Stations of Life’s Journey

2017: Newsletter # 5

It’s been a momentous week at Camp Pemigewassett. No, there haven’t been any further floods (although it did rain a little bit more.) No victory on Tecumseh Day (yet! – and despite the fact that we did very nicely against Camp Moosilauke last weekend!) And no announcement of a Pulitzer Prize for the Bean Soup editorial staff (although Dan Reed and Wes Eifler did scribe some wonderful celebratory limericks for the annual Birthday Banquet.) No, instead, roughly eighty first-session campers said goodbye to us last Monday morning, while eighty second-sessioners arrived on Tuesday to start their own 2017 seasons. It’s especially gratifying when parents retrieving their sons report that their boy’s first words after a crushing hug were, “I’m definitely coming back for seven weeks next year.” It’s equally buoying to see returning veterans bouncing out of their cars and running over to old friends, taking exactly 2.5 seconds to fall into the kind of excited jabber you couldn’t interrupt with an air-raid siren. Session Two is off to an energetic and happy start, with our June arrivals very clearly getting a second wind from last Tuesday’s reinforcements. It doesn’t hurt, naturally, that the aforementioned Tecumseh Day is coming up this Friday. The annual showdown with our archrivals of the past 108 years never fails to get the Pemi engine running at peak RPMs.

Also most definitely revving up the week, though, have been the returns of the two major expeditions we mount every summer – the Allagash Canoe Trip and Pemi West. Both groups rolled back into camp on Friday: Pemi West at 9:30 P.M. and the Allagash van on the stroke of midnight. There are many ways for a boy to extend himself at Pemi, whether he’s a special devotee of athletics, the arts and music, nature, or the trip program. Nothing we do with our fifteen-year-olds, however, offers quite the challenge embodied in the sixty-to-seventy-mile, five-day paddle down the Allagash River through the untamed wilderness of northern Maine. Yet, exciting and demanding as this inland voyage may be, it has to take a second seat to the exacting, life-altering mountain leadership program that is Pemi West. Every year, eight to twelve Pemi veterans aged sixteen or seventeen (sometimes with interested boys or girls who haven’t been with us in Wentworth) set out for Washington State’s Olympic National Park for three and a half weeks of wilderness backpacking, mountaineering, and rock-climbing. The program unquestionably builds on skills and interests acquired at Pemi East (with many participants having in fact cut their teeth on wilderness adventure up on the Allagash!), but advanced training in Wilderness First Aid, glacier travel, and various other skills required in mountaineering and rock climbing make the course as personally groundbreaking as it is exciting. Participants learn to assess their capabilities relative to challenges of multiple sorts, make wise decisions and carry them out with determination and good judgment, and, perhaps most important of all, cultivate a selfless and supportive group ethic that makes for collective success on the trail and, for many years to come, elsewhere as well. The Allagash boys come back to Pemi as leaders of their fellow campers. The Pemi West crew come back as all but assistant counselors and, as often as not, become our very best cabin counselors in subsequent years.

Allagash Trip

2017 Allagash trip

2017 Allagash trip

This year’s Allagash trip was led by veteran Pemi trip counselors Harry Morris and Nick Davini. Under their skilled guidance, Brodie Fisher, Teddy Foley, Miles Schiff Stein, Frank Applebaum, Eli Barlow, Scott Cook, Nathan King, Elliot Muffett, Suraj Khakee, and Owen Lee left camp a week ago Monday, just as the sun was rising across the mist-filled valley. Harry and Nick had decided this year to bypass the sometimes wind-bound Allagash lakes and return to the river section of the waterway, which consists of a 63-mile paddle from Churchill Dam to the Village of Allagash. Including the out and back drives of nearly 500 miles each, the group spent five days away from camp, one more than usual for this outing. They paddled each day from about 8 AM to 3:30 or 4:00 PM, giving them plenty of time on the river as well as allowing them to relax at the excellent campsites that grace that stretch of the waterway. As in past year’s, the group saw multiple moose, over a dozen bald eagles, and lots of other wildlife not typically seen here in New Hampshire. The boys, report Harry and Nick, were absolutely excellent this year. They had been in training for three weeks, paddling on our pond on a daily basis, learning the various strokes required for a demanding river passage, learning how to deal with and recover from capsizing, and trying out the skills of portaging. They had also been on two preparatory river trips, such that when they finally hit the Allagash, they were practiced and confident, and thus able to appreciate all the more the magnificently wild setting through which they travelled. Harry and Nick were especially impressed with everyone’s willingness to lend a helping hand to others when the need arose. A tight-knit group even before they left, they returned sun-bronzed and happy, bonded together even more closely through the rigors, and the pleasures, of the trip.

Pemi West

This year’s Pemi West group was comprised of Pemi veterans Dash Slamowitz, Sam Beesley, Pierce Haley, Jackson Morrell, Reed O’Brien, Will Adams, George Cook, Nolan Katcher, and Andrew Kanovsky. Under the experienced guidance of Pemi West Director Dave Robb and his co-instructors Tim Heltzel and Regan Narin, they quickly learned everything they needed to know about organizing their 40-50-pound packs for ease of carrying and quick access to crucial gear; planning, provisioning, and cooking their meals; setting realistic goals for the day’s travel; situating their campsites; moving across glaciers with ropes on their harnesses, crampons on their boots, and ice axes in their hands; glissading and self-arresting after falls; and scores of other skills and necessities for backcountry travel. Once they had mastered the basics and repeated them enough for them to become reflexes and routines, each participant took his turn as leader of the day, assuming total responsibility for everything from determining wake-up time and their optimal route to deciding upon their final destination. Dave, Tim, and Regan were always in the wings, shadowing the group, but Pemi’s “mountain leadership” program required exactly that of all the boys in turn: leadership, with all of the challenges, opportunities, uncertainties, doubts, realizations, and rewards that being a leader involves. In the wonderful talk they gave to the entire Pemi East community this past Sunday evening, they spoke eloquently about the self-knowledge that comes from being in charge of a group you care about and having to decide, in the moment, what the best way might be to work with a number of other strong-minded individuals in order to achieve an important goal. There were also 24-hour solos, when each participant became his own Thoreau on Walden Pond and had a chance truly to digest what he had gone through on this mountain odyssey, how it was all changing him, how different the coming months and years might promise to be as a result.

