A Week in the Nature Program

The following comes from the desk of Larry Davis, now in his 48th summer of overseeing Pemi’s nationally-renowned Nature Program

Nature is one of four program areas at Pemi (the others are Athletics, Trips, and Music and the Arts). But what exactly do we do? Well, of course there is formal instruction that takes place during morning occupations, but there is much, much more. In fact, we operate from Reveille in the morning until, sometimes, after taps at night. Here’s a look at a typical week (week 3 of summer 2017) in the nature program.

Occupations

Occupations are the heart of our teaching program. Each week we offer 14-16 different ones. Over the course of a summer, we might offer as many as 35 or so. Some, such as Beginning Butterflies and Moths, might appear every week, others, such as Aquatic Insects, might occur only once. During Week 3, we had a visiting professional, Chase Gagne, join our nature staff for the week. Chase is an insect expert and so we were able to take advantage of his being here and offer Aquatic Insects, along with an Insect Ecology occupation that looked at some of the research questions that he is working on in his graduate program at the University of Maine. Here are brief descriptions of Week 3’s offerings. Last year’s (2016) nature newsletter has more detailed discussions of some of these.

Beginning Butterflies and Moths

What is an insect? What are the differences between butterflies and moths? Basic butterfly and moth life history and ecology. How to capture, pin and preserve butterflies and moths. We asked visiting professional Chase Gagne to teach this so the boys in the occupation could be exposed to the way an entomologist “operates.”

Insect Ecology

Role of insects in the overall ecosystem. Different “lifestyles” of insects. Invasive insects and the problems that they cause. Techniques for conducting insect ecology research. Taught by visiting professional Chase Gagne. We included two members of our full-time nature staff in this occupation and in the one that follows so that they could learn too and then include the information in their own teaching later in the summer.

Aquatic Insects

Types of aquatic insects, their life histories and ecology. Techniques for capturing and preserving aquatic insects. Insects that spend their entire life in the water and ones that only spend part of their life cycle there. Taught by visiting professional Chase Gagne.

Ponds and Streams

Lakes and streams and their inhabitants. Fish, bottom dwellers, insects, etc. Life history of a lake. Exploration of our streams, our lake, and our marsh.

Beginning Rocks and Minerals

An introduction to geology. Rock types, rocks and minerals, mineral identification, rock identification, assembling and labeling a collection. Minerals used in our daily lives. Pemi geology, New Hampshire geology, plate tectonics.

Advanced Rocks and Minerals

Rock cycle, mineral hardness and toothpaste ingredients (they actually make some toothpaste). Iron extraction from Total® cereal. Analysis of sand from around the world, rock stratigraphy, concrete “recipe” experiments, North American geology.

Nature Poetry

This was a brand new occupation for us. It was created and taught by nature staff members Scout Brink and Will Raduziner. Campers read some famous poems about nature including ones by Walt Whitman such as A Noiseless, Patient Spider and A Clear Midnight. Later in the week they tried their hand at writing their own.

Trees, trees with green leaves
Tall and small, both will fall.
But when they stand in a forest,
They create a canopy

-Henry Ravanesi

Mosses, Lichens, Fungi

This is an advanced occupation designed to introduce older campers to these fascinating, non-flowering plants, although fungi, as we find out, are not really plants, nor are lichens, which are combinations of algae and fungi. Most of the occupation takes place in the field, with hand lenses. Mosses, especially, are everywhere that is even a little bit wet and campers can observe whole “forests” of them both in camp and on trips.

Moss “Garden” - This one is in New Zealand but we have ones like it here.

Moss “Garden” – This one is in New Zealand but we have ones like it here. Photo by Larry Davis

 

Environmental Sculpture

Scottish sculptor, Andy Goldsworthy popularized this form of art. We have all his books in the nature library and campers really enjoy looking at his amazing creations. In this occupation, they get to use their imaginations to create their own environmental sculptures. It is a quiet activity that rewards both observation and creativity. It is a good example, along with nature photography, nature poetry, and nature drawing, of a hybrid activity that fuses nature and the arts.

Environmental Sculpture at Pemi

Environmental Sculpture at Pemi

Junior Nature Book

A plant book for juniors and candidates for the Brave and Chief awards. It includes 55 plants that are common in our area. We collect leaves, nuts, bits of bark, and so on. Juniors must complete the book as part of the Junior Brave award. For the Brave and Chief awards, candidates must be able to recognize and identify all 55 plants in the field.

Nature Drawing

Drawing and sketching of “natural” scenes: landscapes, plants, animals.

Drawing by Ben Lorenz

Drawing by Ben Lorenz

 

Drawing by Augie Tanzosh

Drawing by Augie Tanzosh

Plant Survivors

Photosynthesis, the “plumbing” of a tree, plant adaptations for: obtaining food, water, gasses; defense; pollination processes; seed dispersal.

Wild Foods

Wild plants and animals that may be used as regular and emergency food sources. Identification, collection and preparation (including jams and jellies from wild fruits).

Advanced Nature Photography

We teach both digital and darkroom nature photography at Pemi. This advanced occupation included campers who had already taken the beginning versions of either of these. During the week, the focus was on taking photographs in nature in a wide variety of settings. These are described (along with samples of the results) in the next section of the newsletter.

Photographers Taking Pictures Inside the Ely Copper Mine (Deb Kure)

Photographers Taking Pictures Inside the Ely Copper Mine (Deb Kure) 

“Regular” Trips

During the course of a week, we take out frequent afternoon trips. Some are one-hour affairs to collect insects. Some, such as those to local mines, may last a couple of hours, and others might last through supper. Here are the trips that we took during week 3.

Palermo Mine

We are very fortunate that the owner of this world-famous mine allows us to visit and collect whenever we want. We even have a key to the gate. There are over 120 different minerals here, including 10-12 that occur nowhere else in the world. We generally visit once a week.

Campers Collecting Minerals at the Palermo Mine (Will Ackerman)

Campers Collecting Minerals at the Palermo Mine (Will Ackerman) 

Advanced Nature Photography

During the week we took special, afternoon-long trips to several locations which offered our campers a variety of features and settings to photograph. These locations included:

Rumney Cliffs Boulders – This is a well-known rock climbing locality. During glacial times, the intense physical weathering caused huge boulders to tumble to the bottom of the cliffs. Not only are these scenic, but this is also an historical site as the Town of Rumney kept its colonial era animal pound here amongst them.

Overview of Boulder Area (Will Ackerman)

Overview of Boulder Area (Will Ackerman)

Boulders Close Up (Will Ackerman)

Boulders Close Up (Will Ackerman)

Between the Boulders (Will Ackerman)

Between the Boulders (Will Ackerman)

Decaying Fly Amanita Mushroom (Will Ackerman)

Decaying Fly Amanita Mushroom (Will Ackerman)

“Inside Looking Out” Boulder Field (Will Ackerman)

“Inside Looking Out” Boulder Field (Will Ackerman)

Ely Mine– This old copper mine (closed in 1905) is one of our mineral localities. However, it is also an excellent subject for photography. There is easy access to the old mine entrance, which presents the opportunity for “inside looking out” images; there are also old workings, ruins, and other interesting subjects to photograph.

Entrance to Ely Copper Mine (Will Ackerman)

Entrance to Ely Copper Mine (Will Ackerman)

Inside of Ely Copper Mine (Will Ackerman)

Inside of Ely Copper Mine (Will Ackerman)

Acid Mine Drainage at Ely Mine (Will Ackerman)

Acid Mine Drainage at Ely Mine (Will Ackerman)

Inside of Mine Looking Out (Will Ackerman)

Inside of Mine Looking Out (Will Ackerman)

Schwaegler Property-The Schwaegler family (which includes alum Andy and current camper Paul) has kindly granted us permission to visit their land around Indian Pond. There are meadows, grasses, animal evidence (especially of small mammals), birds, insects, and grand landscapes here. All of these offer wonderful subjects for photography.

Landscape at Schwaegler Property (Will Ackerman)

Landscape at Schwaegler Property (Will Ackerman)

Geometer (Inchworm) Caterpillar on a Black-eyed Susan (Will Ackerman)

Geometer (Inchworm) Caterpillar on a Black-eyed Susan (Will Ackerman)

Spies Property – This is a location that we call “the two hundred”. It is 200+ acres of forest, brooks, waterfalls, meadows, and ancient sugar maples (150+ years old). The running water and waterfalls present our campers the opportunity to experiment with shutter speeds and depth of field. The forests, with their dappled light and shadow, present challenges for exposure. We are grateful to the Spies for granting us access.

