My family’s 40+ year history at Shrine Mont Camps began when my cousin (and Godfather) Larry went to Saint George’s for the time in 1970. He started the Saint Andrew’s, Richmond tradition of sending youth to Shrine Mont. Dozens of Saint Andrew’s families have sent scores of kids to the Mountain and will continue to do so this summer. My parents Cyrus and Ellen drove many Richmond kids to camp if they had no other way of getting there. They made the trip to and from Shrine Mont, sometimes multiple trips each summer, for 42 consecutive years.
The cross was cool and scary. It would sway as one climbed up the springy wooden stairs to the platform. The view of the valley was unobscured then – the trees had not grown as tall as they are now. What a view it was. However, I was more impressed by what I saw under the cross – countless rocks shaped like sea shells. Huh? My dad explained that the mountains were formed when North America and Africa collided millions of years ago. The ocean floor between the continents was thrust upward and the layers of sediment and the all stuff in them rose with it. Today you can find the fossilized remains of ancient marine scallops, worms and snails on top of the mountain. My six year old mind was blown.
It was 1983, I think. I was on an overnight camping trip with my cabin somewhere on the North Mountain trail. We were up most of the night chatting as one might expect a group of nervous kids from Saint George’s would do when sheltered only under tarps suspended from trees. The lack of cover on the sides gave us the perception that we were vulnerable to the appetites of nocturnal wildlife.
With a great deal of trepidation I reached out from under the tarp and started to pick at the soil. With every uprooted chunk of earth came scraps of glowing wood. “Oh, great,” I thought. I’m not going to be mauled by a bear in the middle of the night but I am going to meet my demise by sleeping on contaminated, radioactive ground. I leaped out of my sleeping bag and ran over to the staff tarp. “Why is the ground glowing?” I asked. They explained that we were not camping in a nuclear wasteland and that I had just unearthed “fox fire” root. Certain kinds of fungi found in decaying wood glow when they are exposed to air. It is one of many different kinds of bioluminescence. My ten year old mind was blown again.
Shrine Mont Camps transform kids in innumerable ways. Every camper probably has a flash bulb memory that stands out from his or her experience on the Mountain. These are my earliest memories of Shrine Mont, though I have many more. God’s awesome power was revealed to me through the mystery and discovery of his Creation. Saint George’s teaches kids that they are part of the Body of Christ and bound by God’s love to everything he created. That lesson still resonates with me today in my professional and family life. So every time I give a pollution-prevention talk or take my son fishing, I am thankful that Shrine Mont blew my mind wide open. I’m sure I won’t be the last.