2017 Pemi West group

2017 Pemi West group

It was all such a daunting prospect, for starters. Two and a half weeks in the backcountry, carrying everything you need, save for what you will unpack from the back of a friendly llama at the resupply ten or twelve days in! Sam Beesley’s remarks on Sunday were especially revealing. The first several days on the trail, he literally wasn’t sure he could make it. Though a seasoned distance runner, he had never encountered anything this taxing. His thoughts were all about how infernally heavy his pack was, how he had made a mistake ever signing on for this, how slogging through two more weeks seemed a complete impossibility. Even as he wrestled with these doubts, though, he could imagine another Sam, a future Sam, who might look back on all this with a profound sense of pride, pleasure, and accomplishment. Mile by mile, day by day, the self-doubting boy in the woods somehow became the proven and joyous traveler through the wild, and Sam’s personal prognostications solidified into a reality. “As we all finished the last three miles of the trip by ourselves, I realized that I wanted to stay longer. And as we camped in the front country and as we got further and further from the Park and deeper into civilization, I missed the wilderness more and more. I missed the quietness of it, the solitude and feeling of self-sufficiency that comes with spending weeks in the woods. The need to get back to the natural world was not one I had ever felt before. I’m pretty sure the Sam who was first counting down the days till the end of the trip would find the Sam who wished the trip would never end was kind of insane. But I guess you don’t know how good you’ve got it until it’s over.” It’s hard to know how better the philosophical and personal payoffs of a rigorous mountain adventure might be expressed. Everyone in the Lodge knew that they were witness to lives that had been irrevocably enhanced, even transformed. Oh, the lucky ones (this year’s Allagashers among them) for whom the Olympic Range might be next summer’s play- and proving ground alike!

Distance Swim

Distance swim

Distance swimmer

Many Pemi West participants have indeed first worked up an appetite for the rigors of extended wilderness travel on the Allagash waterway. Pemi is not unique in believing that boys and girls thrive best when they are introduced to appropriate challenges at just the appropriate age, but we do try to structure many things at camp in a way that allows our boys to match being satisfied with things they’ve already mastered with the boldness needed to take on things they’ve not yet tried. Historically, one of the most dependable building blocks of self-validation and confidence has been the “distance swim,” the half-mile, staff-escorted swim that qualifies a boy to take out a boat on his own or with a fellow camper. Hard as it may be to believe, some boys arrive at camp never having swum in anything other than a pool – or perhaps in the wave-tumbled shallows of the ocean shore. The prospect of swimming the equivalent of 30 to 35 pool lengths when you can’t even see the bottom (let alone count on being able to touch it if you tire) can be extremely daunting to an eight-, eleven-, or even fourteen-year-old. It hardly matters that staff members are just feet ahead in a rowboat, with their life-saving tube at the ready. You still feel very much alone (and I am remembering the feeling distinctly, almost with a chill, as I write this sixty years after my own first distance swim!) You wonder whether you have it in you to move past the first fifty yards – to the second – to the tenth – to the fifteenth. But, as the chilly waters seem almost to warm with your extended effort and the float that is your destination grows from the apparent dimensions of a Lego spied across an amphitheater to a sofa cushion viewed from the coffee table, you get that giddy feeling that you’re going to make it. Maybe your biggest worry now, in fact, is that, when you pull yourself up, arm-weary, onto the float, your smile will be so broad and crazy that your counselor will be forced to chuckle at your extravagant pleasure. “Of course I could manage,” you’ll want to say. “Never the slightest doubt! (And boy, are my arms exhausted!)” You look forward to the cheer of acknowledgement in the mess hall that night – even though you’ll blush when you hear it. Playing Frisbee running bases that evening, you’ll pause to recall what you’ve managed to do – and that silly smile may bloom once again. That night, after taps, as your counselor starts to read the next chapter of Treasure Island, you’ll think quietly to yourself, “Maybe I’m more like Jim Hawkins than I thought.” These are the little steps, of body and mind, that mark so distinctly our progress as we grow up, get stronger, believe in ourselves.

We’ll close by looking at the Distance Swim from a slightly different angle –a perspective offered by former Director Tom Reed, Sr., who left us in 2010. What follows is a transcription of a recording made in May of that year. It speaks, as we have spoken above, to the way boys can rise to challenges in a fashion that changes them forever for the better. But is also speaks to the incalculable satisfaction that can be derived from creating an atmosphere in which that change can happen. The boy may swim, but the giddy smile may belong as much to his counselor as to him. (Ask Kim Bradshaw who, just this past week, watched with delight as Jon Ciglar and Kieran Klasfeld, with whom she had been working for three summers, finally waded ashore after managing The Big Swim.) Somehow, inevitably, we are all in the water together. 

(Tom usually told this story at the last meeting of staff training week, the night before the campers arrived.) 

With regard to why we’re all here tonight, and for the remaining seven weeks of the season, it’s become customary for me to speak a little bit because of my long experience at Pemi myself. Some people may be here to make a huge salary. Don’t expect that to be the case. Others will come for a variety of reasons, but I want to explain, in a short story of what happened at Pemi one summer not too long ago, why we really are all here, every one of us. 

