Summer 2010: Newsletter #1

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We didn’t necessarily wait deviously until this particular afternoon to draft the first newsletter of the 2010 season – so that we could write about the all-but perfect temperature (75 degrees with a steady northwest breeze making it feel more like, well, 70 degrees); about the vibrant blue sky back-grounding the occasional puffy cumulus cloud; or about the 10-and-under round-robin soccer tournament unfolding on the pitch outside our window with some of the excitement of the World Cup, arguably better officiating, and not a vuvuzela to be heard. Nevertheless, it is wonderful to be able to generate our first summer missive in such favorable conditions for happy and productive camping.

We’re well into our third full day of Pemi’s 103rd season, and the program is in full swing. As noted, the 10s are out playing the beautiful game with three of our neighboring camps, the team anchored by 4-year veteran Patterson Malcolm, talented newcomer brothers Pepe and Diego Periel, and talented second-year brothers Carson and Cortie Fischer. Meanwhile, the 12s hoops team has travelled to Camp Moosilauke just up the Baker Valley from Pemi for the inaugural roundball match of the year, led by Daniel Bowes, Bryce Grey, and Jack Purcell. As we write, the archery and track squads are practicing for upcoming events later in the week, and wafting in from the Main Lodge come the lilting sounds of various campers and staff auditioning for this year’s Gilbert and Sullivan production, HMS Pinafore. Any minute now, Uppers 1 and 2 will be returning by bus from their day hike up Mt. Cube, the blocky granite peak right at the head of our valley, Thompson Bain, Hartwell Green, Dan Bivona and others having summited Pemi’s most-climbed mountain – Thompson actually following in the footsteps of his father Andy, a camper here thirty or more years back. Returning after supper will be a smaller group including Buck Baskin, Jimmy Gorman, and Sam Papel, all of them seniors hoping to join the Katahdin expedition next week and getting their legs in shape with a quick circuit hike up Mt. Lafayette in the Franconia Range. They will have had 60- to 80- mile views from the summit today, vistas stretching all the way from Mt. Washington in the east to Mt. Mansfield and Camel’s Hump in the west. So, yes, the season has well and truly begun.

Looking back over the past several days, we had a wonderful time greeting and speaking with all of you parents who dropped your boys on Saturday. (We admire your emotional fortitude, as we do every year, in driving away from the ones you love so well, and we are ever grateful for the trust you express towards us by doing so.) That night, as usual, we catered shamelessly to the culinary tastes of boys, sending tray upon tray of pizza out into the happily resounding dining hall, only to follow the entrée with a perennial Pemi dessert favorite, ice cream Rockets. One of the non-edible highlights of the meal was Danny Kerr’s welcome to the assembled multitudes as Pemi’s newest director, that and the truly thunderous applause that ensued. Less momentous historically, but still engaging, was Abby Reed’s appearance on – and speech from – Johanna Zabawa’s shoulders, as two moderately tall co-heads of the Junior Camp announced that they were replacing the impossibly tall Rob Follansbee, last year’s J.C. honcho (on sabbatical in 2010.)

Saturday night featured the inaugural campfire, indoors (yes, in a fireplace, not on the floor!) owing to threatening weather conditions, but spirited and talent-laden nevertheless. Staff members Gordon DiQuattro, Mike Benham, and Henry Eisenhart kicked things off on the five-string banjo and stand-up bass and sax respectively, courageously followed by campers Carson Fischer with a joke, Sean O’Conner demonstrating the sub-brachial air-expulsion funky noise-rendering technique (polite decorum allows us to describe it no more plainly), and The Buffalonians (Peter and Michael Montante and Daniel Fulham), with a moving ballad about their home town.  (Or was it ridiculous? It was tough to tell.) Easily as unlooked-for and stunning as Susan Boyle’s first appearance on Britain’s Got Talent was Robert Loeser’s rendition of “What a Wonderful World,” done a cappella and with flawless poise and phrasing. Nick Barber surged back onto the Pemi jazz scene, joining Benham for Wayne Shorter’s “Witch Hunt,” Mason Challinor juggled bowling pins and anything up to twelve balls (running chain saws next week? perhaps not), and then first-year campers André Altherr and Jack Elvekrog strode in sequence into the spotlight, delivering themselves of (André) a song about the presidents and a (Jack) a song about the 50 state capitals, both of them with death-defying elocution and speed. Other staff acts ensued, including another of Nature Head Larry Davis’s wry Maine stories, with Nathaniel Kaplan’s riddles and Ezra Nugiel’s professionally finished “Downtown” (from Little Shop of Horrors and not Petula Clark!) wrapping up the camper contributions. We hope for the next campfire to be under the open skies, but this one was a definite keeper.

