“Country roads, take me home,
     to the place I belong, West Virginia,
         mountain mama, take me home, country roads.”

The song dies and the circle is quiet for a moment.  About one hundred people all told— campers, counselors, staff, naturalists— cluster on and around the white-washed wooden benches that form a sloping, haphazard circle around the fire.

I shush the three restless girls sprawled across my lap and tell them to pay attention to Jeff, the camp director, a man who carries himself the way you imagine he did in the late ‘70s when he was captain of the basketball team, dating the head cheerleader.  As he speaks to the crowd, his youthful hanks of now silver-white hair serve as a constant reminder of bygone days, especially when he sits next to his dark-haired twin brother, Jon, the angst-ridden artist to his carefree jock.

I grin at myself, as my mind wanders to speculative sibling rivalry circa 1976; even sitting around a drowsy campfire at the end of a fifteen-hour day, my fingers are still itching to commit more than a century’s worth of stories to writing.  Over the past five years, the truly remarkable naturalists, hippies, and native West Virginians that make up the camp have been an invaluable source of support, inspiration and perspective.

I first went to the camp when I was 12 years old.  And although we all had brown hair and blue eyes in common, the similarities seemed to end there. I had never swung on a rope swing, or held a baby bluebird in my hands; they had never seen a Shakespeare play or read Nabokov’s short stories.

At first, our differences seemed irreconcilable—too much ground to cover and too little time— but by the end of the first two weeks, I had conceded that they undeniably had the better end of the bargain.  Bird calls had changed from annoying background noise to distinctive songs with accompanying species names; nature hikes had transformed from reenactments of the Bataan Death March to exciting forays into hitherto unknown worlds of mushrooms and mosses.

I can tell the difference between a Carolina wren and a house wren, and I know how to prepare wild bergamot root to break a fever.  My time in nature, with people so far outside my frame of reference, has taught me that I can adapt; I am not the hopeless city girl that I assumed myself to be when I was eleven, happy only in the mustiest of libraries.

I’ve learned to temper the extremes that I sometimes feel tugging at me— I don’t have to give up consumer goods and rehabilitate tigers in southern Georgia to care about the environment.  I don’t have to live in a run down Victorian and haunt coffeehouses to assert myself as a writer.  I can be many things in many places.  Whether it be a country road or an interstate highway that takes me home, I know I’ll belong.

Author Bio

Catherine Tapper lives in Germantown. She just graduated from Poolesville High School where she was the fiction editor of the literary magazine, Origins. She will attend the University of Maryland, in College Park, in the fall.