The recipe for cigarette soup lies within

Tara Atkinson

Last spring, I had more of an idea about what I didn’t want to do during my summer than what I did want to do. I didn’t want to sell anything, but I needed a job. I didn’t want to stay at home with my parents, even though they are great and I love hanging around with them. I didn’t want to stay in Appleton for fear of getting completely and utterly sick of the tiny and monotonously white practice rooms that would have been my home — besides, I’m already sick of them as it is.

Instead, I decided to work at a small community-run summer camp in southern West Virginia. I heard about it through a friend, and I’m always interested in experiencing new places, so I packed my bags and headed south.

I primarily worked as a cook, delivering food at every meal to hungry campers. In the course of just a few days, I quickly learned how much time it takes to make meals for 100 people. I learned that if you put rice in a soup, you run the risk of burning it and turning the soup into Smoky Cigarette Soup, which will smell like just that from miles away — and no one will eat it.

Most memorably, I learned that it takes a lot longer to prepare food than it does to eat it. The garden provided us with a beautiful abundance of vegetables, especially cucumbers, and now I can prepare a cucumber any way you’d like it!

Luckily, I was given the opportunity to lead a group of four campers for a weeklong hike on the Appalachian Trail. We hiked about 55 miles — nothing to brag about, but we made it just the same. No toilets. No tents. No running water, except from the small late-summer rivulets. Even though using cell phones and computers/the Internet was limited back at camp, the return to uninterrupted nature was refreshing.

Physical exhaustion often resulted in bouts of silliness and uncontrollable laughter… perhaps the wild berries and high altitudes had something to do with it as well. Trees surrounded us the entire hike, and continually looking at them and listening to them was inspiring.

As my concerns, trepidations and anxieties for the world outside of camp melted away, I started to realize the beauty of living in this small community — this place and these people — fostered an ideal of living in the present, and thanks to the commitment to this ideal, I was able to get a sense of what living in the present means.

Leaving the pressures of the future and the losses of the past in their respective spaces, I started to reach some insights — first, that I am happy to be here, and secondly, that I already have all that I want right here, right now.

Unrealistically, I’m not worried about my future anymore. I probably should be. My parents are. There’s something about those trees though, there’s wisdom in the way those strong roots dig deep into the ground and the way the trunk, limbs, leaves and every fiber above ground reaches towards the sun, strives towards the light, the truth, God, whatever you want to call it. As long as there’s ground to dig my toes into and the sun, I’ll be okay.