Sunday brought the first Polar Bear dips of the season, health checks, swim tests, pick-up sports, and letters home. Many of you will have received the latter by the time you read this, and we hope that said communiqués are at least 100 words in length (including salutation to parents, siblings, and family pets) and are full of excitement and enthusiasm. As history has shown, however, these first letters can also carry some intimations of sadness mixed in with the declarations of love. Missing home is, of course, natural, and arguably a potent confirmation of family affection and solidity. Still, we know from personal experience that to hear anything other than “Everything is going just perfectly!” can really yank on a parent’s heartstrings. Just remember that, the times when they’re happy, their last thought is to write home – and the times when they’re not, writing a sad letter seems like the only thing to do. Please do be in touch if you receive lots of such letters, or receive them over a protracted period. We’ll be more than happy to ramp up our vigilance of the ways your boys are adjusting even further. But if you can be strong and patient – and write back cheerful letters that ask your sons to describe what they’re doing – homesickness usually diminishes within a very few days.

Sunday’s evening meal was a whole-camp cook-out in front of the mess hall, with the picturesque panorama of Mt. Carr right there above the ballfield to enhance the cuisine. At 8PM, everyone gathered in the Lodge for an illustrated talk on the history of Pemi – the first of seven Sunday evening addresses designed to enlighten and entertain in equal measure. Tom Reed Jr. took the audience back to the first days of camp, documenting everything from our early dependence on horses for transportation and pond-cut ice for refrigeration to the enduring comradeship to be found in mountain trips, team play, and song.

Monday marked the start of occupations, our daily instructional activities, and featured over seventy offerings in sports, nature, music, and art. The weather held perfectly, letting us get our daily routine established with a vengeance. In the afternoon, the 15s Ultimate Frisbee juggernaut headed off to some neighboring camps for the kick-off sports competition of the year, and came home having out-scored its collective opponents 11 to 10. The fact that the score in actual matches was Pemi 1 Opponents 2 scarcely detracted from the fact that a good time was had by all. Coach Cory Fauver has already written an article that will appear in this winter’s bound volume of Bean Soup, and we’ll observe the no-spoiler ethic by holding back all of the details for now. He did, though, sing the praises of Mason Challinor, Peter Ionno, David Levi, Jonathan Kenkel, Nick Barber, Nate Kraus and numerous others in this most civilized and Athenian of games. Read all about this, and all other Pemi undertakings, this December.

Speaking of Bean Soup, last night’s was the first reading of that august journal’s 101st volume. Joining second-year editor Ian Axness on the editorial perch was Dwight Dunston, who quickly demonstrated that his verbal deftness as an English major at Dickinson College (who is additionally headed off to earn an MFA in poetry at the University of East Anglia) is buttressed by trenchant social insight (noticeably satiric) and biting wit. Such is the stuff of great Bean Soup editors, and Axness and Dunston promise to be one of the best duos of recent decades. The staff having been here for over ten days and the boys only three, the first ladling of the Soup was, as usual, somewhat fuller of staff “news” than camper. But next week’s reading will overflow with accounts of this week’s camper goings on, and we look forward to seeing your sons blushing to the accounts of their athletic triumphs, laughing at their foibles revealed, and sharing the unique bond that comes from a community that knows how to see the joke in everything without ever (well, hardly ever!) sacrificing understanding and common cause for the sake of a quick laugh. The boys’ love of the Monday night institution was evident from the very first, as Ian and Dwight found their way to the front of the room amidst wild shouts and applause. The tuition-paying audience’s potential to be meaningful contributors themselves was equally evident in some extremely witty haiku penned by Harry Eifler and Henry Pletcher, among others. All in all, it was a fitting way to cap the third day of camp (and not least welcome, in the eyes of this writer, for the fact that the questionably desirable award for “Director of the Week” is now, by virtue of Danny’s having joined us, very likely to go every once in a while to someone other than yours truly.)

Well, that’s it for now. Danny and I will follow with more in a week; look on-line for pictures of the 2010 season; and please see the Pemi blog for bios of the 2010 Pemi staff.

— Tom Reed, Jr.

Wild Foods: Pemi’s Tastiest and Most Popular Occupation

Over the years, Wild Foods has become our most requested occupation. In a sense, it has also become a victim of its own success. (For those of you unfamiliar with Wild Foods, it is truly an amazing educational and culinary experience. Boys in the occupation join Larry Davis, Pemi’s Head of Nature, and create foods made largely or entirely from what grows naturally in Pemi’s ecosystem. Foods have included stuffed grape leaves, wild mint tea, jam from wild berries, and more.)