Oyster Mushrooms (Will Ackerman)

Oyster Mushrooms (Will Ackerman)

American Toad Camouflaged Amongst the Dead Leaves (Will Ackerman)

American Toad Camouflaged Amongst the Dead Leaves (Will Ackerman)

Waterfall on the Spies Property (Will Ackerman)

Waterfall on the Spies Property (Will Ackerman)

Ancient Sugar Maples (150+ years old) Lining Drive to Spies House

Ancient Sugar Maples (150+ years old) Lining Drive to Spies House

Scouting Trip for New Insect Collecting Localities

We are always looking for new places where we can view, photograph, and collect insects, wildflowers, and other plants. Recently, we were told about several areas that were new to us. Of course, before taking lots of campers there, we need to scout them out. So, Deb Kure and Nick Gordon (Staff) took three expert bug collectors, Will Ackerman, Luke Larabie, and Quinn Markham to check out a possible new locality. They got a good look at it and agreed that it would be perfect for 1-2 hour afternoon trips. Hurrah! We will take our first “official” trip this week.

Special Trips

Pemi has been taking caving trips (note: it’s “caving” and NOT “spelunking”) for almost 30 years. This area of geology is my research specialty and there are wonderful wild caves to visit about 4 hours away southwest of Albany, NY. On Tuesday and Wednesday of week 3, I left with nine senior campers along with staff members Will Raduziner (he went as a camper) and Charlie Malcolm (I’ve been trying to get him to go for years). We did one cave on Tuesday afternoon, enjoyed a delicious chicken teriyaki dinner at my sister and brother-in-law’s home in Schoharie, NY (where we always stay) followed by a nice campfire with s’mores and stories. On Wednesday, we did two more caves before heading home. We stopped for our traditional dinner at the Royal Chelsea Diner in West Brattleboro, VT-highly recommended, before arriving home at about 10:30 PM.

Special Events

Twice a summer we participate in on-going scientific surveys. Both of these are annual censuses that provide valuable information on changing in bird and insect populations. These are crucial to our understanding of climate change effects, the effects of land use change, and the impacts of human activity.

The first of these is the annual “Fourth of July North American Butterfly Association Annual Butterfly Count”. This was our 13th consecutive year of participation. Ours is the only circuit in New Hampshire and our data has already been used by a researcher at Carleton University in Ottawa to document the northward movement of several species of butterflies that, until recently, have not normally been seen in our area. We conduct the survey with a group of scientists from the Smithsonian Institution, Plymouth State University, and local conservation organizations. This year, we had 8 campers and 5 staff members participating. Our final “tally rally” takes place at the Moose Scoops ice cream parlor in Warren and it is a chance for our campers to meet and talk with professionals in the field (and enjoy some wonderful ice cream).

Will Ackerman With a Tiny Monarch Butterfly Caterpillar on His Thumb (Deb Kure)

Will Ackerman With a Tiny Monarch Butterfly Caterpillar on His Thumb (Deb Kure)

The Butterfly Count “Tally Rally” at the Moose Scoops Ice Cream Shop (Deb Kure)

The Butterfly Count “Tally Rally” at the Moose Scoops Ice Cream Shop (Deb Kure)

The annual New Hampshire Loon count is in its 35th year. We have participated in all of them. On the 3rd Saturday in July between 8 and 9 in the morning, hundreds of volunteers are out on almost every lake in the state looking for loons and recording the numbers that are seen. As usual, we covered both Upper and Lower Baker Ponds. We spotted 2 loons on Upper Baker and none on Lower Baker. While this was disappointing, from a scientific standpoint, a count of “0” is just as important as a count of “10”. For most of the summer, we have had 1 or 2 on our lake, but they weren’t there during the crucial hour, so, we don’t count them.

Clouds Over Mt. Cube and former Bischoff House Taken from Upper Baker Pond (Will Ackerman)

Clouds Over Mt. Cube and former Bischoff House Taken from Upper Baker Pond (Will Ackerman)

Great Blue Heron Flying Over Upper Baker Pond (Will Ackerman)

Great Blue Heron Flying Over Upper Baker Pond (Will Ackerman)

Common Loon, One of Two Seen on Upper Baker Pond During the Annual Loon Count (Will Ackerman)

Common Loon, One of Two Seen on Upper Baker Pond During the Annual Loon Count (Will Ackerman)

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

A Look at Pemi’s Day-to-Day Nature Program

2016 Newsletter # 5

by Larry Davis, Director of Pemi’s Nature Program

In years past, I have used the opportunity to write a newsletter as a chance to wax philosophic about the importance of getting children out into nature, about the excitement of some of our special activities (such as caving), or about the history of natural history at Pemi. It has been a while since I described our day-to-day program. So, for the rest of this newsletter, that’s just what I’ll do.

Each week we offer 14-17 different nature occupations. Some of these are available every week and others may appear only once. You’ll find a glimpse of this week’s offerings at the end of the newsletter. All told, 35-40 nature occupations are available over the course of a summer.

Our scope is broad and includes both natural history topics—such as ponds and streams, forest ecology, rocks and minerals, and butterflies and moths—along with related fields such as nature photography and drawing, orienteering, bush lore and “weird science.” Much of what we teach is available at both beginning and advanced levels so that a Pemi camper can continue to explore new aspects of the natural world as he progresses through his career at camp. What follows is a description of just a few of our offerings.

Beginning Occupations

Our beginning activities follow a set lesson plan and are typically offered every week during the summer. They are designed to serve as an introduction to one or more aspects of nature. Topics include, Butterflies and Moths, Non-Lepidopteris Insects (that’s everything except butterflies and moths), Rocks and Minerals, Ponds and Streams, Digital and Darkroom Photography, among others.

Nature at PemiOur overall introduction to the program itself, Junior Environmental Explorations, is required for all new juniors. The lesson plan was written by former Associate Head of Nature Programs, Russ Brummer, as part of his Masters Degree program at Antioch-New England. Russ is now head of the Science Department at the New Hampton School. The objectives are to get the kids comfortable outdoors, to get them observing, and to get them thinking about how what’s going on “out there” is related to them. Each day of the 5-day week, the campers explore a different aspect of the natural world. One day is devoted to the forest, another to our streams, others to our lake and swamp, to insects, and to rocks and minerals. The activities are outdoors, in the forest, in the stream or lake, and experiential. We look, explore, feel, smell, and listen. For example, in the forest, we ask the boys to lie down on their backs and look at the trees and sky above them. How many colors can they see? What sounds to they hear? What does it feel like when they dig their fingers into the soil?

We hope that by the end of the week, they’ll be interested enough to come back for more, and most do. Frequently, in their free time, they’ll head back, on their own, to some of the places they visited during the occupation, and explore further. If this happens, then we’ve succeeded in accomplishing our objectives.

Beginning Butterflies and Moths

We start out in the Nature Lodge asking the question, “What is an insect?” To answer this we use models and our extensive reference collection of insects from our area. Campers find out that insects have six legs, three body parts (the head, the thorax, and the abdomen), two antennae, and compound eyes (ones with many lenses instead of the single one that humans have). To demonstrate these, we have special glasses that a boy can wear to help him experience what it is like to look through compound eyes. We even have a little song that helps campers remember all of this. I wish I could sing it to you, but you’ll have to be satisfied with just the lyrics for now. Ask your son to sing it when he gets home.

Head, thorax, abdomen
Six legs!
Head, thorax, abdomen
Six legs!
Compound eyes and two antennae
Head, thorax, abdomen
Six legs!

DSCI0005Once we know what insects are in general, we can explore several different kinds—beetles, bugs, flies, dragonflies and so on. This finally gets us to the Lepidoptera (scaly wing in Latin), that is, butterflies, moths, and skippers. With a hand lens, campers can look at the scales and see the difference between butterflies and moths. All of this takes two days. In the meantime, they are encouraged to come in during free time to begin construction of an insect net. These are still made the same way as they were 75 years ago, with some mosquito netting sewn together for the bag, the bag sewn to a wire coat hanger bent into a loop, and the whole contraption attached to a stick made from a cut tree branch. Not particularly elegant, but quite utilitarian. Towards the end of the week we go out to our traps and local fields to collect. This gives us the opportunity to discuss the difference between collecting and accumulating, the reasons (scientific) for collecting, collecting ethics (one specimen only of each type), and methods for preserving and labelling collections.

As with all our beginning occupations, once a camper has taken the introductory occupation, he is ready to move on to more advanced topics. He might choose, for example, to continue learning about butterflies and moths or perhaps he’ll choose to explore in-depth a different category of insects, such as beetles, dragonflies, and ants. Most beginning occupations are open to all campers, from Junior 1 to the Lake Tent and most have a wide range of ages enrolled.