We had a camper I’ll call Matthew who was with us for two or three summers about twenty or twenty-five years ago. He was one of these appealing but somewhat ineffectual kids who really couldn’t do much that was likely to impress other campers, or even some of the staff. He was put in the Junior Camp, the only new kid in his cabin, and like all the other Juniors started out learning occupations (as we call the morning activities) including swimming. At Pemi, all campers must swim the half mile from the Senior Beach to the Junior Beach before they’re allowed to take boats out by themselves, as opposed to going out with a counselor. Well, so Matthew started out on this swimming program along with some other kids, and he wasn’t making much progress, and he and other people in the Junior Camp surely noticed that he wasn’t making much progress in other areas either. He didn’t seem to make new friends, he didn’t seem to get much better in tennis, or any activities like that. Meanwhile, all of the other Juniors, as usual, were making progress, sometimes immense progress, in other areas. So Matthew often seemed to be adrift, kind of a, oh, I don’t know how to describe him, in this sea of activity around him. 

Now, here’s where the story really starts. I think he must have become afraid of swimming somewhere else, because he was a very slow learner in the water, and while the other boys made rapid progress, he hardly made any progress at all. And he hated it. He would sometimes hide, and the counselors would have to come and find him, and almost drag him out to the swimming area. And they hated themselves for that, and he hated them too, I suppose, for that. But he made slow progress through the season. First it was swimming from dock to dock, then around the Junior swimming area, and finally to the Junior Point and back – quite a short distance, but significant psychologically in this case, I think.

And then comes the end of the summer, or nearing the end of the summer, with two days left to go, and Matthew still hasn’t swum his distance. He’s the only boy who hasn’t, and everybody in camp knows that. So what do the counselors do? Should they start him out on that swim, with the knowledge of what a huge thing it would be for him if he made it; or what an awful thing it would be if he tried and failed, with no time left to repeat. But they decided to do it, and just two days before the end of the season.  

I remember I was in the office with Holly Gardner, our secretary, working, when a little Junior ran by the open window and yelled in at us: “Matthew’s swimming his distance!”

Well, the sound of those words still sends a chill up and down my back. So Holly and I ran out onto the porch of the Lodge and, sure enough, there was Matthew in the water about fifty yards out, with a row boat ahead of him with two counselors in it, one rowing – you could hear the creaking of the oars – and the other holding a bamboo pole out over Matthew’s head (just off the stern of the boat) so that Matthew could grab that any time he wanted to for help. And there was a third counselor, Brad Saffer, the head of the swimming program in the Junior Camp that year, who, very unusually, was swimming in the water with Matthew, singing songs, mostly Gilbert and Sullivan songs, because Brad had starred in the show the night before and was going to again that night. And you could see the arms of Matthew rising laboriously above the water, and hear occasional conversation.  

As I say, Holly Gardner and I were working, and we came out and we saw this apparition, and we watched for a couple of minutes. And suddenly, unexpectedly, there was utter silence, and out of this silence, from across the water, came this little boy’s voice saying, “I’m gonna make it!” 

Well, I don’t know if I ever heard more thrilling words in my life to this day – except perhaps when [my wife] Betsy said “I do!” And Holly felt the same way. We both began to cry, and by this time, about half the camp was along the shore, watching Matthew make progress. And this is really significant, because with only a couple of days left in the season, boys who were good friends were much more likely to play tennis with each other, or some kind of activity like that, than to watch an eight-year-old boy swim in the lake. But there they were.  

Holly and I ran down to the Senior Beach, and by that time probably two thirds of the camp was there. And as Matthew came out of the water, the campers ran out to meet him, to shake his hand, and pat his back, and rub his hair and so on. And I wish you could have seen Matthew’s face, which really resembled the rising sun. I don’t think there was a person there who didn’t know what Matthew must have been thinking: “I did it! I did it all, every stroke of the way, all by myself.” (He wasn’t, of course, old enough yet to appreciate the full contributions the counselors had made.) And Matthew’s face also said, “If I can do something this hard, at which I wanted to give up, at which I had to work so hard all summer, and do it all by myself, then there may be nothing in life ahead of me which will be too hard for me to do.” Now if any of you who are or will be parents consider the full impact of this, you’ll know how important that was. I think the word “miracle” is not too strong to describe it. And then that night in the Mess Hall, Matthew had perhaps the longest, loudest cheer in Pemi’s history.

So that really is why we’re all here. Every one of you can do something somewhat like that for one of our campers; and if you can, do it. It doesn’t have to be big and dramatic, like Matthew’s story. Any little improvement here or there can work as a minor to a major miracle in a boy’s life. So we’re delighted to have you all here, and we’ll be working together on this and other important projects all summer. Thank you, and good night!

Baker Pond. The Allagash. The glacier-clad peaks of the distant Olympics. Crucial stations, all of them, on a life’s journey of growing confidence and consequence.

(Tune in next week for an account of Tecumseh Day 2017, penned by our storied Athletic Director, Charlie Malcolm.)

–TRJR

SPECIAL EDITION: The Flood of 2017

All you really need to know about the impact on Pemi campers of the Saturday, July 1st Flood of ’17 is to hear that, when on Monday ’73 Flood Survivors Tom Reed Jr. and Larry Davis announced in the mess hall that this recent deluge was clearly worse than in 1973, the campers cheered! To work a variation on the old saw, what doesn’t wash you away evidently makes you proud and happy.

Saturday, July 1

One difference from ’73 was that, this time, we had far more advance warning, what with the various electronic weather vanes we in the Office were all carefully eyeing. The forecast had already called for rain that might well lead to flash flooding. So when, at noon of that Saturday’s inter-camp sports day, we checked the radar and saw a huge green blob with a lurid center of yellow and red oozing across the Connecticut River towards us, we sprang into action.

Rushing waters overflow the culvert

Rushing waters overflow the culvert

Even before the culverts began to overflow with run-off surging down the hill behind camp, we moved three of our vans to a safe spot across our bridge in case high waters made wheeled egress from the camp impossible. Staff were also advised to move their cars from the low-lying parking lot by the Senior Beach. There would be no repeat of 1973, when the locked VW bug of a counselor who was deployed that day for airport pick-ups had to be hand-lifted by a dozen of his colleagues and carried to higher ground.

