Oh, Placerville

Even though my family never moved schools or houses in the time I was growing up on the farm, we did journey our way through several different churches at different stages of my life. The middle school years brought us to the U.C.C. Congregational Church in Yankton because it was time for my confirmation classes to start, and for some reason, I did not want to do that at our then church home. My parents went along with this and we made the change, in plenty of me to, yes, get confirmed, but also to start attending summer church camps at Placerville in the Black Hills of South Dakota.

After my first week spent there as a middle schooler, I was hooked and went every summer (and sometimes back in the fall or winter for youth retreats) from then on all the way through high school. It was a literal across-the-state trip to get to the camp, which almost always involved riding the brown bus with no AC and probably no seat belts as we journeyed from one small town to another to each designated parking lot to pick up more campers along the way. Of course, any Placerville camper will tell you that the most intense part of that ride came in the last 10-15 minutes while winding up, down, and seemingly around and around the old mining road that lead from the highway to the camp grounds themselves; I probably thought we were going to die at least once a summer on that road, it was so narrow and twisty! 

But the road was also worth it because Placerville became a home away from home for me, and to this day remains a place that lives in my heart as a formative and special space for the person I am today and the faith I carry with me in this world. 

At Placerville I made friendships that transcended time and distance and would pick up on a dime when we’d come together for our week of camp the following year (aided by some letter writing back in the day because, honest to goodness, this was before it was commonplace for everyone to have their own email address). I also bonded with mentors and counselors who showed me what it meant to lead with love and grace – lessons I carried with me when I became a counselor myself and was in charge of my own little cabin of Jr./Sr. high girls the summer after my senior year of high school. 

At Placerville I learned to see God in nature. I loved the pine-scented air of the Hills and the extra cold creek water of the little stream that bubbled its way through the camp grounds. I watched squirrels explore the rock outcroppings and trees each morning during our daily outdoor quiet/prayer time. I tested my strength and endurance hiking the Hills (not to mention trust on one particularly scary hike in which we got lost/got a little too close to an approaching thunderstorm). And like those squirrels, I found my joy in climbing those same rocks to settle in for some contemplation and observation of the beautiful world around me, so much so that I had a friend take a picture of me doing it – twice! lol 

Placerville pushed me to share my heart and talents, both in writing and in performance. It also encouraged me to get more active with my church and community at home, which I did through participating in youth group and leading our Sr. High youth through various trips and service projects throughout my years there prior to leaving for college. Camp also was one of the first places where I learned to be a person completely removed from my life at home (even though I would totally ask my friends to send postcards so I would get mail during my week away), which is a life skill all its own. 

Even though it has been over twenty years since I’ve been a camper or a counselor there, I still recognize and give thanks for the connection Placerville gave me to a loving God and the joy that can come from celebrating relationships with spirit, self, and others, especially when surrounded by the majesty of nature. 

*Post 6/52


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