Advanced Occupations

DSCI0015Our advanced activities are designed to take campers to the next level. Most do not have set lesson plans but rather are more freeform, and hence can be taken repeatedly. For example, an advanced butterfly and moth class will involve considerable observation and collecting. We might explore (in the field, of course) such topics as camouflage, insect defenses, flight characteristics, mating behavior, feeding behavior, predators, and more. Of course, as summer progresses, the species that are in our surroundings will change so, even if a boy takes the advanced class every week, the class will still be different.

Wetland Ecology

Wetland Ecology follows the beginning occupation, Ponds and Streams. We are fortunate to have excellent wetlands right on our campus. Our “Lower Lake” (to the left of the bridge as you enter camp) is actually a separate body of water from our main lake. It is a glacial kettle formed as the ice retreated. A block of ice was probably left behind, buried, and when it melted it created the lake. It provides a perfect setting for our Wetland Ecology occupation. Here we can see a textbook example of pond succession. Over time, floating plants trap sediments. These, in turn, provide a substrate for marsh plants such as sedges and rushes. These trap even more sediment which allows woody plants such as sweet gale, meadowsweet, and alder to grow. Finally, the decaying mass is sufficiently elevated that swamp plants, such as red maple can take root. It takes several thousand years to convert the open waters of a shallow kettle lake into a wooded swamp with a stream flowing through it. But since the conversion works from the outside in, at any point in time along the way, we can see the processes unfolding.

Of course, that is just the big picture. Each habitat, open water, marsh, bog, swamp, has its own set of plants, fish, insects, birds, and mammals. They are all there for us to observe. Some are quite exotic such as the insect-eating sundews that inhabit the bog areas, or the orchids that are sometimes found in the transition between bog and swamp. Throughout the occupation week we can explore and make the connections between the elements of the food webs and see what changes over time.

Specialized Occupations

Specialized occupations are those at the highest content level. For example, last week we had a class that focused only on Lichens. We’ve also had classes this year on ferns and decomposers, which match the special interests of some of our nature staff members. In years past, we had specialized occupations focusing on ants, caddisflies, dragonflies, and bees and wasps. This year, in week 3 (to be offered again in week 6) we taught Geo Lab, which consists of a series of field trips to sites of particular geologic interest-trips that usually last the whole afternoon. We did gold panning in the Baker River, explored the caves and glacial features of the Lost River Reservation, travelled to the Basin and Boise Rock in Franconia Notch, made a special geologic trip to the Palermo Mine, and visited the Sculptured Rocks area. These specialized activities may be offered only once or twice a summer, and each with 4 or 5 participants. They provide new challenges for our most interested campers so that even someone in his 8th summer can still find new and engaging areas of the natural world to investigate with us. Some boys have followed their passions into careers in the natural sciences. All seem to develop an interest in something that can give them pleasure throughout their lives.

Hybrid Occupations

DSCI0009This category includes activities that combine nature and art, such as photography, nature arts and crafts, and environmental sculpture, and activities that combine nature with outdoor pursuits, such as bush lore, wild foods, and orienteering. With photography, we are following in the tradition of a long line of famous artists such as Ansel Adams and Eliot Porter and, in some sense, this is literal since we do black and white film photography (we have our own small darkroom) along with more modern digital photography. We try to go beyond snapshots so the campers learn to consider composition, light, shutter speed, focus and exposure when creating their photographs. The best negatives are printed in our darkroom and the best digital photos are printed out for display. Many will appear in our art show at the end of the summer.

The combination of nature and outdoor pursuits has its roots in the skills needed for survival in ancient societies. The first class in each week’s Wild Foods occupation focuses on what it might have been like to live here 600 years ago. We imagine that we are part of the band of 20 or 25 Native Americans that might have been living here then. What food resources would we have had available to us? How could we store our food so that it (and our band) could last through the long New England winter? Who knew what plants were edible, and which were poisonous, and where and when were they available? How did they pass this information along? We continue to consider these questions as we enjoy whatever nature offers us that week. Last week, for example, we collected blueberries and had blueberry/cornmeal pancakes with maple syrup (made in Warner, NH by Pemi alum Bob Zock). We also made fritters with milkweed flowers and ate boiled young milkweed pods (and you thought milkweed was poisonous, right? It just has to be cooked properly to remove the toxins. Who found this out, anyway?) This week we’ve gathered some ripe chokecherries. These too are almost inedible when raw but delicious when cooked. They can be dried, like raisins, or made into a jelly, or even (just found this recipe) made into a soft-drink syrup that can be mixed with soda water to make a cooling summer drink. Speaking of drinks, we’ve made mint tea, birch tea, wintergreen tea, and rose hip tea, this from rose hips gathered here at camp last fall and dried. Later this summer we’ll make sumac tea, which tastes just like lemonade. Interestingly enough, all of this has had some practical applications for some of our campers. Boys on last week’s Allagash trip—of whom many were past Wild Foods occupation participants—reported that they found a large patch of mint and made themselves a big batch of refreshing mint tea.

Conclusion

I hope that this brief summary has given you a peek into our varied instructional program. To find out more, why not ask your boys when they return home? Better yet, head on out into the woods, the lakes, the streams, and let them show you. Here at Pemi Nature, we always think that showing is better than telling.

 

Nature occupations offered during week 4 of the 2016 Pemi season. The numbers in parentheses indicate the maximum enrollment for the occupation. Notational symbols indicate age and experience restrictions.

Nature occupations offered during week 4 of the 2016 Pemi season. The numbers in parentheses indicate the maximum enrollment for the occupation. Notational symbols indicate age and experience restrictions.

Links to Articles and Videos of Interest

Every so often we scroll through Pemi’s Facebook page to gather in one place all the links to articles and videos that have been posted over the previous months to make for easy binge reading/watching. However you choose to approach the list of links—clicking and absorbing all in one sitting, parcelling them over a few days, or picking and choosing only those that speak to you—we hope you enjoy the content. The links seem to fall into categories…

Slightly ironic, given that you’re connected right now:

Updates on Alumni in the news:

We all need a little help with parenting now and then:

On nature, the environment, and why going to summer camp makes, oh, so much sense:

And we’ll end with one of the best feel-good videos ever:

(Note: When you come across articles of interest that are appropriate to our wider camp community, please send them our way. We’d like to share them.)

 

 

 

 

 

Cans From Campers: A Community Service Effort

Let’s Start a New “Season of Giving” with Cans From Campers

In June 2015, Camp Pemigewassett launched Cans from Campers, a food drive on the opening day of our season, an initiative in response to a growing interest in community service among our campers. Our focus was timely. We learned through the process that food pantries suffer a significant decline in donations during the summer months since food drives typically are held in November and December, the “season of giving.” Additionally, according to “Summer Shouldn’t Mean Hunger” in November 2015’s US News & World Report opinion section:

During the school year, approximately 22 million kids count on the nutrition they need from school meals. At the close of the school year, access to those meals ends and for far too many kids, summer break means struggling with hunger.

Cans from Campers was simple to implement. A conversation in the spring with the New Hampshire Food Bank in Manchester helped to identify a local food pantry, and a call to the head volunteer at the location provided us with the information we needed to coordinate our schedule with theirs.

In a pre-season email to our families and staff, Dan Reed and Sarah Fauver, members of the fourth generation of Pemi’s founding families, suggested they add a canned good or non-perishable when they packed camp gear for the coming weeks. As a fun twist to the idea, they also suggested that campers and staff consider bringing a can for every year they’d been at Pemi. (For several campers, that could mean 6, 7, 8, or even 9 items. And for one of our staff members, 46!)

Cans From Campers took place on our opening day in June and again in mid-July when our Second Session boys arrived. After being warmly greeted by Director Danny Kerr and Assistant Director Ken Moore, campers arriving by car came upon Dan and Sarah, who had staged a collection site near the office—a bright yellow kayak—just in case our campers came with a donation in hand. It didn’t take long to see that the food drive idea had been embraced enthusiastically by campers and parents alike. Even boys who came by bus and plane managed to wedge a can of tuna or a box of mac ‘n’ cheese into their luggage. By the end of the day, the kayak “looked like a cross between Noah’s Ark and a polyethylene cornucopia” (to quote that week’s summer newsletter).

Cans From Campers at Pemi

Many boys (and Dads who are alums) brought a can for each year they’d been a camper at Pemi

As the window of time for arrivals came to a close, eager helpers stepped in to count, sort, and organize the soups, cereals, canned vegetables, beans, and rice that filled and surrounded the vessel. Two days later, five campers—selected from 30 who volunteered—hoisted dozens of loaded boxes and bags into a camp van to personally deliver the bounty to the local food pantry during their open hours.

