It was the fall of 1984 when I discovered Camp Joy. I remember entering the garden for the first time and sensing something different and unique, something my turbulent, 23 year old self was searching for. I recall the quiet peace of turning a bed, the joy of putting my hands in the soil, coaxing things to grow, milking goats in the early morning, building compost piles, sowing seeds, pulling weeds. There was one afternoon when I stood up from my labors and saw downy seeds of sow thistle blowing in an autumn breeze, fruit heavy on the trees, the garden simmering with fall foliage and countless flowers in a honey-buttered sun; I felt I was seeing creation for the first time.
I was just a volunteer at the time, but I kept showing up until they let me move in, and for the next eight years Camp Joy became home and a vital pivot point of my life. Mainstream society was never quite right for me, I had spent a few years casting about looking for a purpose and a place to be. In farming and homesteading I’d finally tapped into a deeper current that I’d been seeking. That same tide carried me through many seasons of connections with people and place that still resonate deeply. For several years after Camp Joy I worked in organic agriculture in Latin America, and in 1992 found my way to Sandy Bar Ranch on the Klamath River where I live with my wife, Blythe Reis. To this day I still milk goats, tend orchards, grow and can most of my own food, and count many of the people I met at Camp Joy as some of my closest friends and community. In 2000 Blythe and I helped to found the Mid Klamath Watershed Council, and I helped to launch our Foodsheds program, including many webpages dedicated to producing food locally. I recently finished a Orchard Revitalization Project, collaborating with the Karuk Tribe and Salmon River Restoration Council to catalog and preserve heirloom fruit varieties, employing skills that were first honed at Camp Joy.
I never met Alan Chadwick, but something he said sums up my feeling about Camp Joy in particular, and gardening in general: We enter the garden because we love creation. I will always be grateful for my time at Camp Joy, and always take comfort in working the garden.