Ushering junior campers to dinner

Ushering junior campers to dinner

By late afternoon, what had been intensifying rain gave way to electrical storms, and, alerted by the lightning siren, boys and staff retreated to their cabins for a spell. Those of us in the Office stayed glued to our computer screens, hoping that our power would stay on (though perhaps secretly hoping it wouldn’t, so as to give our powerful new propane-fueled backup generator its first practical test.) A clear gap in the storm system subsequently offered a brief window for us to scoot the boys up to the mess hall for supper, which Tom Ciglar and his dedicated crew had all ready and waiting for speedy service. Fortunately, one (and one only!) of the three bridges that span the stream dividing the camp was still not over-washed by the mounting torrent, and the boys were ushered carefully across on their way to a hot meal. Meanwhile, Assistant Director Kenny Moore and Waterfront Head Charlotte Jones took the opportunity to detach the floating sections of our new hybrid docks from their fixed complements, carefully anchoring them against the strong down-valley current that was even then beginning to make itself felt.

Senior campers asleep in the Mess Hall

Senior campers asleep in the Mess Hall

Once we’d all eaten, it was quickly back to the cabins for the night – no pre-announced campfire and no staff time-off for that evening. (I must admit that, had we had a good supply of phosphorous, it would have been both novel and thrilling to hold an underwater campfire in its traditional location. No such luck, though.) By 6pm, our devoted and heroic Head of Buildings and Grounds, Reed Harrigan, had cancelled his own weekend off and arrived back on location. On Reed’s recommendation, the boys of Seniors 1-3 grabbed their mattresses, sleeping bags, and toothbrushes and headed up to the dining room for the night. While the waters rushing down the road in front of the Office (after over-topping a failing culvert) didn’t ultimately erode the foundations of the cabins, it made perfect sense to be super cautious, so that’s what we did. As a result, our 14s and 15s slept in the very space in which we normally eat our meals and sing songs about beating Camp Tecumseh. Their lullaby? The very remarkable sound of boulders thudding down the stream-bed just to the north, twelve- to fifteen-inch rocks bouncing over each other in the tumbling waters like the numbered balls in a lottery machine. It’s not a sound you easily forget.

Sunday, July 2

"Pemi Island" - three feet of water over the entrance road

“Pemi Island” – three feet of water cover the entrance road

Sunday brought a mercifully sunny dawn, but a quick 5:30 AM walk around the grounds revealed in a trice that the erosion damage in camp surpassed both the rains of ’73 and Hurricane Irene. There were three feet of water flowing over the entrance road, and waves lapped just twelve inches below the floor of the Lake Tent. Following reveille – and the common-sense cancellation of Polar Bear dips – Dan Reed and various other staff took the first steps (or paddles) towards reconstruction by retrieving vagrant sailboats, paddle boards, and wake boards from all over the pond. Meanwhile, Tom Ciglar and our other chefs waded bravely to their stations and had a hearty breakfast ready at the appointed 8:30 time. Tom determined along the way that, with a few menu adjustments, we had adequate stores in place to feed the camp family well for four days, should our access to supplies be affected.

The mood in the mess hall was distinctly buoyant, as might be expected when a group comes through shared excitement in good order. Boys and staff alike listened with rapt attention when Head of Nature Larry Davis (whose day job is as a university hydrologist) reviewed what we had all witnessed. This was absolutely a classic flash flood, he explained. The preconditions of soil being completely saturated by earlier precipitation and, in turn, resting in a very thin layer over the underlying granite meant that the three-plus inches of rain we received over roughly eight hours had nowhere to go but downstream – in massive quantities, at great speed, and with terrific power. Since there was a lag-time in drainage of approximately eight or ten hours, we could expect the lake to keep rising for that length of time. After that, it would likely take three or four days for the waters to return to something like their normal level.

Campers and staff pitch in to put camp back together again

Campers and staff pitch in to clean up

Intent on controlling everything we could, we proceeded with inspection clean-up just as usual, after which the boys left their cabins for various organized activities and, for those who chose to help, general grounds clean-up. Reed Harrigan was seemingly everywhere on his John Deere tractor, while Athletic Director and Grounds maven Charlie Malcolm, co-owner Peter Fauver, and Assistant Director Kenny Moore all buckled down to various essential tasks, often joined by keen volunteers from amongst our paying customers. In a further nod to normalcy beyond the morning’s inspection, we still required the boys to write their routine Sunday letters home. We admit to some curiosity about what they may have told you all about the recent cataclysm. If you have any amusing examples you are willing to share, please do.

Water basketball, flood-style

Water basketball, flood-style

That afternoon – still beautifully sunny – brought more activities, including water-basketball for the Seniors. A reprise of one of ’73’s most memorable post-deluge entertainments, this bizarre combination of water polo and hoops proved hugely popular and was repeated the following day for Uppers. (Check out this video captured by drone of Pemi’s water basketball, by Red Dog Aerial Video!). Meanwhile, Commodore Emily Palmer manned the safety boat and, with the assistance of TRJR and the rest of the trip crew, ferried an entire camp’s laundry bags (~240) from their cabins to the other side of the flooded bridge, where they were loaded into our sequestered vans for a Monday pick-up. By 5 PM, ten hours into his day, Reed on his John Deere had most of the camp’s roads beginning to look normal; certainly navigable if need be.

Saturday campfire, on Sunday. New location.

Saturday campfire, on Sunday. New location.