Cans From Campers at Pemi

Pemi campers load the goods into a van via assembly line and deliver them to a local food pantry

After our boys unloaded the goods, Ted, the head food pantry volunteer, gave an informative talk about the services they provide and the 351 families they serve in fourteen surrounding counties. Another volunteer referred to charts on the wall to illustrate how servings are calculated. Two refrigerators and a freezer hummed in the background, ready for the possible donation of soon-to-expire meat and produce—staples needed for a nutritious, balanced diet—from two local grocery stores. We learned that, unfortunately, one such dependable store had recently started to sell these items at deeply discounted prices rather than donate them.

Cans_talk

A volunteer at the food pantry gives a talk on the families they serve; a chart illustrates how to calculate servings

By all measurable means, our inaugural food drive was a tremendous success—with our modest camp community of 254 campers (from our two arrival days), plus staff donating over 800 cans and other non-perishables, serving well over 100 local families ranging in size from one to nine members and providing an appreciable contribution to the 3,052 meals served by the food pantry during the month of July.

While our goal was to provide a basic need for those less fortunate in our surrounding area, the opening day endeavor also had an extremely positive impact on our own camp community. A single camper’s simple and kind gesture upon his arrival quickly grew into a visually stunning, cumulative effort, achieved only when many work together. The spirit of generosity and community-mindedness and of respect and empathy in action—a culture that we aim to build each and every summer—was launched in a yellow kayak in the center of camp for all to see and consider.

Pemi boys and food pantry staff

Pemi boys and food pantry staff

When asked about his experience of going to the food pantry, Matthew McDonough, 12, said, “I’ve done food drives before at home (New Jersey) so I know it feels good to help. Mostly I was surprised to hear how many hungry families there are. When I think of New Hampshire, I think of going to camp and how rural it is.”

This coming June we’ll do our part and will host Pemi’s 2nd annual Cans From Campers. But just think; if food pantries regularly see a decline in donations starting in June, and if summer camps are gearing up at exactly that time, imagine the potential impact that summer camps across the country could have in fighting hunger in the rural or urban communities that surround them merely by adopting this simple tradition. After all, every summer camp has an opening day, and camps with multiple sessions have multiple “opening days” throughout the summer. All it takes is the suggestion that campers pack a can of food along with their bathing suit and sunscreen.

To that end, we’ll reach out to other camps in our area to relay our experience…the camps we typically see on the soccer pitch or baseball diamond, or camps that many of our campers’ sisters attend. If they’d like to host their own opening day food drive, perhaps we can coordinate efforts. The NH Food Bank stands ready to serve as a resource for camps that join in.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if the idea catches on with summer camps all across the country? Camps could very well be a key player in helping to reduce the spike in summertime hunger experienced in the communities around us all. Perhaps Cans From Campers could even establish a new “season of giving.”

~ Dottie Reed

Cans_From_Campers_KayakLinks to further reading:
Feeding America
No Kid Hungry
NH Food Bank

Find your local food bank:
http://www.feedingamerica.org/find-your-local-foodbank/

 

 

 

 

Some Things Old and Some Things New

Pemi’s Nature Program

Introduction
If longtime Nature Head (from 1927-1969) Clarence Dike were to walk into the Nature Lodge today, he would find many things familiar and many things that were not. Over the years, I have written about novel ways in which we’ve expanded the program. Here, however, I want to highlight some of the ways in which we’ve updated and enhanced traditional occupations and activities to keep campers of all ages engaged, from beginner to advanced levels.

Some Things Old
Some things just don’t change. I love this sequence of photos that shows the “history” of butterfly nets here at Pemi. We make our own, using a length of mosquito netting, heavy duty cotton thread, a hoop fashioned from a wire hanger, and a stick cut from our woods.

1.NETS

The first picture (circa 1940’s?) shows Clarence Dike himself helping a camper; the second, 1972, a camper with Rob Grabill—who prior to becoming director was in instructor in the Nature Program; and the third, a 2015 crew (with staff member Sara Crayton at the wheel and “bug instructors” Matt Kanovsky and Chase Gagne), headed out to a field for collecting using their homemade nets.

What-Is-It?

What-Is-It? contest

Clarence would have recognized the display for the “What-is-it?” contest, too, though its “home” in the Nature Lodge has been relocated. Each day a new “natural” item is put out for campers and staff to identify. The camper in each division (and the staff member) with the highest score for the summer gets one of our specially created nature awards (another holdover from the Clarence Dike era). The “new” innovation this year is that, after 45 years of running the contest, I have ceded oversight to Associate Head of Nature Programs Deb Kure. She has brought her enthusiasm and salesmanship to it and participation has never been higher.

Some Things Old (but updated)

Milkweed pods, anyone?

Milkweed pods, anyone?

Wild Foods has long been one of the most popular activities at Pemi. We have been cooking and eating milkweed shoots, flowers, and pods for years. We have also had a “native American garden” for 5 years now in which we attempt to grow varieties of the “three sisters” (corn, beans, squash) that closely resemble those used by the Native Americans 600 years ago. Last year was the first in which we had any kind of a corn crop. So this year, for the first time, we shelled and ground it then used it to make pancakes with wild blackberries (also collected here). Served with some of Alum Bob Zock’s dark, flavorful maple syrup, they were a real hit.

Our own corn!

Our own corn!

Looking at bear scratch marks

Looking at bear scratch marks

Along with bringing back Bush Lore, we also updated our “Animal Signs and Homes” occupation. Finding an old bear den way up in the woods several years ago inspired this activity. The occupation is designed for all ages and includes not only learning about animal homes and shelters but also identifying such signs as territorial marks, feeding signs, and of course “scat,” the polite name for “poop.” This last, of course, provides all kinds of information about what the animal was eating and how it ate it.

Some Things Old (but augmented)
“Chemical” (film) photography dates back to the mid-1800s. We’ve had a darkroom at Pemi since before the digital era. In 2015, under the guidance of visiting professional Andy Bale and experienced darkroom enthusiasts Erik Wiedemann and Mark Welsh, we had an explosion of interest. There is something special about not knowing what your photograph will look like until it is slowly revealed in the developing tank under the red “safe light.” Pemi supplies the film, the cameras, and the darkroom supplies. Of course, we do digital photography too and our new special nature/photo trips (see below) have lead to some spectacular photographs.

Prints made in the darkroom

Examples of prints made by campers in Pemi’s darkroom

Surface tension, as illustrated by soap bubbles

Surface tension, as illustrated by soap bubbles

“Weird Science” has long been a staple for Juniors. Here we introduce the boys to the wonders of collapsing cans (vacuum), strange material behavior (Oobleck-corn starch and water), exploding balloons (expanding air), and much more. We use old-time physics demonstrations al la the old “Mr. Wizard” (am I really dating myself?). This past summer, under the guidance of engineer-in-training Sam Papel and future geneticist Thom Kelly, we expanded “Weird Science” to older campers. Highlights included giant soap bubbles (surface tension) and the infamous “egg-drop,” an engineering school staple. For this, the boys had to design a protective enclosure for a raw egg (using natural materials found in the woods) that would keep it intact when it was dropped off the porch of U4 onto the road. By the way, every boy succeeded in protecting his egg.

I have led caving trips at Pemi for over 30 years. In most summers we take a beginning trip that includes three caves and an advanced trip that includes two very challenging (physically and mentally) caves: Knox and Gage. This year was no different. However, for the first time in many, many years, my sister, Emily Davis, a world-class caver (never, please, “spelunker”) led the trips. Sam Papel, 2015’s counselor of J1 who’d experienced all the trips when he was a camper, assisted. Emily challenged the boys, as usual, with the “Gun Barrel” in Knox Cave, which is 50 feet long and about 1.5 feet in diameter.  This year, she also offered to take them through the “Lake Room” in Gage to view some spectacular “rimstone dams.’ Traveling to the dams meant going for a swim in the lake. Fortunately, Sam Papel is a lifeguard so this was possible. However, it is not easy. The water temperature is 46° F and you must actually swim (in your caving gear) for about 25 feet. The four boys who did this agreed that it was well worth the effort.

Emerging from the gun barrel; "Lake room"; example of rimstone dams (Texas)

Pemi camper emerging from the gun barrel; the “Lake room”; example of rimstone dams (location,Texas)

Some Things Old (but revamped)

homemade shelter

All set to spend the night in a homemade shelter

When Nuwi Somp (from Papua New Guinea, father to campers Sompy and Brandon) was here in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s, he led a popular occupation called “bush lore” in which he taught skills learned in the jungles of his homeland, but adapted to our New England habitat. “Bush lore” goes way back here in North America. Obviously the Native Americans needed these skills and when many New England summer camps were founded, in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s, teaching them was part of their mission. So, we brought bush lore back this summer focusing on classic outdoor skills such as fire making, way finding, and shelter building. The week’s activity culminated with participating campers and their instructor building individual shelters in the woods and spending the night in it. We taught this occupation twice during the summer and the boys who did it during week 3 had the additional challenge of rain overnight. I’m pleased to report that most stayed dry and comfortable.