But, many campers are understandably disappointed because, despite repeated requests, they don’t get into the occupation. Many parents have contacted us to voice appeals on behalf of their sons. So, we think that it is time for a new policy that will mitigate some of these difficulties.

Here is some background. Each week the occupation is taught during third period, and enrollment is limited to only eight campers. No camper is allowed to get Wild Foods twice during the summer. Still, there is only a total of 48 “slots” during the summer, and so only 48 campers can come up as winners in this lottery. Yet, in some weeks, over 50 campers request it, and over the course of a typical summer over 125 different campers may ask for it. A large number must be disappointed.

There are three possible solutions to the problem: 1) offer the activity more frequently, such as two occupation periods a week; 2) enroll more campers at a time; 3) limit enrollment to older campers only.

The first two of these run into the fact that our resources are limited. There are only so many wild strawberries out there, and only so many Indian cucumber roots (the use of which kills the plant). Over the years, we have carefully managed our “harvests” so that they are sustainable. Increasing the pressure on the Indian cucumber supply would lead to their disappearance, for example. While this could be an interesting lesson in and of itself, it is not one that we wish to demonstrate. Furthermore, only Larry Davis teaches this activity, and if he is teaching two periods of it, then he is not available to teach other activities.

So, the only option left is to limit enrollment to older campers, and this is what we have decided to do. This summer, only uppers and seniors will be able to request Wild Foods. Should we find that there are empty spots, we then will open it up to Upper Lowers. We think that, by putting these restrictions in place, we will be able to place most of the campers who request it into the activity sometime during the summer, and thus fewer campers will be disappointed. For the younger campers who will no longer be eligible, it will be something to look forward to as they progress through their Pemi career.

Visiting Professionals

In addition to Pemi’s talented full-time staff, we are fortunate to have several people, all experts in their fields, come to Pemi this summer to offer their unique expertise to our campers. Whether they join us for one day or for a couple weeks, their talents are sure to broaden the experience for many boys.

They are:

Andy Bale is a professional photographer (and comes to us through certain connections we have with Dickinson College). He remembers his introduction to photography this way: “I began photography some 23 years ago as a sophomore in high school. I was never good at sports and I was average when it came to academics. But I had an amazing photography teacher who instilled in me the desire to work hard. That dedication brought to life a creative passion I had never known. I received my BFA in photography from Savannah College of Art and Design, and after college bounced around from job to job, ranging from studio manager to a custom fine art platinum printer. In 2001 I was given a rare opportunity to teach a photography course at the college level and after one semester, I was hooked. I was finally able to pass along those skills and talents that were once shared with me, and in 2003 I went to work on my MFA at University of Delaware. I’ve been teaching and pursuing my own fine art photography ever since.”

Andy will be at Pemi from June 26 through July 10. He writes, “In teaching photography at Pemi, it is my goal to show campers a completely new way of using the photographic process. Photography is unique: unlike with most other art mediums, every camper will arrive at camp having past experience with a camera and a certain knowledge of photography. It is my job to erase what they know about photography and begin fresh. I want to steer them away from photographs of pets and friends and give them a new appreciation of the power of photography. I have some wonderful projects planned, including pinhole photography, cyanotypes (one of the first photography processes invented back in 1839), minor darkroom skills, and digital light painting at night with flashlights.”

***

Paula Goldberg, a physician assistant by profession, has been affiliated with the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History for the past 22 years. She has volunteered and done contract work for the museum’s Insect Zoo and Butterfly Pavilion since 1996. Paula has a special interest in spiders.  She loves spending time in the natural world and at Pemi. Paula is also on the Board of Directors of City Wildlife, a new group helping urban wildlife, in DC.

Paula and her family have been members of the Pemi community for several years. She worked as Associate Nature Head with Larry Davis from 2003 to 2006 and tries to return every summer for at least a few days.  Nate Erwin and Paula, with the support of Pemi, initiated the North American Butterfly Association July 4 Butterfly Count at Lower Baker Pond, which has been conducted every summer since 2004. She plans to return to Pemi for a weekend in mid-July for the 7th-annual NABA Butterfly Count at Lower Baker Pond, and hopes to lead at least one spider walk!