Speaking of roads, following our traditional Sunday evening cookout and because the campfire circle was still under three feet of water, we held our traditional Saturday night gathering for the first time on Sunday night AND with the bonfire built on the road just in front of the mess hall. The Senior camp had teamed up to bring all the benches up from athletic fields to which they had been moved to avoid the rising lake waters, and they made a cozy little semi-circle for the camp family to gather. The setting couldn’t have been lovelier, with a back-drop consisting of our green athletic fields stretching out for hundreds of yards, framed on either side by the wooded slopes of our valley (already blued with the coming night’s shadows) and the sunlit ramparts of Mount Carr, all the way down past Wentworth, modulating, as the evening progressed, from flaming yellow to glowing orange to amber. The entertainment was as good as ever – including Dan Reed and Becky Noel’s sweet rendition of Jason Mraz’s “Lucky,” Will Weber’s second tour de force on classical guitar, and Peter Moody’s infectious group-sing extolling the virtues of Bazooka Bubble Gum. As we swayed, finally, to the timeless words of the Campfire Song – “I wonder if anyone’s better for anything I’ve done or said” – many present could pat themselves modestly on their backs for the efforts they had made over the past 48 hours to pitch in at a time of crisis.

Monday, July 3

Monday brought still more brilliant sunshine, and a new week of occupations kicked off with each and every activity that didn’t involve swimming (either purposeful or inadvertent) carrying on as usual. That afternoon, Juniors 3 and 4 headed off under gorgeous blue skies for Rattlesnake Mountain, the only oddity being that the campers were piggy-backed through shallows to rowboats by the longer-legged members of the 15-and-under tennis team, also waiting to leave camp (and assisted in their St. Christopherian kindnesses by office-staffers Kim Malcolm and Heather Leeds). The boys were then towed to the newly emerged bridge by Sam Dixon, Will Katcher, and TRJR. Rarely if ever have Pemi hikers begun their mountain ascents with a voyage by sea, such as Dantrell Frazier, Teddy Rose, Atticus Barocas, Henry Ravanesi, and their cabin mates enjoyed Monday last. Surf and Turf, would it be?

First provisions arrive since the flood

First provisions since the flood

Monday afternoon also saw Tom Ciglar making a trip to the local grocery to top up provisions and supplies in the kitchen, and by 5PM Reed Harrigan had safely driven one of the camp pick-ups through hub-deep water to the bridge. It boded well for a dry roadway the following morning and, along with that, full communications with the outside world – Sysco food deliveries, FedEx, and the friendly UPS man alike. By 7:30, the weekly ladling of Bean Soup had begun in the Lodge, and the staple Pemi “Clam Song,” with its macabre narrative of a mollusk-sliced foot, was presented in re-written form to celebrate recent events – its infamous choral “Blood! Blood! Blood!” of course now altered to “Flood! Flood! Flood!” And so, as often happens, the wry and resilient human spirit responds to adversity with exultant laughter. Thanks, Wes Eifler, Harry Cooke, and Dan Reed, for lending your imagination and wit to the Pemi recovery.

Back to camp as usual

A few odds and ends of that recovery remained to be achieved, most notably a program of laboratory testing of our lake water to make absolutely certain that it was safe to let the boys swim in the pond. One week following the flood, we received the all-clear from the lab technicians, and at 5 PM Saturday the 8th, Charlotte Jones and her lifeguards oversaw the first swim since the storm clouds rumbled into our valley just a week before. Overall, not a bad rebound after a fifty-year deluge!

–TRJR

Videos and images of the 2017 Flood:

Junior Camp

Junior Camp

Junior Squish

Junior Squish

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Visitors arrive by boat

Visitors arrive by boat

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ferrying 240 laundry bags to the bridge for Monday morning pick-up

Ferrying 240 laundry bags to the bridge for Monday morning pick-up

View from the Library

View from the Library

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Volunteer clean-up crew!

Volunteer clean-up crew!

 

Rebuilding the road

Rebuilding the road

 

Reed Harrigan

Reed Harrigan

From Experiment to Trend to Tradition

2017: Newsletter #3

The following comes from the pen of director Danny Kerr…

Greetings from the sun-drenched shores of Lower Baker Pond! As we begin our third week of occupations, energy abounds and the boys are looking forward to a wonderful week of program, trips, and competition, as well as next weekend’s Birthday Banquet, our traditional, celebratory send-off for our first-session campers. Boy do these camp days fly by!

Over the course of its storied 110-year history, Camp Pemigewassett has developed countless traditions. In fact, I think it’s safe to say that traditions are both ubiquitous and gratifying for the entire Pemi community. Campers and counselors who take part in these customary rites and activities know that by doing so, they become part of Pemi’s history. In many ways, the camp experience here is still a great deal like when Teeden Boss’ father was at Pemi in the 1980’s or when Charlie Broll’s grandfather was a camper in the 1940’s. Visiting alumni often remark with a smile that things seem just like they did when they were at camp, however long ago that was. They are reassured, along with every year’s returning campers and counselors, that Pemi still provides a reliable and familiar environment in comparison to an outside world that constantly demands and presents change.

Seven-year senior camper Eli Brennan and I joke that when we try something new at Pemi, it’s an “experiment”; when we do it twice, it’s a “trend”; and when we do something for a third time, it’s a “tradition.” The idea of “new” traditions may seem like an oxymoron, but the truth of the matter is that some traditions do eventually go by the wayside and others become a familiar part of the Pemi year. With this in mind, I thought it would be fun to look at some of the traditional activities that are a part of the Pemigewassett experience in 2017, and also hear what the boys see as especially valuable about those rites and customs.

Variation: "Pink polar bear" dip in the stream

Variation: “Pink polar bear” dip in the stream

Certainly a traditional and signature part of the Pemi experience is the morning “Polar Bear” swim, the quick dip right after reveille that everyone in camp, be they camper or counselor, young or experienced, Yankee fan or Red Sox fan, participates in for at least the first week of each session, and is something most campers choose to do every day of the summer. Truly, one of my favorite moments of the summer is the first day of Polar Bear, as 40 juniors dash with unbridled enthusiasm towards Junior Beach and their first Polar Bear plunge of the session. I asked a couple of our veteran campers, Teddy Foley and Suraj Khakee, both of whom have done Polar Bear every day of each of their summers (seven for Suraj, six for Teddy), why they still choose to hit the pond each dawn after so many icy plunges over the years? Suraj said he “love[s] the routine of doing the same thing each morning and bonding with the other campers who Polar Bear.” Teddy said that Polar Bear not only “wakes me up in the morning and makes me feel fresh and ready to go for the day,” but also allows him, on a daily basis, to enjoy “one of the most beautiful natural gifts at Pemi, Lower Baker Pond, with friends in a big group.” The Polar Bear plunge really becomes a crucial part of one’s picture of being at Pemi, such that when alums come for a visit, a work weekend, or a reunion, they invariably gravitate towards Lower Baker Bond upon waking, knowing this is really the only bona fide way to start a Pemi day!