Some Things New
We had some innovations this year also. To my mind, the most important of these were the combined nature/photography trips. Some of these went to familiar nature trip destinations such as Quincy Bog in nearby Rumney or Sculptured Rocks. Others went to new spots such as Sabbaday Falls (along the Kancamagus Highway) and to property owned by the Spiess family (who generously granted us permission to visit several times) in Piermont, NH. We have nicknamed this location “The 200” as it is about 200 acres in size. It provided locations both for collecting butterflies and for photography.

On location in "the 200"; Quincy Bog and Sculpured rocks, as photographed by Will Raduziner

On location in “the 200”; Quincy Bog and Sculptured Rocks, as photographed by Will Raduziner

Sabbaday Falls is interesting geologically. It formed when faulting exposed a basalt dike, which then eroded quickly forming a deep gorge with waterfalls. There are also subsidiary waterfalls leading into the gorge. It provided both a wonderful setting to talk about White Mountain geology and to work on a variety of photographic techniques. Of course, it also provided a perfect location for just contemplating the beauty of nature.

Sabbaday Falls

Sabbaday Falls

The Role of Innovation
Pemi’s Nature Program celebrated its 90th anniversary this year, 2015. Since 1926, our approach has been science-based with emphasis on collecting and field observation. Early traditions, such as shooting birds to get their wings for display, are rightfully gone. Changes such as those outlined here have kept Pemi’s program vital and up-to-date. We have made it even more science-based, as rigorous, perhaps, as any high-level middle or high school program. Yet it is still rooted in outdoor observation of nature, something that you cannot get in a classroom, whatever the level of digital effects. Already, we are thinking of ways that we can update, revamp, or augment our existing activites and of new activities that we can introduce. Stay tuned.

~ Larry Davis

Field Trips Near and Far: Pemi’s Nature Program

Summer 2014: Newsletter # 7


EXCURSIONS

by Larry Davis, Director of Pemi’s Nature Program

Pemi’s Nature Program has many facets. One of these is our program of instruction. This summer we offered forty different nature occupations ranging from classics—Beginning Butterflies and Moths and Beginning Rocks and Minerals (both available every week)—to more esoteric activities such as Mushrooms/Mosses/Lichens, and Bees/Wasps/Ants offered just once apiece. New this year was the “GeoLab” series of advanced geology occupations focusing on topics such as Plate Tectonics, Water and Geology, and New Hampshire Geology. Along the way we also made good use of our dark room, our microscopes, our wildlife camera, and our wild foods “kitchen” (ask your boys what was on the menu).

I want to use this opportunity, however, to highlight another aspect of the program: the afternoon (or longer) field trips that we take away from camp. Some of these are to nearby old mines for mineral collecting or to nearby fields for butterflies. Others are to more distant localities such as Franconia and Crawford Notches here in New Hampshire or to the cave region in Schoharie, New York.

Crawford Notch

Crawford Notch

This summer, in addition to the mine and butterfly trips, we enjoyed several of these longer excursions. Two went to the Notches (one each to Franconia and Crawford), one to Quincy Bog in nearby Rumney and one to New York State for caving. In addition, our new GeoLab occupation included field trips to Sculptured Rocks in Groton, NH, Plummer’s Ledge, here in Wentworth, Livermore Falls in Campton, NH, the bluffs and terraces along the Connecticut River in Fairlee, VT, and the Baker River, where we panned for gold, and one special excursion to the Palermo Mine (a regular stop for us) for our GeoLab campers that focused on local geology. I will use the rest of this newsletter to describe some of these trips for you, and have provided links that give the locations of most of the sites. With the exception of the Palermo Mine, they are all open to the public.

Quincy Bog (Rumney, NH)

Marshes, Bogs, Swamps- Bogs are wetland areas dominated by sphagnum moss. Swamps are wetland areas with trees growing in them. Marshes are flooded areas dominated by floating plants, grasses, and sedges. Quincy Bog is not just a bog. It is a beaver swamp and pond. Regardless of the name, this is a special place, not only because of what’s there, but also because of how it came to be preserved. This is what they say in the trail guide:

Quincy Bog is a special place. The forty-four-acre Natural Area includes the remains of a post-glacial lake (now reduced to a one-acre open bog pond). Its bog pond, sedge meadow, red maple and alder swamp, sandy flood plain, granite outcrop, and typical central New Hampshire cut-over woodland present a rich diversity of plant and animal life that we invite you to contemplate and explore.

Beavers, still very active today, formed the “bog” itself. Along the trail that circles the flooded area, you can see their dams, lodges, stumps (both new and old) of trees that they’ve cut down, and skid ways that they’ve used to move the trees to the pond where they can float them to the dams or lodges. You also experience the entire ecological community that exists because of the beaver’s transformation of a stream. Visitors see turtles sunning themselves on logs, a huge variety of birds, frogs, along with an abundance of plants—ferns, trees, mosses, flowers, sedges, grasses, and the fungi that “infect” them.

Quincy Bog

Quincy Bog

The trail itself changes elevation so that you move from a wetland community that includes red maples, sedges, ferns, and floating plants, to a hardwood forest with oak, beech, white pine, and wintergreen in only a few vertical feet. It is a good lesson in how small changes in elevation can lead to big changes in plant and animal communities. At one point there is an old stone wall and a very old oak tree—at least 150 years. In another, there is a rock outcrop covered with “rock tripe” (a lichen). There are large glacial eratics and a flowing spring. If you walk the trail clockwise (any we usually do), you come, at last, to the large beaver dams (old and new) that help to form the pond.

Equally interesting is how this “Natural Area” came to be protected. As you drive here, you pass through what looks like a typical suburban subdivision. Indeed, this was supposed to completely surround the bog, which, in turn, was going to be partially drained. A group of citizens became alarmed and moved to protect it. One of the leaders of the group was a man named George Wendell. George was a retired Plymouth fireman living in Rumney. He also was, for many years in the 1970’s and 80’s, Pemi’s “shop guy.” Today the bog is owned by a non-profit, “Rumney Ecological Systems,” that has a large board of directors composed mostly of Rumney residents. The community lovingly cares for the bog and there is even a nature center where nature programs are presented monthly. It is truly a place of pride for the citizens of Rumney.

Palermo Mine (North Groton, NH)

In a 1994 Pemi newsletter, I wrote the following about the Palermo Mine:

Huge piles of shining rock glistening in the hot afternoon sun. The light reflected off these rocks is almost blinding. The road fairly sparkles with flakes of mica. In every direction are more dumps, more piles of rock, more shafts—on the hills, in the impoundments in the woods. Scampering over the dumps are the figures of excited campers. They look dark against the white quartz and feldspar. Their arms too, sparkle with mica flakes. The sound of clanging rock hammers are accompanied by excited shrieks of “Larry-look what I found!” We have visited this mine over 75 times in my 25 years here. It was the first one that we went to (and it was also the site of our most recent trip). It never fails to delight and it still yields new treasures. Palermo has launched many a Pemi camper’s career in Geology.

Palermo Mine

Palermo Mine

This description is as accurate today as it was twenty-one years ago. It is, in fact, a world-famous mineral locality. There are about 120 minerals that occur here including about 10 that are found nowhere else in the world. It is an exciting place to visit. The owner, Bob Whitmore of Weare, NH is still working the mine for mineral specimens. In addition to the rare minerals, which are of interest to collectors, it yields beautiful, gem-quality aquamarines, commercial quantities of quartz (the concrete at Boston’s Prudential Center contains crushed white quartz from Palermo), mica, and beryl, nice apatite crystals, and many, many other easily found and identified minerals. It was originally opened in the 1870’s for mica, which was used in stove windows (still is, in fact) and automobile windshields. It was also a source of feldspar, which was used in the large refractory (pottery) industry that existed up and down the Connecticut River (there were rich clay deposits from Hartford, CT up to St. Johnsbury, VT).

We are very fortunate that Bob is a friend of Pemi. The public is not allowed in, but we have a key and can go any time we like. We generally visit every Thursday but we have also taken some additional trips. This year, as part of the GeoLab occupation, we went with 3 older campers to look at the geology in some detail and to collect from parts of the mine that we do not usually go to. Bob has also donated some spectacular mineral specimens to us. These are displayed in a case (that Bob built for us) in the Reed Memorial Nature Library.