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Nathan Erwin is an entomologist and manages the Insect Zoo and Butterfly Pavilion at the Smithsonian Institution. After graduating from the University of Delaware, he spent five years working as a forest pest entomologist in Maryland, and four years working for the Rachel Carson Trust. He began working at the Smithsonian Institution in 1992, and continues to have many adventures with exhibits and the natural world. At the invitation of Paula Goldberg, Nate journeyed north in the summer of 2004 to visit Pemi, and with Paula initiated the first official butterfly count in the area. He’s been returning every summer since to continue the count and to visit with his newly acquired Pemi friends. Nate plans to be at Pemi in mid-July to conduct the butterfly count with Paula and all interested Pemi campers and staff.  It will be the count’s seventh year, and he’s looking forward to it!

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Phil Landry has been a full-time fly-fishing guide and instructor in Arkansas and Tennessee for the last six years.  After he received his master’s degree in education from the University of Texas, he decided he would rather teach in a boat than in a classroom.  A Pemi veteran, Phil spent four years as a camper and five years as a cabin counselor on the shores of Lower Baker.  He looks forward to teaching fly tying, fly casting and taking campers fishing in his jet boat, which he will be bringing up to New Hampshire this summer. Destinations will include the Connecticut River and some nearby lakes. Phil will be with us for the first week of August.

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In her spare time, Zosha Livingstone-Peters is a fashion designer, fine artist, and textile designer whose chosen medium of hand-painted silk translates with ease and beauty into home accessories, fashion and fine art. Zosha has been painting on silk for twenty-one years, and is continually inspired by the natural environment. Her background in silk painting includes some global sales in select boutiques as well as current online and regional sales. Zosha is a 1989 graduate of Pratt Institute, and lives with her three sons, one daughter and husband in Salisbury, Vermont.

Zosha’s father and brother are Pemi alums, and her son Max Livingstone-Peters will be a fifth-year camper this season. Zosha is profoundly excited to be volunteering her time at Pemi this summer and to begin teaching the fine art of painting on silk to Pemi boys. Zosha will visit on Saturday, July 10, to share her passion with any boy who signs up for her silk painting workshop. Participants can expect to create a beautiful piece of fine silk art by first stretching silks on wooden frames, and then delving into dye blending and painting, using beeswax as the resist. Boys will come home with a unique piece of abstract fine art, which can then be framed or sewn into a tie, bow tie, silk scarf or cushion cover.

A Pemi Primer

Life at Pemi involves some jargon with which neophytes may not be familiar. Here, then, is a Pemi primer: an introduction to the lexicon of the place. (Definitions with a hyperlink have another blog item devoted to them.)

AC: Assistant counselor. Most cabins have a junior counselor who assists the head counselor. He has just finished his junior or senior year of high school, and is almost always a former Pemi camper.

Bean Soup: Every Monday night the camp convenes in the Lodge for a reading of Bean Soup, a series of articles, some humorous, about the week’s events at camp, read aloud by the editors.

Brave: The Pemi Brave is an award that is earned through a series of accomplishments by an ambitious camper who excels in a variety of fields across the Pemi curriculum: athletics, nature, the outdoors, public service, and more.

Bunk: A bunk at Pemi is an upper or lower bed in a cabin or tent. Some camps use the term “bunk” for cabins, but Pemi doesn’t.

Cabin: A cabin is the camper’s home for the summer. There are also three heavy-duty canvas tents on platforms at Pemi– Junior Tent, Hill Tent, and the Lake Tent.

Chief: The Chief is the highest achievement at Pemi, earned by only eight to ten boys in Pemi history. Like the Brave but much more difficult to earn, the Chief award is obtained only by the Pemi boy who has demonstrated remarkable achievement across all aspects of the Pemi program. It takes multiple years to complete the requirements for a Chief.

Distance swim: In order to be permitted to take a boat out solo when the waterfront is open, a boy must first complete his distance swim: a closely supervised swim, about .5 mile long, from the high dive at the Junior waterfront to the high dive at the Senior waterfront.

Division: There are four divisions at Pemi: Junior (ages 8 – 11), Lower Intermediate (ages 11 – 13), Upper Intermediate (ages 13 – 14), and Senior (ages 14 – 15).

Dope stop: After a hiking trip, Pemi campers stop for candy and a soda. It’s not the best part of a hiking trip, but it’s pretty darn good. The term “dope” derives from the early New England slang for soda pop.

Flat Rock: Diagonally across from camp on Lower Baker Pond, this rock sticks out into the water (not surprisingly, the rock is flat). Most nights at camp, in lieu of a meal in the Mess Hall, a cabin of boys and their counselors will canoe across the lake and cook their dinner over a fire.

Free swim: Every afternoon at 5 pm, campers have the option of enjoying Free Swim, which is held in both the Junior Camp and Senior Camp. Campers are closely supervised by counselors, and must swim in groups of either two or three. Because this activity is included with the price of tuition, it is considered doubly “free.” (We kid, we kid.)

