Connecting to the Wonder of Nature at Spring Family Camp

By: Keena Golden 


Spectacular wildflowers and a raging Tuolumne River welcomed hundreds of parents, grandparents and kids to Spring Family Camp at Tawonga.  It was a spiritually uplifting weekend that brought families together, ignited new friendships and reunited so many others.


The weekend also provided guests a chance to learn with renowned naturalist John Muir Laws, author of The Laws Field Guide to the Sierra Nevada and The Laws Guide to Nature Journaling along with other titles. “Jack”—as John was known at camp—led several workshops guiding adults through a deeper dive into observing the natural beauty of our world and teaching us how to bring that same level of curiosity to our children.


Jack challenged us to observe, experience, and witness nature’s majesty and all it’s awe, not simply learn the names of plants and animals that will soon be forgotten. He explained that the first step towards deeper observation is to take note of what one sees when given the prompt “I notice…” We spent several minutes around a large oak tree at camp where we were encouraged to simultaneously share our observations out loud to help us remember what we saw.  The buzzing murmur of thoughts and perceptions was at once meditative and energizing!


The second prompt was to ask “I wonder?” How did the tree get that moss growing on it? Why is the bark cracked and rough? Then we moved on to “It reminds me of…” which got us thinking about other trees we had seen and memories of climbing trees, which brought out more details and questions. Later that weekend, participants continued to use these observational techniques and were excited to share what they had experienced, leading to more meaningful connections with each other as a community.


Jack’s other workshops during the weekend taught us about nature journaling and drawing. Jack calls your journal “your brain on paper.” It was so helpful to hear his point of view that it’s not about “making pretty pictures” but storing and communicating information. He encouraged us to ask new questions. Does the page in the journal help me notice? Does it help me remember? Does it help me think about things that are different?


As we were gathered under the trees near the stage, a large Steller’s Jay was calling to the other birds in a loud, rough voice. We talked about the sound the bird made, the different sounds heard in response, how the feathers of the birds were raised or smoothed down depending on the sounds they made. What were they talking about? We then moved on to the edge of camp where we spent time journaling in a field of beautiful and fragrant lupines. Some of us drew, some of us wrote our observations, some of us wrote down questions. Each of us had focused on the lupines in different ways, but all of us came away with a deeper understanding of the flowers in the field and a connection to our time spent among them.


“This was a truly special weekend,” exclaimed one father. “I had no idea that I would get so much out of the programming, since I thought it was going to be more for the kids and not geared to me. I have been overwhelmed at the quality of the programming and how much I have learned and grown.”  


Jack was also deeply inspired by his weekend at Camp with his family. In fact, on Saturday night when we featured an adult dance party, Jack danced till midnight. The following morning, during closing circle, he expressed how he observed that Tawonga is a special place. Having never been to Tawonga before, he noticed that the staff were deeply connected to one another in loving bonds, showing respect to each other, to the community and the land. He felt that there was something unique that was cultivated in this sacred space and was honored to be a new and valued member of the community.

John Muir Laws offers free workshops throughout the Bay Area, details are on his website


Keena Golden is Camp Tawonga’s Annual Fund Manager. This is her 1st year as part of Tawonga’s year-round team.


You can learn more about John Muir Laws and his work as a naturalist by visiting his website.