Panning for Gold (Baker River, Wentworth, NH)

Gold Panning

Gold Panning

Yes, there is gold in New Hampshire! In the 1840’s there were actually active gold mines in Lyman and Lisbon, about 40 miles north of here near the Wild Ammonoosuc River. These never amounted to much, but you can still find “placer” gold (loose gold particles mixed in with the other sediments) in that river and in the Baker, which runs from the slopes of Mount Moosilauk through Warren and Wentworth to join the Pemigewassett River in Plymouth, NH. During a GeoLab excursion last week, Deb Kure and 3 campers tried their luck. They used old-fashioned gold pans leant to us by maintenance staff member Jeremy Rathbun who pans for gold as a hobby. He also suggested a good location for our first attempt ever: in the river just by the town ball field in “downtown” Wentworth. The idea of gold panning is the gold is very, very heavy compared to the rocks and minerals that comprise the river gravels. As the stream slows in spots, the heaviest sediments drop out first. So the search for gold begins in the river’s pools. You scoop up gravel, sand, and water with the pan and gently swirl it around. The lighter materials go to the outside and the heavier (gold?) stay in the middle. What you’re looking for is called “color” by those in the know. Our group did see some “color” and picked out tiny grains with equally tiny tweezers and put them into (you guessed it) tiny glass vials filled with water. Needless to say, nobody’s fortune was made, but it was so much fun that we’ll try it again next summer. I hope you’ve enjoyed these “nuggets” of information about New Hampshire gold (sorry-couldn’t resist a pun).

Plummer’s Ledge (Wentworth, NH) and Sculptured Rocks (North Groton, NH)

Sculptured Rocks

Sculptured Rocks

These are two, state-owned, “pocket” parks that are outstanding locations to view the work of glacial melt water. Sculptured Rocks still has water flowing through it (the Cockermouth River), while at Plummer’s Ledge the glacial features are high and dry deep in a New Hampshire woodland.

Pothole Formation

Pothole Formation

Today’s mountain streams, here in New England, are crystal clear. That is, they contain no suspended sediment (which would turn them cloudy or brown). Without these sediment “tools” almost no erosion of our hard bedrock could take place. Not so in glacial times. Not only was there orders of magnitude more runoff, but it was loaded with sediment from silt to boulder size. The swirling waters flung the sediments against the bedrock of channel floor and walls smoothing them and carving flutes, chutes, and deep potholes. At Sculptured Rocks, these are clearly visible along the modern course of the river over a few hundred-foot long span. At Plummer’s Ledge, the potholes are big and surrounded by woods.

Giant Kettle Formation

Giant Kettle Formation

While potholes dominate both of these sites, their formation was different. Sculptured Rocks was probably formed by glacial melt water out in front of the glacier. Had you been there at the time, you would have seen the rushing stream pouring out from the front of the ice, carrying huge amounts of sediment of various sizes from small (silt) to large (cobbles and boulders). These formed the potholes that are visible today. At Plummer’s Ledge, the melt water was on top of the glacier. It plunged down a crevasse (also known as a “moulin”) into a plunge pool in the bedrock below. Both sites are excellent reminders that the hills and mountains of New Hampshire were once covered by ice almost a mile thick a mere 15,000 years ago…a very, very short time when placed on a geologic time scale.

River Terraces, Flood Plains, and Faults (Connecticut River, Orford, NH/Fairlee, VT)

Many of you have probably crossed the bridge over the Connecticut River between Orford, NH and Fairlee, VT.  It is a quirk of political geography that the state line is actually on the west (Vermont) side of the river, rather than down the middle. So, the whole width of the river is actually in New Hampshire.

Terrace Formation

Terrace Formation

This is one of the best places that I know to view river terraces. These are also products of glaciation. In this case, their origin lies in Connecticut, at Rocky Hill, where a plug of glacial outwash dammed up the ancestral Connecticut River creating a lake in front of the retreating glacier. This lake, known as “Glacial Lake Hitchcock” eventually stretched as far north as St. Johnsbury, Vermont. As lake levels went up and down, the adjacent flood plains became stranded creating terraces. There are at least 4 distinct levels that can be seen on both sides of the river. In the early 1800’s, Orford was a center of commerce and a crossroads on several major trading routes. Retired sea captains built spectacular houses on one of these terraces. They are classics of the federalist style and were designed by Asher Benjamin, an architect in Charles Bullfinch’s firm in Boston. Bullfinch was the designer of the Massachusetts State House in Boston and the U.S. Capitol building in Washington.

Fairlee-Orford

Fairlee-Orford

Over most of its course, the Connecticut River actually follows a major fault. However, a body of unerodable granite forced the river to divert to the east around it. It now appears as a cliff (“Mount Moriah” or “Mount Morey” depending on which map you look at) on the Vermont side. It is an important nesting location for Peregrine Falcons, which can sometimes be seen from the parking lot of the Fairlee Diner (an excellent place for breakfast or lunch). As you can see from the map, Lake Morey is actually located along the fault. If you are driving south on I-91 from St. Johnsbury, looking south a couple miles north of Bradford (Exit 16), you can clearly see, straight ahead, Lake Morey and the valley that follows the fault while the road turns east to follow the river.

The fault is a major geologic divider. The rocks in New Hampshire (east of the fault) are mostly igneous (hence the nickname, “The Granite State”). To the west, in Vermont, they are mostly metamorphosed sedimentary rocks that were deposited on the floor of an ancient (~ 400 million years ago) sea. The cliffs at Fairlee are geologically part of New Hampshire despite the fact that they are politically part of Vermont.

Livermore Falls (Pemigewassett River, Campton and Plymouth, NH)

This dramatic set of rapids and falls along the Pemigewassett River has a complex geologic history and an interesting human one. It is the “type locality” (the place the rock was originally found and described) for the rock “Camptonite,” a kind of basalt that has been found worldwide.

Livermore Falls

Livermore Falls

Geologically, you have a weakly metamorphosed rock (once sea-floor sediment) that has been injected with magma (molten rock) of two types. One is iron-magnesium rich, which produced the camptonite, the other was silica rich, which produced a type of rock known as “Aplite.” Both of these rock types have formed narrow tabular (like a tabletop) bodies that are almost vertical. These are known as “dikes.” Since the dikes cut through the metamorphic rock, they must be younger (if you’re going to cut a cake, the cake has to be there first). The dikes, however, are not metamorphosed. So the mountain building events that altered the original rocks must have happened after they were deposited but before the dikes were injected. In one or two places you can see that the aplite dikes cut through the camptonite dikes so they must be younger still. This yields a sequence of events for the region: first the sediments are deposited. Then the mountain building forces metamorphosed them. Next the camptonite dikes were injected and finally, the aplite dikes formed. This is how geologists go about figuring out the “story” behind what we see and Livermore Falls is a great place to teach about it.

The river also illustrates how these ancient features influence modern landscapes. The camptonite is weaker, both chemically and physically, than the metamorphic rocks. Geologists would say that it “weathers” more easily. So, where the dikes are exposed in the river’s channel, it has cut “slots” into the surrounding rocks. These are clearly visible on both sides of the valley. The presence of these weaker dikes, which cut perpendicular to the river, is probably also responsible for the falls being here.

From a human standpoint, the falls lead to the development of a water-powered mill here. According to the Campton Historical Society, this was a paper-pulp mill. You can clearly see the remains of a diversion dam that funneled the river into the turbines within the factory (also clearly visible). The mill was built in 1889 and was in production until the 1950’s. In 1973 a flood (Hurricane Agnes) destroyed the dam. This is the same storm that produced the famous “Pemi Flood” which forced us to bring campers in on boats on opening day that year.

There is also a wonderful old iron bridge, built in 1886. It is of an unusual “pumpkinseed” design. It stands 103 feet above the river and is 263 feet long. It was closed in 1959.

~ Larry Davis

 

UPDATE: Bury or Stop Northern Pass

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We will insist on smart, well-planned energy projects that advance a clean energy future and we will not welcome any overhead extension cords like Northern Pass that provide little benefit to the state, at the expense of our natural and scenic resources.  – excerpt from petition to Governor Hassan

Background

In March 2011, we posted Help Us Stop High Voltage Power Lines Over Pemi, bringing to the attention of Camp Pemigewassett alumni and friends the proposal to construct a high-voltage direct-current transmission line from the Canadian border down through New Hampshire to southern New England—called Northern Pass—with a proposed alternate route that cut right through Pemi’s land. As a result of this outreach, letters, emails, and calls from our readers to government officials joined those of other concerned citizens and a month later, we were relieved to post Pemi Dodges Proposed Power Lines.

Today’s Challenge

We recently received an email from the president of the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests, asking us to join the effort once again by providing an update to the Pemi community.

The Northern Pass transmission line, still on the table, proposes to erect 1,500 new towers along a 187-mile scar across two-thirds of New Hampshire. This private transmission line would directly impact three Forest Reservations, including the Rocks Estate, dozens of conservation easements, and the White Mountain National Forest.

