Every festival we include a piece of writing from someone in our community about what Shakori Hills means to them. This fall, we want to thank Elaine Atwell for her beautiful thoughts on growing up at Shakori Hills…
You mark the age of a child in birthday candles, in drawings on the fridge, and for a lucky group of people, in Shakoris. I’ve been coming to Shakori Hills for nearly half of my thirty years and like a lot of people, I feel like I grew up here. I started (relatively) late, as a teenager, when I would keep safely to the edges of the dance tent, mumble my name when asked, and wonder why I had to be in a family that took such weird vacations. I stewed in awkwardness and resentment for years until, during one Shakori in my early twenties, I realized I didn’t feel that way anymore. I spoke up. I helped pitch tents and prepare food. I danced, and saw my family’s mouths open with surprise, and realized I had passed some sort of milestone since the last Shakori.
I’m old enough now to watch other children do the same thing, with Shakori functioning as a kind of time-lapse camera of maturity. The unborn child of a fall Shakori is the infant passed around the campsite in the spring, and a few festivals later, is an entire person full of will and energy and opinions (usually a passionate enthusiasm for mud). I’ve watched adolescents make the same journey I did: testing boundaries under the watchful eyes of a loving community, trying out new identities, taking that first brave step out to the center of the dance tent. It’s a breathtaking privilege to witness, and to be one of the adults who can help teach, play, and encourage.
Lately I have felt grown in some fundamental sense, in part because I feel an urgent protectiveness for what we have here at Shakori Hills. The teenager who took these precious days for granted is gone, and now I am committed to tending this fire so another generation of children can have the unique advantages of a Grassroots childhood. In a world that is frequently isolating and deeply cynical, kids at Shakori get gloriously dirty, reach beyond themselves to make new friends, and witness the incredible rarity of a true community, caring for itself and trying always to live up to its highest ideals. Perhaps most importantly, kids at Shakori get to see adults at play, and realize that it is possible to preserve the joy and wonder of childhood, even as you grow up.
Inspired by your Shakori Hills experience? We’d love to hear from you! We’ll be looking for a new community piece to include in the spring program. Submit yours to firstname.lastname@example.org and we will consider it for publication.
Photo by Val Waegerle.