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Campers and Mates swim and surf at the Camp at Tulgey Woods

THROWING PAINT

ONE OF THE REALIST EXPERIENCES ON NANTUCKET

THE CAMP AT TULGEY WOODS

The Jabberwock, with eyes of flame,

Came whiffling through the Tulgey wood

 — Lewis Carroll, Through the Looking-glass

***With gratitude an an apology to Robert Cocuzzo for fabulous material on the history of The Camp at Tulgey Woods, which appeared in N Magazine. I stole shamlrssly and word-for-word from his amazing and well-informed article.  Many thanks.  For much of this article, I have relied on the research and knowledge of others.  

When I was looking for a story for my article this week, I emailed friends asking about little know, unique, and wonderful things on Nantucket that I might not know about.  I immediately got a response from my friend Mary Beth who wrote: “The best story on Nantucket is “The Fellowship of Tulgey Woods.”  Intrigued by the name and by the idea of an event that I had never heard of despite my sixteen summers and one full year in Nantucket, I headed out to South Shore Road to learn more.

The original Tulgey Wood is a location in Alice in Wonderland. It is mentioned in the poem “Jabberwocky” as a place where the the Jabberwocky, the Jubjub Bird, and the Bandersnatch live.  Tulgey Woods on Nantucket reflects the magic of Carroll’s Tulgey Woods.  It is an extraordinary place of wonder, joy, transformation, creativity, and laughter—the place where the intentional community of Tugley Woods--a camp for people with a wide range of disabilities--meets in Nantucket for three weeks each August.  

I suspect that whatever you might imagine when you hear about a camp for the disabled is dramatically different from the reality of this camp. While these campers, who range in age from 15 to 83, have significant handicaps, this fun-loving, adventurous group sail, surf, fish, ride horseback, bike, kayak, row, water ski, and create, produce, and perform an original musical.  In addition, they have a spa day, after dinner storytelling, music night, dance parties and attend plays, concerts, museum tours, and other local events.

Joan Stockman and her husband Jacques Zumiki have a large fifteen-bedroom house on the island that they rent or donate to groups. They live in a smaller house behind it.  One evening eleven years ago they heard raucous laughter coming from the house.  Curious to know what was going on, they went over to check out the source of such merriment.  This was their introduction to the Camp and Tulgey Woods.  Drawn into the vibrancy, joy, and energy they found in this group, the have been fully committed to the Camp ever since.

Campers and volunteers come from all over the US, the UK, Canada, and Mexico.  The camp is funded by donations, and all of the staff--from the director to the councilors to the personal mates for each camper to the cooks--are volunteers.  In fact, most volunteers actually pay as much as the campers ($50.00 a week) to attend the three-week session.  The program, however, is free to anyone who does not have the resources to pay.  All travel expenses fall on the participants—both campers and “mates.”  Needless to say, donations are welcomed to defray the costs.

Tulgey Wood has a one-to-one ratio of camper to mate.  Having a “mate” who lives, plays, and sleeps in the same room with each camper means that there are very few limitations despite the severity of the camper’s disability. Together campers and mates push each other out of their comfort zones.  Together, they can accomplish almost any challenge.  Year round, lifelong friendships are forged during the three weeks of camp.  

Robert Cocuzzo wrote in an N Magazine article, "The idea for this camp was conceived in the l950s when many children with disabilities were treated with a level of callousness that is hard to fathom in today’s world.  Bound in wheel chairs, often unable to communicate, they were not welcomed into public schools and often spent their days wheeled into the corner of a hospital room or plopped in front of a television set.  In l952, an English speech therapist and mother of four named Helen Lamb (later nicknames Hell Cat) started the camp on Martha’s Vineyard.  Her daughter carried on the tradition.  Eleven years ago, an off shoot of this camp was brought to Nantucket."

Volunteers on Nantucket include nurses from Nantucket Cottage Hospital, high school and college students, retirees, and volunteers from Boston and beyond.  The Nantucket community gives generously of both time and resources.  Darcy Creech who started Nantucket Wheelers brings the bikes each summer along with people trained to use them. Jan Campbell does all of the cooking and provides much of the food at her own expense.  Maria from Pi Pizza donates two dinners, the Whaling Museum provides tours, the Unitarian Church contributes in a plethora of ways, Jack Weinhold photographs the camp, Gary Kohner of the Nantucket Island Surf School provide surfing, and Don Allen loans the camp a large vehicle.  This is only a very small and partial list of the many gifts that keep this camp running.  Despite unprecedented community support, Tulgey Woods still relies heavily on much needed donations.  To volunteer or donate visit www.tulgey.org.

Described as a light at the end of August, Tulgey Woods exists for two main purposes:  The first is to share Nantucket with those who would otherwise never have the opportunity to visit.  The second is to assist in the start up of similar programs throughout the U.S. and abroad.  Currently there are “sprouts” in Mexico, Mississippi, California, Florida, Guatemala, and Vermont.  There is a wonderful documentary that can be found on UTube called “Becoming Bullet Proof” that was made by an independent film company in cooperation with Tulgey Woods campers. It is well worth watching.

Some say that Tulgey Woods is “one of the realist experiences” on Nantucket."  It is a labor of love that provides joy, laughter, and delight.  It is a place where deep and meaningful friendships are established.  In my last Nantucket Chronicle article, I focused on the sense of community and generosity of spirit that characterizes Nantucket.  I noted that while we may be an island geographically, we are spiritually all “a piece of the continent,/a part of the main.”  We take care of each other in extraordinary ways.  No where is this more clearly demonstrated that in The Camp at Tulgey Woods where the Nantucket community engages in what it does best—providing a spectacular natural setting of astonishing beauty and inviting people to come together with clear and pure intentionality in order to love and support each other in an atmosphere of respect, empathy, resilience, and community.

We are all the Jabberwocks with eyes of flame as we come together in communities of love and support.