In an effort to convey what is at stake, the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests, Appalachian Mountain Club, and the Conservation Media Group (CMG), a non-profit group of filmmakers and conservationists, have teamed up. Please watch seven year-old Tucker, the star of this short video, as he explains what the forests mean to him. All of New Hampshire is our backyard, and if Northern Pass were to be built, not only Tucker but his children, grandchildren and great grandchildren would be living with its consequences on our treasured scenic landscapes.

Call to Action (wherever you live)

• Join us! Petition Governor Hassan to take a stronger stand in opposition to Northern Pass or write using the address below. Tell her “if Northern Pass does not agree to bury power lines, it should be stopped.”

Governor Maggie Hassan
State House
107 North Main Street
Concord, NH 03301

• Please share the link to the petition with your friends who care about New Hampshire, or, to provide a recap of Pemi’s outreach, send them the link to this blog article.

Who Does The Laundry in Your Household?

“So, how many of you do your own laundry at home?”

I posed this question to six 13-to-15-year-old campers with whom I was having lunch last August. My tone was casual, but I was eager to deliver my speech.

I was prepared to tell them that they should have started doing their own laundry years ago; that assuming responsibility for their own laundry is an ideal way to develop time-management and planning skills that are invaluable as they face increasing demands from school and other activities. I wanted to tell them that with gadgets in their hands virtually from day one, young kids are perfectly capable of learning how to run a washing machine and dryer (and if they were to deny it, suggest it might be best for their parents to take away their phone for safe keeping).

Many years ago, taking a cue from Tom Sawyer, I told our daughter Abby—who at age 11 was eager to be regarded as grown-up and responsible and deserving of more freedom and privileges—that when she turned 12, along with some of the things she was asking for, she’d also be allowed to take over doing her own laundry from then on; because when she was 12 I’d know she was mature enough to manage the clothes washer and dryer. Suddenly the washer and dryer took on the cachet of machinery run by adults; earning the privilege of operating them became her keen desire.

And so, following her twelfth birthday party, the Celebration of Laundry took place. Abby carried her laundry basket full of clothes, sheets, and towels to the clothes washer where, to her great satisfaction, she engaged in each stage of choosing settings, twisting dials, and pushing buttons. Her pleasure in the task grew over the next couple of weeks as her little brother Daniel claimed that, since it was so easy to run the machines, it wasn’t fair that he wasn’t allowed to do his own laundry until he was 12.

No surprise; it didn’t take long for reality to set in. One hectic school morning, Abby remembered she had gym that afternoon for which she would have to change into her required green shorts and t-shirt or else suffer the humiliation of “getting points.” She dashed upstairs to her dresser with only minutes until the school bus was due to appear at the end of our street.

“Where’s my gym uniform? It’s not in my drawer!”
“Did you do your laundry last week?”

Abby shot me a look that I will politely translate as, “I can’t believe you’re serious about this.” When I suggested that her choices appeared to be digging through her laundry basket to unearth her (wrinkled, sweaty) gym uniform or getting points for wearing something else, the situation bordered on tragic.

I don’t recall which option she chose. But suffice to say that, having bestowed the same 12th birthday gift to Dan a few years later (by which time he wasn’t as eager, but at that point it was a given), I can count on one hand the number of loads of laundry that I’ve done for either of them in well over a decade. All it took was not stepping in to do the task—even when there might be consequences—combined with the conviction that they were perfectly capable of the chore. Over time and, yes, with a few mishaps along the way, each learned to plan ahead, create schedules, anticipate their needs, and ultimately take satisfaction in being responsible for a very basic and ongoing personal task.

So, back to last August in the messhall and my question, “How many of you do your own laundry?”

Four of the six campers nodded. They were quick to point out that their parents “had made them.” We laughed over the felted wool sweater and bleach-splotched jeans disasters. But they were just as quick to admit that doing their laundry had become routine and they actually preferred being in control. I didn’t even get to give my speech. I figured the two who didn’t do their own laundry were getting the message from their peers, much better than from me.

It struck me that the four boys doing the talking came from different parts of the country, attended both public and private schools, three had siblings and one did not. It came out in the conversation that one had a housekeeper who did all the cleaning but not the kids’ laundry. Interestingly, what they had in common was that these four were longtime Pemi campers, whereas the two teens that did not do their own laundry were new to summer camp.

Senior campers on "Laundry Crew"

Senior campers serve on “laundry crew”

Whether or not there is a connection between the fact that the guys who did their own laundry were longtime campers or not, I like to think that most parents who specifically choose “the Pemi experience” believe that age-appropriate opportunities to take on responsibility not only go hand-in-hand with privileges, but also give children the chance to develop valuable life skills. While doing laundry isn’t always fun, kids who assume ongoing responsibility for it get far more out of the experience than clean clothes.

If you think this might make a great birthday gift to your son or daughter, just remember Tom Sawyer. Sometimes it’s all in how you present it.

~ Dottie Reed

Feel free to post your own suggestions or thoughts on ways to help your kids take on responsibility (which in some cases might mean not helping them!)…

Newsletter # 7: Pemi’s Nature Program

Matt

Matt Kanovsky, 8-year Pemi camper

Most people who are new to Pemi are struck by the breadth of opportunities offered. Indeed, we encourage our campers to stretch their boundaries of experience by exploring our four program areas: Sports, Nature, Music Art & Drama, and Trips. However, we like to think that equally impressive is the depth of instruction that an older camper can enjoy should he choose to hone his skills in a particular area. This past Sunday, several of our 15-year old campers spoke on the role that Pemi has played in their lives. Matt Kanovsky, in his 8th and final year as a camper, reflected on his experience with Pemi’s Nature Program and how he was able to dig deeper and deeper as his interest in the natural world grew. How fitting, then, to have Larry Davis, Director of Nature Programs and Teaching, offer this week’s newsletter, in which he describes how this particular program area has responded to the “thirst for more” from campers who develop passion and focus.

Pemi’s Nature Program encompasses a wide range of activities including collecting trips, day-long excursions to places such as Crawford Notch, informal outings, and overnight caving trips. But the heart of the program is our formal instruction, which takes place during the occupation periods. Each week we offer 14-16 different activities over a range of “skill” levels, from beginning to advanced. For example, during Week 6 we taught at the beginning level: Rocks and Minerals, Butterflies and Moths, Ponds and Streams, Junior Nature Book, Birding, and Nature Drawing; at the intermediate level: Wild Foods, Digital Photography, Rocks and Minerals, Darkroom Photography; and at the advanced level: Mosses, Caddisflies, Butterfly and Moth Field Studies, Reptiles and Amphibians, and Bush Lore, for a total of 15 choices. Over the course of the summer, we offered a total of 37 different activities. Some appear every week, others appeared a couple of times, and a few appeared only once.

In this newsletter, I want to tell you a bit more about our occupations. While I will describe a range of these, I want to focus especially on some new, advanced ones that we developed this year. Our hope was not only to offer some challenges to the campers who spend a lot of time with us in the Nature Lodge, but also to give everyone a chance to explore aspects of our environment that they might not have noticed in the past.

Traditional Occupations

Some of our boys come to us with extensive experience in nature field studies. However, most do not. So, we want to offer attractive activities, in a variety of areas, that will allow them to begin their exploration of nature. While time and space do not allow a detailed description of these, I can discuss some of the characteristics that these “introductions” share.

(1b) Per at StreamFirst, our overarching objective is to get the boys to look at and observe the world around them. We want to help them “see.” This idea is stated in our Mission Statement for the Nature Program (modeled after one written by Allen H. Morgan of the Massachusetts Audubon Society):

To capture the attention of the inquisitive mind, bring to it an affection for this planet and all of life, and to foster an intelligent understanding of man’s position in the natural balance of things.

In order to do this, we have to take them out into nature, not just talk about it. We want to show them, not just tell them. Our 600 acres provide us with a wonderful variety of plants, animals, rocks, and more to look at, and we can easily access most of what we need to see during an occupation week of five, 50-minute periods.

(2) R&M Deb:Plate T (D)Second, all our beginning occupations have set, detailed lesson plans. Our objectives include introducing the boys to the “nature” of the subject matter. For example what “makes” an insect or a butterfly or a moth. Or, “what’s” a mineral? We also want them to learn how an animal lives, how a mineral is formed, why some plants like shade and others like full sunlight…. We want them to learn about basic collection and preservation techniques. Finally, we want them to become familiar with some of the basic terminology that scientists use to describe things, not too much jargon, but enough so that they can read further if they wish (and many do).

