Wilderness Camp Graduation

I have put off writing this as it was a very emotional couple of days, but here goes!
We arrived in Durango, CO on a cold, bright afternoon. We checked into The Strater Hotel, a 120 yr. old hotel in downtown Durango. It was like stepping back in time! The rooms were quaint and the hotel had a great feel to it.
The Strater Hotel

We then headed to the Open Sky office for a Family Therapy session. We met 3 other families there plus Norman, who is one of the co-owners of Open Sky Wilderness Camp. He guided us through some deep breathing exercises and sharing sessions…the first of many emotional moments when we discussed our fears and thoughts about our children who were taken from our homes 8 weeks ago. Dennis and I tried to relax at a nice little restaurant, Ken and Sue’s…which had delicious food. We knew that the next day would be the beginning of a long couple of days.

Dennis’ asthma gave him trouble that night due to the altitude there. After getting that corrected we were on the way to UT in a caravan of cars to the campsite where the kids were waiting. It took over an hour to get there. It was snowing and we drove past 4 different cars that had slipped off the road. It was pretty rustic by the time we pulled into a rocky lot. At that point, a truck took our belongings up the hill to the campground…while we headed there on foot. It was about 1/2 mile hike. Towards the end, Norman had us all close our eyes and hold onto the shoulder of the person in front of us. He guided us up a rocky hill in silence. He wanted us to know that sometimes we have to trust others even when we don’t know where we are…etc. He then had us stop, turn towards his voice, and open our eyes. There, about 12 feet in front of us was our beautiful daughter, Tatiana. She was smiling and crying. We ran to her and hugged her. We were all bawling! It was pretty emotional. It was great to see her.

Open Sky

She proudly took us to the area that she had set up camp for us. It was nestled in some trees…a fire pit and a tarp on a rope. Yep, that was our room for the night. Did I mention it was very windy and about 30 degrees? Tatiana started a fire for us and we gathered around it to eat our gourmet lunch of cheese, tortillas, trail mix and a dusty apple. Our daughter told us it was okay to eat dust and dirt…it was natural. Hmmm…. (I still wiped my apple on my jeans.)

She then showed us around to the facilities…the back forest and rocks were the bathroom! Delightful! They had, however, set up a free standing toilet with a tarp behind it for privacy. The girls called it ‘the wag bag’ since you went into a bag and then threw it away. Well…enough on this subject.

As it got dark we were taken to the Cleo Team’s camp which was about 1/2 mile hike through the woods. The girls had hung socks and things on a few of the trees for decorations. They made flags too. They had a huge fire raging and all the girls, their guides and then the parents all settled around the fire. It was freezing out…but was actually hot by the fire.

We had a meal of rice, meat and veggies in a dusty metal cup. Then Norman led the girls in a thoughtful homage to the 3 girls graduating the next day. (The 4th kid was a boy so he & his parents were at another campsite for the boys.) Each girl in the group told why each graduating girl was special and what she may need to work on in the future. All the girls were amazingly well spoken and all of them said a lot…much to the dismay of my poor aching back as I sat on a small brick by the fire for hours! We were pleased to hear how all of them loved Tatiana and felt she was joyful and made their experience there happier than they could have imagined.

I did find it difficult to believe that these sweet looking girls around the campfire were all troubled teens with issues that had made their parents send them there…like we had. Actually, one of the graduating girls, 16, asked to be sent there for a eating disorder. But most had come by escorts, like our daughter, because they were in danger of getting hurt or addicted at home. Only one younger girl sat quietly by the fire. She was new to the group and had just gotten there 2 days earlier. She still had mascara running down her face from crying. With no mirrors around, she had no idea she looked like this. I felt sorry for her as she truly looked sad. Tatiana said that’s how all the girls look when they first get there.

We slept under the tarp that night. Tatiana warned me about the coyotes and bears that sometimes wander by the tent at night. This did not help me sleep any better. Our water bottles were frozen in the morning but my body was screaming in discomfort…so I was glad to get up. We wandered to the main tent that has a heater in it. We gathered in there for a session of yoga and meditation. Then we ate some granola and went back for a therapy session with Tatiana. We shared ‘feeling’ statements with each other and the tears did flow. We dried our eyes and then proceeded back for the graduation ceremony at the main tent.

All the families, the girls and boys from both teams, plus guides were there. There was a spiritual part of the ceremony as we asked family members who had died to join us and protect our children. Then we sat in a circle and passed the Heart Stick around the circle. It is a stick with a heart shape on the end of it. It has been passed around to each child who graduated from Open Sky and their families. As you got the stick you were to say what Open Sky had done for you. Each person had something powerful to say and most felt that Open Sky had saved their child. Again…very emotional…lots of tears. When Tatiana had the stick she admitted to the group that before Open Sky she thought she could live on her own without a family, but now she knew she needed a family. We were touched to hear that.

All the kids got diplomas. We all took pictures and hugged everyone. We then went back to the campsite to clean it all up. We managed to do that and then hike back down the mountain to our car where the girls excitedly found their old clothes. None of them could wait to change out of their dirty clothes they had worn for weeks. (The girls really were filthy!)

We drove back to Durango where we went to hotel for much needed showers. Then we met the other girls and their families for a Japanese dinner. The girls thought it was the best food ever. They cleaned their plates! It felt good to sleep in a bed that night.

We had to get up early to catch an 8 am flight to Denver. From there we connected to Omaha. Here we ate at the airport and headed to Tatiana’s new boarding school. She got very quiet at this point. The school is actually quite nice but it is all a new experience for Tatiana so it will take some adjusting.

I am just glad we got her off that cold mountain. I feel very proud of her for surviving 8 weeks in the mountains with no running water or comforts of home. I barely made it 24 hours! I know it is an experience our daughter will remember for the rest of her life.

Now we begin the 2nd stage of therapy…and pray Tatiana learns to love herself again…and will see what a strong, creative person she really is. It is a shame to think how she was abused as a child and that it’s effects last a lifetime.

Deborah Mumm
Everything for Adoption

2 responses to this post.

  1. I am a big fan of Open Sky and have stayed in that same hotel when visiting them. I hope you find the next step as beneficial. Now, get some much needed rest.


    • Thanks!
      About the rest….trying to rest, but did you know it’s holiday time? Seems rest isn’t top on the list, but I am sleeping better knowing my daughter is being taken care of and she is safe (and warm!)



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