FRB in Junior Camp

FRB in Junior Camp

Jacques Barzun, the social commentator, wrote more than a quarter of a century ago, “Whoever wants to know the heart and mind of America had better learn baseball.” Well, one could almost say, “whoever wants to know Pemi had better learn about Frisbee Running Bases (FRB),” which has become the unofficial favorite pastime at Pemi. Kenny Moore, our local Camp Pemi historian, says the game was introduced in the mid 1980s and quickly overwhelmed the previous crowd favorite, Capture-the-Flag. Well, that makes for over three decades worth of summers of mad dashing from one of three bases as campers try mightily not to be “tagged” by either a flying (and specially soft-built) Frisbee, or a counselor carrying said “kryptonite.” Nothing elicits a more boisterous cheer in the Messhall than an announcement that FRB is on the docket after dinner, and there is hardly anything more entertaining than witnessing the thundering herds run from base to base as they try to claim the title of “last tagged” for that game before all who suffered the fate of being caught are invited to rejoin and another game begins. I asked a couple of campers why they love FRB, and here’s what they had to say: Duke Hagen in Upper 2 said he loved playing games with counselors who “are trying their hardest but still can’t get us most of the time,” because “we’re fast and they’re not!” (Some staff might disagree!) Luke Larabie, a first-year camper and hence new to FRB, said he loves the “thrill of not getting caught and being one of the last few in the game.” Luke especially loves the last two minutes of each round, when the safe haven of being on a base is no longer in play, because then it’s “even cooler to survive.” I’ve never seen FRB played at any other camp or school I’ve known, so it truly seems to be a Pemi original. Perhaps we should challenge our storied rivals at Camp Tecumseh in a round on July 28th?

Another favorite tradition here at Pemi is counselors reading aloud to their boys each night, choosing from the many volumes of child and teen literature we have here in the Pemi library, or perhaps reading a favorite childhood story they themselves have brought from home. The quiet that descends on the divisions as this nightly ritual begins is heartwarming, and the cabins are filled with the tales of adventurous characters from beloved classics, old and or less old. As a follow -up this morning, I asked a few of the campers what they were reading and what they enjoyed most about the nightly ritual. Nate Broll said that Lower 1 was enjoying Candy Makers, by Wendy Mass, and that he loves fiction generally, and especially the fact that the story is told from the perspective of four boys about his age. Nate said that the reading at night helps him fall asleep, and that it offers the kind of comfort he “get[s] at home with Mom and Dad.” I had the pleasure of putting Upper 3 to bed one night last week; they quickly quieted down as I began the opening chapters of Dickens’ Great Expectations. Teeden Boss in Junior 2 said that Wes is reading them Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, by Roald Dahl (a favorite of mine as a boy, too), and that it reminds him of “when [he] was young and Mom and Dad read to me!” Finally, Luke Gonzales in Junior 1 said they are reading Big Friendly Guy, also by Roald Dahl, and that he loves the reading because he’s always “really, really tired at night” when he gets into bed, and the reading “makes me go right to sleep and makes the morning come so quickly!”

Singing in the Messhall

Singing in the Messhall

Singing in the Messhall just before the dessert course at every lunch and dinner is a tradition that everyone looks forward to. The songs we sing range from Pemi originals, many of them written by one of Pemi’s Founders, Doc Reed, to songs of Americana, college fight songs, and more. Pemi prides itself on being an inclusive community, and singing is about as inclusive an activity as there is. Ty Chung, in Upper 5, said that singing in the Messhall was great, in part because it’s “been happening for so long and is such an essential part of being a Pemi camper.” “Everyone can sing,” Ty pointed out. “It’s so much fun and adds to the group camaraderie and spirit of Pemi.” First-year camper August Matthews says the singing at meals is “fun because they’re all such great songs. I love the cheers and claps in them, and they make me laugh.” It is hard to keep from smilingl, or even laughing out loud, when we sing songs like “The Man on the Flying Trapeze,” “Mabel,” or “The Marching Song,” as the whole community sings with hearty enthusiasm, swaying to the beat, doing the sometimes crazy motions, or clapping along.

Traditions, whether they are as old as Camp Pemi itself, like singing in the Messhall, or relatively new, like FRB, are an essential part of a Pemi summer. They offer a familiar rhythm and a sense of being connected not only to the present community but also to people and times long ago. Of course, this is not to say that we are not keeping up with modern times, but that is a topic for another newsletter! Campers grow up and become adults, counselors leave for year-round jobs and to raise families, and we all change, year after year; but when we come back to Pemi, we can relive through these traditions all of the wonderful memories of our own camp days, whenever they happened to be. As the world changes in what often feels like a relentless way, Pemi is enduringly Pemi. What a comforting thought.

 

Week One of the 2017 Season

2017: Newsletter #2

[A quick meteorological-status update in advance. We are now in Day 3 of wonderful summer sunshine after the Deluge of 2017 – about which you may have heard on the Weather Channel or in slightly damp Sunday letters from your sons. From a camper standpoint, everything is back to normal, with the exception that Polar Bear dips are on hold until the Mississippi hue of Lower Baker returns, in a couple of days, to normal. The state roads to our entrance are open and, with a little resourceful wading with boats to carry cargo in and out past our new river/beach road, we are again in full contact with the world at large – all the more so since, pre-rain, we parked three of our vans across our bridge right next to Route 25A. In fact, we should get a short mountain trip off in them this afternoon! We’ll try to post a special newsletter with more details of the weather event and some choice photos over the coming days. Meanwhile, the boys are thrilled to have experienced an inundation to equal the famous flood of 1973, and they are showing as much pluck and enthusiasm as ever! Perhaps more!]

