We gathered at the Yokalanda Lodge and Camp for Youth. The camp is nestled in the Yokalanda Woods. Established in 1957 by Earl and Rosie Feldstein, the camp has been a summer haven to underprivileged youth from all over the country. There are twenty cabins scattered through the hills and at the center of it all is the main lodge. The lodge is the beating heart of that camp. The main open room of the lodge is where all the campers gathered for meals and inside crafts. Depending on the weather, s’mores and stories were shared around the large fireplace that sat it one end of large room. In 1965, Earl died suddenly and unexpectedly from a heart attack. Finding herself unable to manage the camp, Rosie sold the camp and property to Billy and Ayleen Hershel.
Billy and Ayleen had originally planned to turn the camp into a commune. They had invited fifteen of their closest friends to join them in communal living, raising goats and growing their own vegetables. Ten of those friends agreed. That first year started off with the worst winter the area had ever seen with record snow fall and below freezing temperatures. The goats that didn’t freeze, were taken by wild animals. The hilly landscape proved to be too rocky for planting. The ten people who had agreed to join Billy and Ayleen all agreed now that communal living was not for them. Billy and Ayleen were forced to sell out to Carry and Diane McNabb. Carry and Diane turned the camp back into a summer camp for youth. After all this time, the two women still ran the camp, though in recent times and with less funding, the camp has seen better days. To make ends meet, Carry and Diane have opened up the Yokalanda Lodge in the off seasons to various retreats. Just last month an up and coming tech company rented the retreat for a managers training session. The Pakempsey Shakespearean Company rented out the camp for a whole month while they rehearsed their summer traveling program of King Lear. This weekend the Yokalanda Lodge was hosting a small group of artists for a weekend of workshops built around unlocking creativity.
The weekend consisted of various workshops of various themes such as How to Monetize Your Art, Authenticity and Integrity in Creativity , Conquering Your Fear of Success and Telling Your Story. There were trust falls and roll playing and vision board building. But the real breakthroughs happened outside of those workshops. In the evenings, after their communal vegan dinner, the artists would break off into smaller groups gathering around campfires and on cabin porches. There was always wine and the occasional passing of joint and they told each other their deep fears and they opened their souls to each other. It was in these moments that true cathartic release occurred. Tears flowed. Realizations were made. Plans were formed. Pacts were made. Bonds were formed. By the end of the weekend, as cars were being loaded up and cabins were being swept clean, the artists of that weekend retreat found themselves each quietly trying to process their experience from the past two days. Words were barely spoken until all were loaded up and ready to head out on their separate ways. They gathered to say their goodbyes. This was the moment that proved to be the most difficult of moments. They found themselves unprepared to say their farewells. They held each other tight as tears streamed down their faces. Then they got in their cars and headed out on their separate ways, fortified with their experience of this retreat and knowing that they would always have each others love and support.
That’s probably the best way to put into words what this weekend was like for me. I spent it at the Yokalanda Lodge. I have the bug bites to prove it.