Gilbert and Sullivan. Every summer, Pemi performs one of four Gilbert and Sullivan operettas: HMS Pinafore, Pirates of Penzance, Mikado, or Iolanthe. These productions take an entire season to put together, and the results are frequently soaring.

Hanover Day: During Pemi Week, the senior campers get to spend a day in town. Shopping! Pizza for dinner! A movie! Ben and Jerry’s ice cream! Need we say more?

Inspection: Every day, after breakfast, the campers and counselors clean their cabins.

Junior Brave: This award, like the Brave, is earned by a camper in the Junior division who achieves success in the outdoors, nature, athletics, and more.

Lower Baker Pond: This is the lake that Pemi is on. No exaggeration: it’s one of the most beautiful places around.

Metal Boy: A fictional character of Pemi lore. He’s made entirely of metal. Watch out for rainy days!

Mess Hall: The dining hall: a beautiful sloped-roofed, high-ceiling building perched on a hill overlooking camp, where all meals are eaten, family-style.

Occupations: The daily, structured activities, based on lesson plans. There are three occupational hours before lunch, and for juniors, a fourth after rest hour.

Pagoda: The bathroom—for going “number two.” See the entry for “Squish” below for the Pagoda’s partner in crime.

Pemi Hill: Behind the Intermediate and Junior camp there is a wooded hill rising up about Pemi. A short, steep trail up the hillside takes Pemi campers to a wooden shelter that sits beside a fresh spring. Each cabin has the opportunity to spend a night up there at least once a season, and cook breakfast over the fire in the morning. It’s close enough to camp to still be able to hear that bugle calls, but far enough away to still feel like camping.

Pemi Week: The last week of Pemi, when the normal schedule of occupations ceases and daily events celebrate the season: Games Day, Woodsdude’s Day, the Triathlon, the Art Show, the performances of the Gilbert & Sullivan operetta, and more. It concludes with the Final Banquet, the Final Bean Soup, and the Final Campfire.

Pine Forest: Like Flat Rock, Pine Forest is a dining location across the lake which cabins can canoe to with their counselors and cook dinner over the fire.

Polar Bear: Every morning, campers leap out of bed with a glad cry (“huzzah!”), do quick exercises to wake up, and then jump in the lake. (Required for the first week that a boy is at camp for the summer, it’s optional afterward.) Just for fun, here’s a video of a young Pemi camper jumping into Lower Baker Pond.

Pink Polar Bear: Why jump in the relatively warm lake to wake up, when you can dunk in a very cold stream first thing in the morning? Many boys choose this option.

Rest Hour: After lunch, for a blissful hour, the campers relax on their beds and quietly read, write, or listen to music. There is a chance that counselors might even enjoy this break more than the campers.

Soap bath: Every Sunday, campers are obliged to be weighed, and then take a quick bath in the lake, using their biodegradable soaps. While hot showers are available all week long, some campers are occasionally reluctant to bathe themselves of their own initiative. Thus, the soap bath.

Squish: The bathroom. But only if you have to go “number one” or brush your teeth.

Tecumseh Day: Pemi’s historical, epic athletic rivalry with Camp Tecumseh. Think Athens vs. Sparta, but instead of bows and arrows and chariots, think baseball, soccer, swimming and tennis. And better sportsmanship. And no killing.

Two-day, three-day, four-day: Overnight trips. Junior cabins go on two-day long hiking trips; Lower Intermediates on three-days and Upper Intermediates on four-days. Seniors can go on a series of ambitious and optional trips, such as climbing Mt. Katahdin, paddling the Allagash waterway in Maine, or traversing the Presidential range in the White Mountains.

Bugle Calls:

Pemi is one of the few places where you don’t really need to carry a time piece: the bugle calls, played by a counselor, let you know what time it is. Here are some of the most common ones.

Reveille: Played at 7:30 sharp, this bugle calls pierces the quiet morning air with an upbeat and clear message: get out of bed! Former Pemi counselor Lance Latham sent along this great video he shot in the summer of 1987 of counselor Dean Ellerton playing reveille. Tom Reed, Sr., is seen on the hill, helping to encourage the boys out of bed.

First call: Played five minutes before a meal begins. Here’s a cheesy YouTube video, not affiliated with Pemi, that demonstrates the call.

Tattoo: Played at 8:45 pm, this bugle call means that it is time to start getting ready for bed. Here’s another YouTube video, also not affiliated with Pemi (and somewhat weird), that demonstrates the call.

Taps: The bugle call, played at 9 pm, when it is time to sleep. Here’s an excellent History Channel clip about the origins of the call.