So the beloved Camp Tuolumne just outside Groveland is gone. I have cherished childhood memories of Camp Tuolumne -- the summers of 1963 and 1964 were good ones. My mother wanted me to experience camping, but with my dad no longer living, Mom did not want to go to the expense of buying a tent or the hassle of pitching one. Camp Tuolumne had tent cabins equipped with cots, and the bonus was a dining hall featuring camp food cooked by staff who knew their way around pots and pans. An excellent solution for a busy working mom!
I caught my first fish at Camp Tuolumne. When he flipped out of the water, I flipped out myself. I remember screaming and carrying on. I didn't know what to do. An animal was thrashing around outside of his habitat and it was all because of me, and my screams became even louder and more shrill. A man came running across the foot bridge, took my fish and jerked him off the hook, then he took my prize and slammed him against a rock, never to see his fish family again. As mortified as I was, my mother took him to the dining facility and they told her she could cook him for the morning's breakfast, if she wanted. I have to admit my little rainbow trout was delicious.
As I got to know the man a little better, I learned he and his wife were survivors of the Jewish Holocaust. I'd never heard of the Holocaust, and he told me a little bit about it, but not much.
Another time, my mother and I went on a group hike along the Tuolumne River, led by a camp counselor. He told me I was so good at climbing rocks, I could be a mountain goat. I took his compliment to heart, and to this day, when I'm climbing on rocks, I can hear his words of encouragement. During the hike, a little girl my age fell into the river and was swept away by the current. He jumped in and swam downstream and rescued her. He lost his glasses in the water, and campers all chipped in to buy him a new pair. A small token of appreciation for a Camp Hero.
Camp Tuolumne had a stage and we had weekly talent shows. I could tap dance, but didn't even think to bring my shoes and music to camp with me. Fellow campers encouraged me to dance anyway. I must have looked like a marionette up there on stage, tapping away in my tennis shoes and no music, but I got a thunderous round of applause when I was done, anyway. Campers are just like that!
The next summer, my mom and I returned to Camp Tuolumne with some of our relatives who were visiting from out of state. My cousins and I enjoyed swimming in the swimming hole, scrambling around on the rocks (I had gone pro since the previous summer) and making camp crafts. But the highlight of our camp experience was taking a pair of my pajamas and stuffing them with articles of clothing so that they would take on human form. We set our creation on a chair, arms crossed, so that she could take in the activities of all the other campers. The problem was, she didn't have a head. We told other campers that Headless Candy (so named after the candy cane print on my pajamas) had unfortunately been decapitated by a bear. At night, she would often come alive -- when the wind howled.
My co-conspirator cousin joined me in filling our other cousins with ghost stories and ghoulish tales from the crypt, as a precursor to our plans that night to haunt their cabin. One victim-cousin flew off his cot and spent the rest of the night in his sleeping bag huddled under his mother's bed. He assured us in the morning that he knew it was us all along.
Two nights ago, the Rim Fire consumed Camp Tuolumne. It has been a family camp since 1922. I have no doubt that Camp Tuolumne will be resurrected. The City of Berkeley said it was fully insured and the camp will return. That's nice, but it just won't be the same. I've brought my family to see Camp Tuolumne, but my grandchildren will never see it as it was. I showed Jim, Matthew, Kaylie and Ashley the stage I performed on, and the huge lake that I remember as a child turned out to be just a swimming hole. But it was a beautiful swimming hole with a boulder set smack in the center of it, aptly named Lifeguard Rock. I showed them the haunted cabin and the rock my fish's life ended on and the dining hall that had served us all the good camp meals.
Camp Tuolumne is currently being used as a staging area for the fire crews. It will be a number of years before it's green again with mature trees. In the meantime, new generations of families will be growing and making their own camp memories there. The scars will gradually diminish and it's beauty will return. I feel very lucky to be part of its history.