Tri-Valley writers meet up for all-day fun
By Lou Fancher
While the mercury outdoors rose to nearly 100 degrees, it was nothing compared to the heat generated in an Alamo home in late July.
Gathered for the first "Summer Camp for Grown-ups," some 40 literature lovers performed yoga, hiked, noshed, participated in writing workshops and author presentations, dyed fabric with natural dyes made from plants, learned to play and sing Shakespearean Renaissance music, drank wine, and created flower arrangements that told stories. Springing from the inventive mind of Rakestraw Books owner Michael Barnard, the July 30 all-day camp was years in the making.
"We're finally here, it's finally happening, come on in and enjoy," Barnard said, greeting campers as they returned from a 5-mile hike in the Las Trampas Hills.
In host Christy Kauffman's home, Dr. Julie Barton from the Bay Area nonprofit Raising a Reader and Sylvia Linsteadt, author of the Berkeley-based Heyday Books publication, "The Wonderments of the East Bay," began the day's first breakout sessions. Barton spoke of the 15,000 children who receive free books -- more than 100 during the course of a year -- to keep and enjoy with their families.
"We try not to have Disney books or any books that make a kid want to become a mass consumer. We share the books in an interactive way," Barton said.
In another room, Linsteadt practiced the policy, reading from her book of original fairy tales inspired by nature in the East Bay Regional Parks and sharing personal thoughts.
"If only I could look into a wood rat's nest," she said, pausing in her reading, "it's very magical. But they're a major carrier of ticks, and I'd ruin it's home, so it's best left alone."
That tidbit, others like it, and solid suggestions shared by campers about nature workshops, creative writing classes and related subjects proved that adult summer camp is more than a throwback lark to childhood.
"This is about relaxation of the mind and spirit," said camper Catherine Maderos, of San Ramon. "The book energy is true camp: a sizzle around the edges. The excitement over different books is vivid."
Glenn Umont was equally fired up but expressed it differently.
"I came because there weren't kids and because Michael puts on a nice program. The dynamics of this; it surprised me that there are 40 women and me, a male. There are people from outside the area, the topics are interesting, the hike was great."
With cookbook author Leslie Jonath speaking about her upcoming "Feed Your People" cookbook before a catered lunch, novelist Yvonne Prinz's writing workshop, artist Kristine Vejar's fabric dyeing, Susan Moreno handling music, Lisa McGuinness demonstrating flower arranging and wine-tasting sommelier JJ Foster guiding a tasting of wines from Livermore Valley-based Nottingham Cellars, the agenda was full to bursting.
But there was more. Best-selling novelist Ellen Sussman presented her novel, "A Wedding in Provence," and Berkeley novelist Annie Barrows capped off the day and her nationwide book tour for her new novel, "The Truth According to Us."
"I loved the idea of a grown-up camp," said Karen Aldridge, of Lafayette, who took a day off from her job as a bookkeeper to attend. "I have two little boys, work -- anything that brings me into my creativity is worthwhile."
Deb Harrison, a graphic designer, traveled from Hayward after learning about the camp at an author appearance at her local library.
"I thought, 'Summer camp for grown ups -- I have to be there.' When I saw the agenda, I wanted to do the hike, the writing workshop and meet people who like books. I wish this one was longer, although I don't know if I could have come. It's satisfying on so many levels."
Elaine Anderson articulated why so many at the camp were behaving like kids; talking over each other, sharing food and secret reading habits, laughing more often than not. The Castro Valley resident and services-as-needed staff worker at Alameda County Library said she's "a camper forever" and her first child was only 3 months old when introduced to camping. "Still, the thing that surprises me the most is that no matter who I stand next to today, they love to talk with me. That doesn't happen anywhere but a place like this, summer camp for adults."
Barnard said he plans to host another camp next summer. In the meantime, there's nothing to stop a group of readers from grabbing a few good books, stocking up on fixings for s'mores and having a tide-me-over-until-next-time outing.