SHAFTSBURY >> Deep in the woods, a spiritual connection is made, or reestablished between humans and nature. That is just what happens at Spirit Hollow.
The nature-based spiritual center is the last house on Shaftsbury Hollow Road backed by 100 acres of National Forest Land of adventures and summer activities. Tracey Forest, the founder of the nonprofit, and homeowner, began hosting summer camps in 2004 and fosters the idea of transforming consciousness.
The first camp Forest established is the Spirit Quest, in which 7 to 12-year-olds come together to explore who they are by sharing stories, doing exercises and adventure-based games to build confidence and teamwork, explore streams, ponds, a waterfall and plant a tree, make music, crafts and take part in a fire ceremony to end the week honoring each child. There's also a teen version for 13 to 17-year-olds who get to camp in tents for the week.
"We share dreams and talk about them...then say 'Here's a way to achieve them,'" she said. "With technology so prominent now and everyone always distracted when speaking to each other, we practice being present to each other and ways to communicate without being distracted."
After Spirit Quest came the Goddess Camp for girls ages 9 to 16, out of the participants' desire to reflect on common experiences, boy-free. Activities include learning about goddesses, exploring nature, creating herbal remedies and skin care products and crafts and picking from the garden to prepare a goddess feast dressed as the camper's favorite goddess.
Deena Smith met Forest in the sweat lodge a few years ago and immediately made a connection, now Smith is a repeating counselor at Spirit Hollow and shares stories and fairy tales with the children.
"When you're talking about kids, it's different, and they're still pretty malleable and open to ideas that aren't concrete in the adult world," she said. "I think we hope to deepen their perspective and connection with the land, with each other and learn to respect one another and learn about the woods and animals."
There's also a camp called Warrior Camp for boys ages 9 to 15. The tribe explores the woods, learns wilderness awareness and primitive skills of shelter building, basic tracking and fire making. Participants also climb to the top of Grass Mountain, 3,100 feet, and build self-esteem with team building exercises, drumming, journeying and taking part in a sweat lodge by the stream.
"We need to get people to realize that it's safe to be in nature. We explore how it feels to be in the woods," she said. "There's life force everywhere. Kids need a real right of passage. They want to feel alive and live on the edge. So, we go to these intensive behaviors, but in a safe setting."
Both are day camps with a Thursday night sleepover to conclude the week. Guest presenters occasionally come to teach about herbs, archery or Indian dances, for example.
Forest and her ex-husband stumbled upon the Spirit Hollow property in 1998 when they lost their keys after looking at a lot nearby. When they asked neighbors for a ride home and started chatting, they learned about the Spirit Hollow property that was priced at $80,000 including the acreage. After seeing the amount of landscape cleanup that needed to be done, the couple bought the property for a little over half the asking price.
Aside from hosting camps, Forest is a professor at Southern Vermont College and Community College of Vermont, and allows others to use the property for fire walks or other presentations, posts on World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms (WOOF) and now rents out the tents on Airbnb. She has a 12-year-old son who was just born at the camp's inception and will become a junior counselor this summer and a 16-year-old daughter whose friends have grown up in the camp with her.
Isabella Shapiro, age 16, has done Spirit Quest since she was 9 and ignited the idea for Goddess Camp.
"[Spirit Quest and Goddess Camp] are very different but an amazing journey that I went on," she said. "You start going to Spirit Quest at age 8 and 9. It was a time I was bored with friends at school and going to camp made me have new experiences with new people. Now I'm best friends with Tracey's daughter and son. Everyone feels comfortable when they're there. For Goddess Camp, I think every girl should be made to go and it's an amazing journey to go through. You don't really know anyone. I've been going since the first time it was brought about. Every single time it's different. You go in not knowing anyone and end up becoming sisters."
There are ten tents around the property, a stream, organic farm, outhouses and a Brook Yurt where the camper's day typically starts. Forest conducts private healing sessions in her geodesic dome, yoga, Seeing with the Heart or an apprenticeship in core Shamanism, and soul therapy. These are also known as life-altering courses.
"We've had people come from all over New England for 17 years for healing with the heart," she said. "It's about transforming consciousness as opposed to looking inside. What is life worth? What is your greatest passion? It's about seeing with the heart."
Spirit Quest for kids: July 5 to 8, $200
Goddess Camp for girls: July 11 to 15, sliding scale of $230 to $260
Spirit Quest for teens: July 24 to July 30, $425 until June 15, $475 after, 25 person limit
Warrior Camp for boys: Aug. 1 to 5, sliding scale of $230 to $260
—Makayla-Courtney McGeeney can be reached at (802)-447-7567, ext. 118.