Inspection!

Just after breakfast each day at Pemi, there’s a magical moment when something incredible happens: The campers and counselors scurry back to their cabins, and clean!

Inspection—it’s a beautiful, essential part of the Pemi routine. Clothes are folded and squared neatly on the open wooden shelves. The floor is swept, and swept again, and the front steps, too. The towels and bathing suits hanging out on the breezy porches are positioned with care. Endless pairs of shoes are lined up under the beds, all those cleats and sneakers and Chacos and flip-flops in tidy rows. Campers run to the bathrooms to brush their teeth; one camper makes a dash to empty the cabin’s trash and recycling bins; the counselor hovers parentally about, encouraging the campers to use their time well. Quick! Dirty laundry in the laundry bags! Don’t forget to make your beds!

It’s one of the rare times in a Pemi day when recorded music can be played out loud, and anyone walking past a row of Pemi cabins during inspection will hear a medley of different songs emanating from each.

Inspection, while perhaps not in fact the most exciting event, serves an important purpose: it is Pemi’s way of putting itself together for the day, squaring everything away, making everything clean and ready to go. It gives each cabin composure, but I think it composes the minds of everyone at camp, too.

And then, at 9:20, the bugle blows, signaling that it’s time to put the brooms down. Each counselor walks towards the cabin he’s been assigned to inspect, bellowing something like, “By your bunks, Junior Six!” He then proceeds to evaluate the cabin on a numeric scale, judging everything from the neatness of the shelves to the deportment of the campers. (“Deportment” really is the word listed on the inspection checklist on a clipboard; I think Pemi is the first place I ever heard it used.)

If the inspection process sounds militaristic at all, it’s not. It’s thorough, but relaxed. Campers might complain about it, but I like to think that some of them secretly like tidying up. What I’m certain that they like more is the potential reward: the cabin with the highest average score at the end of the week gets a bag of Skittles, which when you’ve gone a summer with basically no candy, is a great treat indeed. (Some may remember the old reward was Hershey Kisses—Pemi has moved away from those, as all those little aluminum wrappers were too wasteful.)

When inspection’s over, the campers hustle to the first hour of occupations. The cabins are now clean for the day, but twenty-four hours later, they’re definitely ready to be cleaned again.

Rob Verger

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