It’s hard to stay inside after a week of living outdoors, swimming in creeks and mountain lakes, making music and dancing, reading, hiking, socializing and, before bed, seeing the Milky Way snaking across the star-spattered sky. That’s my life at Oakland Feather River Camp, where I’ve taught the music program during Garage Band week for the past 5 years.
It’s a low-key family atmosphere, rustic and relaxing. It’s also kid heaven. They get dirty, learn to swim, play ping pong, board games and sardines, and wholly entertain themselves away from electronic devices.
Last year was the first time my kids were old enough that I could leave them and go running on my own, and I did some pretty long ones including a 10-miler to town and back. This year I’m dealing with an IT band injury, so I ran shorter distances, but every day instead of every other day (I started a running streak on June 1 whereby I do at least a mile a day). Some of my runs took me past the spot where I saw a cougar last year (a once-in-a-lifetime sighting), others wound up the hills past pines to manzanita and meadows.
Running here is like being in a train set. The rail lines cut through the mountains and go right past camp. Up until the 1970s, Oaklanders could get on the Zephyr at Jack London Square and ride through the Feather River Canyon directly to camp, where staff would deliver their luggage in big wooden wheel barrows straight from the train to the tent cabins.
Once again, I got a massage from Rivka. Like the two massages she gave me last year, it was blissful and healing. Wow. I felt like Olympic swimmer Dara Torres being attended to by her top-flight sports masseuse — only I was in the woods, lying on a wooden deck, being flattened and kneaded until there wasn’t a knot left in my body.
I also taught salsa aerobics before breakfast, and this year had perhaps my best turnout. Rivka also teaches yoga in the mornings. Classical guitarist Larry Ferrara and bassist Howard Pomerantz co-teach the group music classes with me, and we work up some band tunes to perform at the end of the week. This year I was pleased that I had an entire class of girls for band camp! Girl power!
I can’t forget something very special: Improvising with guitarist Peter. It was one of those impromptu things. There was a performance Wednesday night and I had no intention of getting up to sing, but Howard and Larry asked me to. Suddenly, somehow there I was sitting in a chair with my melodica in hand and a mic, next to Peter as he held down a D drone and began strumming. He was waiting for me but I could hear nothing in my head. “Give me something, somewhere to start,” I asked him and he began plucking the most beautiful, simple melodic line. I held my melodica at the ready but words had already formed in my mouth so I lifted up the mic and began singing. I’d gone for a run earlier that evening and had been trying very hard to be present in the moment while I did it. Now I was singing about the air, the woods, the moon, the stars that say “Hi” … it all came out fully formed, and when the song was done I said to the audience, “I thank God for that moment because it came from up there, through me and out to you!” Afterwards no one could believe we’d just made that up, so after another gorgeous improvisation between Peter and Larry, I got back up and sang another totally improvised song and took a darn good melodica solo. The amazing thing is, we repeated the magic on our Friday night performance, which had additional meaning because one of our beloved campers was going through a difficult time. There may be video of this improv, I’ll report back…
In addition to our music classes, there are arts and crafts, tie-dying, swimming, nature walks with naturalist Joe, disco bingo, swimming at Indian Falls and anywhere along Spanish Creek (which runs through camp), storytelling, and horseback rides offered by the rancher Terry, a longtime partner of OFRC.
And then there’s Quincy. What a lovely town. Five hours Northeast of Oakland via Feather River Canyon or Truckee, this is where the Gold Rush feels like it happened only yesterday.
In years past I’ve taught two weeks and I love it. Two weeks at Feather River feels like two months off the grid. It’s magical.
If you want to experience it for yourself, you don’t have to be from Oakland! There’s nothing more beautiful, picturesque (as my sons put it) and affordable (as I put it) than Oakland Feather River Camp! Family camp continues until August 19. www.featherrivercamp.com