Way up in northern Texas, north of Dallas/Ft. Worth, north of Arlington, just plain very very north, smack dab in the middle of a massive stretch of endless flat prairie, there is a big hole in the ground called Ceta Canyon. A big, long, canyon-like hole. In this hole, there are beautiful trees, well-kept grass, breathtaking waterfalls, and most importantly, a church camp.

Upon hearing the words "church camp", most people become flooded with terrible memories of forced childhood religious experiences with stupid songs and terrible guest speakers. But Ceta Canyon was no usual church camp.

As a kid raised in a Christian family, I had spent at least a week or two of every summer in some church camp or another. Some of them were terrible, some of them were gimmicky, some of them were outright theme park-like money-making ventures, but only one of them was a place that I wanted to return to (and did). This place was Ceta Canyon.

Every year, my church's youth group would pile into a tiny bus and drive the 12 hours to Ceta Canyon. We'd spend a week there, then return. We always -- ALWAYS -- came back completely changed people.

Ceta Canyon was my getaway from life. The three summers I went there were the summers after seventh, eighth, and ninth grade. Those one-week spans in the middles of those three summers contain the best memories I've ever had.

  • Summer 1: I learned how to live. How to be happy, how to stop caring what other people are thinking and just be yourself. How to goof off. This is when I developed my sense of humor.

  • Summer 2: I learned how to enjoy nature. I spent all my free time hiking, rock-climbing, exploring. I also stumbled into a small group of very intelligent friends who got me interested in philosophy. We had some of the best discussions...

  • Summer 3: I learned how to love. I met a young woman whom I will never forget. The relationship was just that -- we related. There was no physical relationship. Just lots of time spent together, connecting on that special level, sharing secrets, sharing sadness, sharing happiness. It changed me forever.

A mere week after returning from camp that third summer, my family moved to Oregon. I was a little surprised to note that what I missed most of all wasn't my friends in Texas, or my school, or anything else. It was the experiences I'd had at Ceta Canyon.

I occasionally find myself wishing I could go back there, just once more, for one last week. But I realize how impossible it would be. I could go there physically, sure. But mentally, I am far too old, far too different to connect with anyone there anymore.

So that's all Ceta Canyon is now, to me. My happiest memory. But at least I have that.

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