…from the soundtrack of “Rent.”
(continued from last post…the rest of the story)
Three of the women in the class decided camping was not for them. They rented a room at a nearby hotel. The rest of the women had different levels of camping skills and life skills. One woman, to be known now on as “the tent lady”, had been loaned a tent by her son that had many missing parts. Her tent problem wasn’t solved even after she had called Community Education at least 25 times prior to the start of the class. People answering the phone were even offering to loan their own tents to her. She kept repeating to me that she was 70 years old and had never set up a tent before. To get her tent to stand one of the “hotel” women had to fashion an attachment with a stick to replace missing parts. She sat down and watched them and the 18 -year- old finish setting up for her after the hotel ladies had been exhausted. The tent lady had everything she owned with her; especially lots of metal pans which we all found out at about 5:00am when she noisily got up to fix herself a big breakfast.
This sums up how we started. We had a class meeting that evening, talked about our plans for painting Smith Rocks the next day and started our campfires. The sky was clear. The stars were out. Things looked good.
I was awakened the next morning by a little female camp ranger at 6:00am banging on the Beauville windo. She said that we (meaning my whole class) were not checked into these campsites. I peered out of my van. The little ranger was soaking wet and so was everything else. “It never rains in Central Oregon,” I said under my breath. I spent nearly an hour straightening out the site problem with frantic calls to the college (I had to use a pay phone). Then we had a quick and wet meeting. We asked the tiny ranger if she knew of a dry place to paint. She had no suggestions. Finally the camp hostess came up with the name of a park that had a covered area in Bend. Off we went, me in my big old van with all of the students in their cars following like sheep. We got to the park where we were glad to see the covered area. But, just our luck, a local group from a home for the mentally disabled was using the whole area for a huge water pistol fight and picnic. I imagined all of the students calling the college to complain about the worst class they’d ever taken. I drove with the huge line of cars behind me to the Bend Chamber of Commerce and threw myself on their mercy. The tent lady kept complaining but most of the other students could see that I was about to burst into tears. An Indian man at the chamber desk calmly took me aside and said to try calling the local college in Bend. He also told me of an old American Indian ceremony that involved tobacco and facing and chanting in each of the four directions. He said to do this when I got back to camp to make sure of clear skies and warm weather. Thank God for him and thank God for the Bend college that took pity on me and gave me a free room to use for class. Once we got there, got dry, and started painting, it was ok.
That night I crept quietly away from camp and drove to Redmond. I bought myself a huge margarita and downed it in about three sips. Back at the camp everyone was waiting for me. One person took me aside and asked me the secret of where I had gotten so much patience. By this time mattresses were losing air, the tent lady was feeling weak and dizzy and each of the other students had individually come to me to complain about her. I calmed them and told them that I’d handle it. I actually thought at any moment she might keel over. I pictured huge lawsuits and lawyers galore. Before I went to bed I did the tobacco ceremony (without tobacco), crossed my fingers and went to bed. I dreamed of courtrooms.
The next day was beautiful. Smith Rocks was waiting and most of the students left the camp to meet me at the rocks at 10:00 am. One small hitch. The whole campsite to the right of me was parked in. One of the students, a counselor by trade, had lost her keys. Of course hers was the first car and was blocking all of the rest. The 18-year-old came to me, put his arm around me and told me to leave for the rocks. He’d handle it. I went to the rocks and set everyone up for painting. It was the perfect day. We painted and were amazed at the beautiful landscape. Everyone there was happy and productive. About an hour later the rest of the group joined us after the keys were found in an empty campsite that the counselor had used to change clothes away from the group the night before. She was a little shy. The day was a great success and we talked and joked about “Watercolor class…a Journey through Hell”. No one wanted to leave but since the reservations were screwed up we had to go. I expected to return to lots of complaints and e-mails about the class. I imagined no one would ever let me near another student. I was surprised that all I had was positive feedback. A friend of mine even presented me with a refrigerator magnet that said, “I survived Art Camp” that I have to this day. I wrote to each student thanking him or her for attending.
A whole year later I got a call from one of the members of the class. She asked if we were going to do it again. The funny part is that WE WERE.