Lower Two

Lower Two

The first week of the 2017 season has sped by with the alacrity of the speediest Junior camper hurtling into the pond during the morning Polar Bear dip – and his chilliest compadre scampering back to shore afterwards. Cabin groups are well on their way to becoming bona fide little families (or, in the case of the Senior, big ones), bonding closely not only over their morning dip but also over clean-up for inspection, joint trips to their mail slots to retrieve letters from home, three plentiful meals a day (and the daily 3:30 Fruit Bowl), lusty singing in the mess hall at lunch and supper, trips up local mountains or overnights at the Adirondack shelter on Pemi Hill, paddling to cabin cookouts across the lake at Pine Forest and Flat Rock, the nightly tick check (new to the Pemi routine), and drifting off to sleep to the soothing drone of their counselors reading from Roald Dahl or J. K. Rowling. (Some of this cabin business you parents will undoubtedly have heard about through the outgoing mail.)

Visiting Professional Steve Broker

Visiting Professional Steve Broker

Occupations (as, again, we call our instructional periods for some arcane early twentieth-century reason) have gone extremely well across the full range of offerings – in athletics, music, art, and nature studies. Particularly well-received have been the options offered by Visiting Professionals Kevin O’Brien (who winningly combines tuition in both lacrosse and yoga) and Steve Broker (who seems to know more about ornithology than Audubon himself, and this year came to camp with over a dozen stuffed bird specimens from Yale University’s renowned collection). The trip program is briskly out of the gate, despite some rainy weather. Trip Specialists Nick Davini and Fiona Walker have led a 3-day jaunt up Owl’s Head in the Pemigewassett Wilderness (the first ascent by any Pemi group, to the best of my knowledge), while their colleague Sam Papel has inaugurated our new practice of a “trippie” and Junior cabin counselor teaming up on an extended (two-meal) version of the traditional Junior overnight up Pemi Hill. The result is the equivalent of a family trip with an expert guide, and initial reviews are highly positive. In addition, inter-camp sports have begun most energetically, with competitions in seven different sports in six different age groups against three of our neighboring camps. Oh, did we mention that casting for this year’s production of Gilbert and Sullivan’s Iolanthe is now complete? Rehearsals begin this week, looking forward to lavish productions on the nights of August 8th and 9th. To risk cribbing from a trendy clothing line, here at Pemi, “Life is Good!”

We thought we’d follow up on this general overview with some particulars from the athletic fields and wooded trails alike. First, an account of June 28th’s Baker Valley 13’s Soccer Tournament, from head coach Steve Clare:

Baker Valley 13’s Soccer Tournament

In the annual tourney hosted by Camp Moosilauke, Pemi’s first opponents were from Camp Kingswood. It was a cautious start from both teams, each defending well but neither dominating midfield; 0: 0 at half-time.

Pemi started the second half strongly with two early chances going just wide. In the fourth minute, Elliot Jones won possession on the half-way line and played a great through ball to Luca McAdams, who in turn played the ball in to Andrew Roth at the edge of the box. Andrew beat a defender and then the keeper with a deftly placed left-footed shot. Pemi 1: 0.

Two minutes later, Pemi scored again. Pressing high up the pitch, Nelson Snyder used his pace to intercept a Kingswood pass and played the ball forward to Andrew. Andrew ran forward into Kingswood’s penalty box, taking the ball to the goal line and, although closely marked, managing to cut the ball back across the goal for Paul Clusky to score from 6 yards out. 

Most of the remainder of the game was played in Kingswood’s half, Pemi passing the ball around with confidence, with numerous shots being saved or sent just wide. Kingswood managed a couple of counterattacks but were unable to beat Pemi’s solid defense. Final score, Pemi 2: Kingswood 0.

Pemi’s second game was against Walt Whitman (WW). With just 2 minutes on the clock, Luca was brought down in the box by a clumsy challenge. Paul scored from the penalty spot; 1-0 Pemi.

Like last year, we thought that WW’s fairly casual style of play might lead to a goal fest, but, also like last year, Pemi found its style disrupted for the entire game. WW’s keeper made a couple of superb saves to deny Pemi further goals. Final score, Pemi 1: WW 0.

Our final game was against host camp Moosilauke, and we utterly dominated possession; goalie Gordon Robbins didn’t get a single touch of the ball in the first half! Early shots from Andrew, Luca, Paul and Matteo Benenati all went over the cross bar. When a 25-yard rocket from Luca also crashed off the cross bar, we were delighted to see Isaiah Abbey follow up the rebound and head the ball into the net for his first goal. Luca scored Pemi’s second with a cracking shot from distance that caromed off the inside of the right-hand post. Two nil Pemi.  

Simon Taylor volunteered to go in goal for the second half so Gordon could play in the field. Again, Pemi dominated possession. As with Kingswood, Pemi’s defense were solid in breaking down attacks from Moose, with special mention going to the superb Tristan Land. 

Pemi’s third score saw Matteo beat three Moose defenders as he entered their penalty box from the right, finding space to shoot across the goal into the left side of the net. Moose’s keeper denied further goals with several outstanding saves, yielding a final score of Pemi 3: Moose 0.

A 3 in 3 BVT victory! Well done, players. We’ve still work to do, but what a great start to 2017!! Special thanks to Julian Hernandez-Webster for refereeing all three games and to assisting coaches Andy McDonald and JP Gorman.

