our life is right now) is odd and a bit disorienting. But it’s okay. This is where we are. We’re getting settled for now. It’s all good.

And Seattle in July is VERY good. More to come on our new temporary home soon.

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Annie writes about life, motherhood, world issues, beautiful places, and anything else that tickles her brain. On good days, she enjoys juggling life with her husband and homeschooling her children. On bad days, she binges on chocolate chips and dreams of traveling the world alone.

Comments 2

  1. Great blog Annie 🙂 Missing it more than ever. Taraneh are talking about planning for next year. You just put the nail in the coffin 🙂 So glad it lived up to it’s memories.

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