Well, it seems as if another of my “if I win the lottery, I’m totally buying that” properties has been claimed.
Tucked away in the woods of Oregon Township, encircling Horton Lake, lies the land that was called Holaka. I only visited the place twice, but the enchantment of my first experience lasted.
It was summer of 2013 when I first laid eyes on Holaka. This Boy Scout camp that for at least half a century had absorbed the shouts, songs and splashing of so many young men was silent the day I showed up. It was a bittersweet day. The Boy Scouts of America had announced that Holaka — the name was derived from Horton Lake Camp — would close as a Boy Scout facility.
That day, I was taken around the grounds by longtime Scout volunteer “Jungle Larry” Mickle. Canvas tents were still scattered about in the camping areas, while the rustic Adirondack cabins hid quietly off to the side. A totem pole that once stood proudly was on its side, softly rotting among the trees. Yellow posts bearing the 12 points of the Boy Scout Law lined the path leading to the lakeside fire bowl.
The camp had two worship areas, too. One, a small chapel in the woods, was most enchanting to me.
The chapel was built in 1974 as part of a Girl Scout camp, Camp Sherwood. It was constructed as a memorial for Dorothy L Swart, and it was modeled after the Chapel of the Pines in Hartwick Pines State Park. Just a week after it was dedicated, a young couple who had met there on the grounds and helped build the chapel were married there. I wrote about it here, in The County Press.
There were wooden benches on a slope leading down to the chapel for outdoor services. A peek through a knothole showed dusty pews inside, illuminated by large green cross and star windows.
On the outside wall, in 2013, there was a rustic sign bearing an excerpt from Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s “The Fiftieth Birthday of Agassiz:”
“And Nature, the old nurse, took
The child upon her knee,
Saying: ‘Here is a story-book
Thy Father has written for thee.’
“‘Come, wander with me,’ she said,
‘Into regions yet untrod;
And read what is still unread
In the manuscripts of God.'”
That precious little chapel in the woods impacted me on that summer day, so much so that when I later met the man I would marry, we chose to do so in the Chapel of the Pines at Hartwick Pines. Where but in the woods can one feel closer to their creator, after all?
After exploring Holaka, I thought of it often, saddened at the thought of it sitting forsaken, waiting for the children to bring life to its trails. I dreamed of buying it. Of living there. Of offering parts of it for retreats for groups, artists, lovers. I dreamed of weddings there.
I once again had an opportunity for a brief visit in 2016, when a long-time scouting leader passed away and friends were allowed to have a memorial at the fire bowl. I walked the grounds and noted how nature had begun the rewilding process in the three years since I’d last visited. I went once again to the little chapel. Saplings had sprouted, taking their places within the outdoor benches. They seemed to be attending the funeral of a large old tree that was lying in state to the front, across the first rows of benches.
I walked, soaked in the May sunshine, and snapped a few photos of the sights, knowing it was likely the last time I would see them.
Now, apparently, the land has sold for just over a million dollars. I hope the new owners know how much more it’s worth.
There, in the woods of Oregon Township, one can find peace, and release from the tensions of life amongst electrical wires and paved roads. The vined trees and earthen trails of Holaka lead the way to a deeper yet simpler understanding of life. Be trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean, and reverent.
I hope with all my heart that whomever has purchased Holaka will reintroduce the grounds to the laughter of children, and to the adults that understand the value of the natural world. Nature, the old nurse, has important lessons to teach our young ones that they can’t learn in school or online.