Thanks to Steve for the coaching and reportage both. Now to Sam Papel for short narratives of last week’s Pemi Hill jaunts:

New Pemi Hill Adventure for Juniors

Junior Six took to the hill trail last Tuesday around 4:00 P.M. on the inaugural Trippie-accompanied Pemi Hill adventure and charged quickly to the top. At the Adirondack shelter, a favorite Pemi destination since the 1960’s, Tristan Barton, Priester Davis, Thomas Davis, Will Silloway, Hudson Williams, Charlie Wood, and Ian Zimmerman learned how to tie some important knots, and built a roaring fire. Later they had a hearty dinner of mac and cheese with bacon and chicken, as well as some “cinnamon roll delights” for dessert. The boys also bushwhacked up to the old logging road, and explored the woods above the spring. After dinner, a few games of hotly contested Presidents filled their time, and the boys went to sleep straining their ears for an echo of Taps from down the hill. In the morning, I cooked up some pancakes and bacon and the crew headed down the hill just in time to be late for first hour. Overall, a great kick-off to a new Pemigewassett tradition.

Junior 2’s journey up Pemi Hill, two days later, was slightly delayed by the rain. Nevertheless the intrepid Andrew Boss, Robbie Judd, Jake Landry, Matteo Saffer, John Warren Stickney, and Max Weber set off for the shelter at 4:30, with some brand new Junior-sized internal frame packs, courtesy of REI. Despite the steady drizzle, they made good time up the hill, arriving a mere 30 minutes later. After consulting the USGS Topo map, Jake, Robbie, and I bushwhacked up to the old logging road. After exploring, a giant meal of bacon mac & cheese was avidly devoured by all. Unfortunately, a certain Trippie forgot dessert (although he hopefully made up for it in the morning with chocolate chips and brown sugar on the pancakes!) Before bed, the boys again learned some useful knots, and played a few games of mafia before going to sleep listening to the storm. In the morning, breakfast went much more quickly than the first go-around, and the boys made it down the hill ready to rock first hour. So, after a week’s trial, reviews of the new, guide-squired Pemi Hill are distinctly positive.

Thanks to Sam, both for the implementation of an exciting new program and for the crisp account. Now to fellow Trip Leader Fiona Walker for a report on Pemi’s first trip ever up Owls’s Head, perhaps the remotest of New Hampshire’s 4000-foot peaks.

Inaugural Trip to Owls’s Head

Owl's Head trip

Owl’s Head trip

The season’s first three-day started after lunch last Tuesday, leaving from the trip operations center/Snack Shack. By the time Andreas [Geffert], Christopher [Ramanathan], Owen [Wyman], Dexter [Wells], and Cameron [McManus] had completed their final gear checks and we had everyone loaded in the van, it was approaching 3pm, and we arrived at the Lincoln Woods Visitor Center at around 3:45. After getting everyone’s pack straps adjusted, with rain jackets at the ready, we walked a whopping 2.8 miles on flat ground to the junction of the Black Pond Trail, where we asked the boys to assess different areas where we could possibly set up camp for the next two days. After about thirty minutes of looking, the boys settled on a great area next to the Pemigewassett River that provided ample room for cooking, sleeping, and bear-bagging. I will say that watching these kids put up tents was quite entertaining. One camper (who shall remain nameless, although his parents may recognize him from what follows) commented, “It’s 2017 already! Why don’t we just have those tents that pop up when you pull them out of the bag?” After the tents were solidly pitched, we all enjoyed a steaming pot of pesto pasta. Unfortunately, due to some rain coming in, our post-dinner course of hot chocolate was cut short. Luckily we were able to clean up fast and stay dry in anticipation of the next day’s climb.

View to Franconia Range

View to Franconia Range

Day 2 called for a 7:15AM wake-up call and breakfast at 8. We left camp at around 9 and headed off onto the Lincoln Brook Trail. A long slog was lightened when we introduced the boys to a game called Contact, which takes about an hour to explain and which required another hour for them to solve the first clue. We arrived at the base of the Owl’s Head Trail around 1PM, and while fellow Trippie Nick Davini and I were keeping a careful eye on return time, we decided it was safe to continue up for another hour before calling it. I think I speak for everyone when I say the last mile felt like five, as the trail was a challenging mix of rocky soil and granite. The boys were such troopers, though, and they powered to the top despite their soggy shoes and heavy packs. One of the drawbacks of bagging a 4000-footer whose summit is just below tree line is that the view you’d have from a Lafayette or Washington is not quite there. These guys definitely deserved a spectacular vista, given their grit and general good humor. There was, however, a clear cut towards the middle of the trail that allowed for a beautiful view of the Franconia Range and the Lower Pemigewassett Wilderness. 

Although it took us a little over three hours to hike those two miles, everyone was in good spirits at the bottom of the trail. Despite the late start on return, we made it back to camp in just two and a half hours, with plenty of daylight to spare. After all that, the boys decided that the only way to solve their wet foot problem was to take part in a Pink Polar Bear [aka a dip in cold stream water] or, as they preferred calling it, Hypothermic Polar Bear. They are still inquiring about their Hypothermic Polar Bear badges, which I don’t believe is a thing Camp Pemi yet offers. I told the boys, though, that I would be willing to follow up about the possibility of such an award for the future.

The next morning we packed up camp at 9AM and left around 9:45 for a 10:30 pick-up with TRJR at Lincoln Woods Visitor Center. After a hasty stop at the Kancamagus Country Store for a soda and candy, we made it back to camp with all body parts intact, minimal blisters, and (for Nick and me) both our jobs. All in all, I’d say it was a great start to the 2017 Pemi Trip Program. Thanks to Andreas, Christopher, Owen, Dexter, and Cameron for being such stalwart hikers! Pemi can now add a formidable little climb to its list of mountaineering accomplishments!

So there are some snap shots of Week One. Stay tuned for more coverage of Instructional Occupations, the Nature Program, Art, Music, and the like. For now, we’re truly relishing the lively company of 170 young men who, from everything we can see, are making the most of their time in the wilds of New Hampshire, sun-lit or rain-washed alike.

–TRJR