Camping full circle, Part I

Adversity brings in its sharp-edged wake a journey of transformation, if we keep our eyes and minds open to read the signposts.

When Tropical Storm Irene shut down Camping on The Battenkill in Arlington, for the season, Lesley Nase was out of her paying job.

The campground is her family business, in its third generation. Three years later, all of Camping on The Battenkill is up and running, but it's definitely not back to where it was: The water and electrical system in the middle of the campground was destroyed.

Lesley is still doing the data collection, filling out the paperwork, working on the grants, and making the phone calls for CBDG and FEMA aid. No paycheck is forthcoming for those tasks. Unemployment benefits were given to those whose employment was impacted or ended by Irene for 6 months; she knew well after that time period she would still be in the process of documenting the damage to the campground to acquire the necessary aid to repair and rebuild.

Lesley decided she needed to create another stream of income. A beloved storyteller of renown in Vermont and New York State with a mellifluous voice that draws her listeners into the story's flow, Lesley decided to host her own radio show, "Books, Yarns & Tales," which is broadcast from WBTN 1370 AM in Bennington.

She began to interview writers for her show, among them Chris Bohjalian, Archer Mayor, Philippa Gregory, Howard Frank Mosher, Beatriz Williams, and Reeve Lindbergh. Lesley discovered her passion for interviewing. She loves to gather the stories, hear what happened, talk about the transformations. It followed she needed her own equipment so that studio time and travel constraints wouldn't prevent her from being able to interview people in their "elements," like at special events.

Hearing stories through the VT Folk Life Center made her realize how many stories would be irreplaceable unless you went out and got them. Her desire to use all the media, visual and oral, led to the realization that the culmination would be having a real book in your hand, the definitive preservation of all the stories: Campground Tales Heard Round The Fire. This would become the go-to history of camping in Vermont and Vermont's campgrounds. After all, this was her heritage, her home, her own story.

This year Vermont Camping Association is celebrating its 50th anniversary as a non-profit organization with a big event in September. Lesley asked herself, "How could I best show Vermont's 50 years of camping history?" The answer was making a short documentary film. She realized it would take time and money to produce and edit it, and that she needed the equipment, so the next step was to start looking for a fundraising campaign. She chose Indiegogo, and then came the learning curves, some of them huge: Designing the website, creating the video, tailoring the written piece, partnering with Northwest Access TV out of St. Albans, Vt.

In the past two weeks, Lesley has made her way through most of the campgrounds in Southern Vermont: Dorset RV Park, Emerald Lake, Camping on The Battenkill, Greenwood Lodge and Campsites, Townshend, Woodford, and Jamaica State Parks, West River Camperama, to mention a few. The journey has yielded many discoveries, one being that Townshend State Park was a work camp for the Civilian Conservation Corps, with a history trail and even the oven where bread was baked for the workers.

Part two of this saga will be criss-crossing the State, from Springfield and Windsor to Lakes Bomoseen and St. Catherine, and then heading North to where campgrounds constellate around the shores of Lake Champlain. Last weekend saw Lesley at the First Nation Bear Clan Gathering in St. Albans to film Grandfather Phil, where teepees were put up, campfires burned, bonds were renewed, and stories were told deep into the night.

Even if you have never gone camping, it is part of your heritage and your life's story. Somewhere in your ancestry, your people camped, and those tales still echo around a campfire that crackles and sparks in your essence.

Follow Lesley Nase on her journey this camping season on Facebook at Campground Tales Heard Round The Fire.


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