Lastly, we hope to bring them to the point where they will formulate their own questions. “Why do moths fly toward light?” “Why are the leaves on the seedlings in the forest so big?” “Why can’t the piece of coal that I found in Mahoosuc Notch come from there?” Science is about questions, not memorization of facts. You must seek answers directly from nature and only observation of what’s “out there” can lead you to them. This gets us back to the first objective that I mentioned, getting the boys to look at and observe the world around them. If they do this then the questions (and maybe, the answers) should follow.

Staff

If we are successful in our introductory occupations, then we leave the campers wanting more. In order to provide this, we need staff with specialized knowledge. Beyond that, they also need to understand about teaching in the outdoors and that is one of the reasons why we run a pre-season Nature Instruction Clinic.

This summer we worked hard to find staff that could fill some of the gaps in our knowledge base. As most of you know, both Deb Kure (Associate Head of Nature Programs) and I are geologists. While we have extensive knowledge of most things natural, it is generally of the self-taught variety. We have always had a “bug person” too, most recently, Conner Scace (who was back with us as a visiting professional this year). His bug “specialties” are ants, wasps, and bees, along with dragonflies and damselflies. We wanted staff with formal training in ecology, wetlands, other insect groups, and related areas such as nature photography. We were very fortunate to find excellent people to fill our gaps. I’d like to reintroduce them to you.

Daniel (“Danno”) Walder has a degree in conservation biology from Plymouth University in England. He has done research on bracken in the British Isles and has also worked on projects in Mexico and Spain. Prior to arriving at Pemi, he spent many weeks trekking in Sri Lanka. He comes from a farming family. His knowledge of ecology and wildlife is extensive.

Kevin Heynig is studying for a degree in biology at Northern Michigan University, with an ecology concentration. His interests focus on aquatic insects and their environments. He has done research on caddisflies in Lake Superior and field research on other aquatic insects.

Mark Welsh is studying biomedical science at the University of Dundee. Besides his abilities in biology, he is also a serious photographer who works with both film and digital media. He said in his application materials, “Photography is a great passion in my life and I would relish any opportunity to pass it on to anyone, be they young or old!”

Matt Cloutier will be entering Middlebury College this year, studying for a degree in biology with an emphasis on entomology. Matt became passionate about butterflies and moths as a Pemi camper and, in 2011, was the 12th recipient (since 1974) of the Clarence Dike Memorial Nature Award.

Conner Scace (Visiting Professional) just completed his M.S. degree in environmental science at the University of New Haven. He did thesis work, with me, on fish populations in interior ponds on San Salvador Island, Bahamas. In the fall he will be entering a one-year-long program that will end with his becoming a certified biology teacher in Connecticut. As I said above, his passion is ants and related insects. We were very fortunate that he was able to join us for three weeks this summer.

Stephen Broker (Visiting Professional) is newly retired from teaching ecology in New Haven Public Schools. He also taught wetlands ecology at the University of New Haven. He is the Connecticut State Bird Recorder and an expert in “reading the landscape,” that is, reading the record of human occupation from characteristics of the landscape as seen in the field. Steve’s father was waterfront director at Pemi in the late 1930s so his week with us was, in a way, a homecoming for him.

New Occupations

While we have always had “advanced” level occupations in butterflies and moths, geology, and various insects, and specialty occupations in non-flowering plants, wild foods, photography, and wilderness skills, the backgrounds of our staff allowed us to offer many new and even more advanced activities this summer and to substantially update some that we have offered occasionally in the past. It is worth listing them all below before I use the rest of my time and space to describe a few of them.

Caddisflies
Bees and Wasps
Ants
Aquatic Insects
Dragonflies and Damselflies
Butterfly and Moth Field Studies
Ecology
Animal Homes and Signs
Reptiles and Amphibians
Wetlands Ecology
Bush Lore
Reading the Landscape
Mosses
Advanced Darkroom Photography
Mushrooms

Caddisflies

caddisflies

Caddisfly larvae cases and adults

Caddisflies are aquatic insects with a two-stage life cycle. The larvae are fully aquatic and most build cases out of twigs, stones, or leaves. They feed on detritus, small insects, and plants. The cases serve as both camouflage and protection. But, since they have to drag them around while foraging, the construction material depends on how heavy they need to be to keep the larva from being washed away. So, if the habitat is a stream, then sand or small pebbles are used. If a shoreline or quiet pool, then leaves or twigs might be the choice. In fast-moving streams, the cases are attached directly to rocks and, rather than foraging, the larvae wait for the stream to bring food to them. The case construction and design is specific to a specific species (which in turn is adapted to live in a specific habitat). The adults are the reproductive stage and, as is common with many aquatic insects, they do not feed. All of this forms the background for this specialized occupation. Both adults (they fly readily to light) and larvae (along with their cases) can be collected and observed. Most important, however, is the observation of how they adapt to their preferred habitat and the questions about why they have those specific adaptations. This can lead to thinking about trade-offs between protection and energy expenditure for foraging versus the energy obtained from the food. We have at least 30 different kinds of caddisflies here (maybe more as we are just beginning to look at them) so the possibilities for study are wide.

Ants

Ants

collecting ants

Of course, anyone who’s ever had a picnic, knows about ants. They are everywhere. At Pemi, we have at least 10 kinds and some, such as carpenter ants (they tunnel and bore into wood) and Appalachian Mound Builders (they bite) are troublesome. Regardless they all display a sophisticated level of social organization that can be observed both in the field and in captivity. Our ant occupation includes study and discussion of social organization, observation of foraging behavior, collection of examples, collection of queens, and temporary establishment of captive colonies for observation in the Nature Lodge (later released back into the environment). Sometimes we get to observe ant “wars” where two separate colonies battle over territory. The questions that can be generated are legion. How and why did ants develop the social structures that they have? What are the advantages of this structure? Why are almost all ants female and almost all sterile (except the queens)? As always, we try to generate answers to these by observation in the field (which includes the uncertainties) rather than by looking up the answers on the internet (which, of course, are always right).

Ecology

Quadrat

Ecology quadrat

Ecology is, of course, a very broad field of study. The main purpose of this occupation is to teach the campers about data collection techniques, analysis, and interpretation. This summer, we looked at plant distribution and diversity in several Pemi habitats including grassy fields, open meadows, and the forest floor. The basic tools for this work include a “quadrat” (basically a one-meter-square “frame” that can be placed anywhere), a hand lens, and identification books. The quadrat is used to “select” areas of equal size and all plants and animals within it are counted and catalogued. Our grassy fields are, of course, manmade habitats. Forest floors are in deep shade while open meadows are usually in full sunlight. This selection of habitats provides starkly contrasting examples of diversity (the number of different species) and population (the number of individuals of each species). What we found was that the manmade habitat was the least diverse (we prefer to have our grassy areas just grass and spend hundreds of millions of dollars assuring this result). The open meadows were the most diverse, with the forest floor in between (although with generally low diversity). These are, however, just facts and the fun comes from asking “why?” and then testing the possible answers to see what fits best. This is, of course, the scientific method. But, instead of just talking about it, in our ecology occupation we are actually doing it. Beyond that, this is no canned laboratory experiment. We are generating questions to which we really don’t know the answers.

Butterfly and Moth Field Studies

fieldWe have been collecting butterflies and moths at Pemi since the beginning of the Nature Program in 1929. Of course, back then, this is how nature was “done.” While we continue to collect butterflies and moths, we have tried to modernize it. We limit collection to just one of each species. We teach proper collection and preservation techniques. We strongly encourage the labeling of collections not only with the name of the species, but also with information about when and where it was collected. Still, this is only one of the ways that these insects are studied today. One important newer technique is to capture, mark, and recapture. This is a way of estimating population numbers. It works particularly well with butterflies. A location is chosen and butterflies are captured. But, rather than killing them, their wings are marked (using an indelible pen) so that the individual can be identified. Then, they are released. The key is to return to the same site on successive days. Of course, some of the captured butterflies will be ones that are already marked. In fact, the more days you do this, the more greater the percentage should be of marked butterfly recaptures. Through a series of arithmetical manipulations of the data, it is possible to estimate population numbers based on the proportions of new captures to recaptures. The real power of this technique is when it is used in successive years to observe population changes (and we intend to do this). The questions generated from the data (again, just “facts”) might include why different species have different relative populations, how populations change over time, how populations change with changing plant succession (could be coupled with the techniques of ecological quadrat studies), and much, much more.

Bush Lore

BushLoreBesides natural history studies, our program also includes some introduction to wilderness and outdoor skills. Bush Lore was first introduced by Nuwi Somp in the 1990s. Nuwi brought the bush savvy that he gained in the jungles of Papua New Guinea to us here in New Hampshire. He built, with the campers, fish traps, snares, fish spears, and other tools using age-old techniques and patterns from his homeland. His only rule was that you had to eat whatever you caught. It turned out, however, that what worked in PNG did not necessarily work with our animals here—a very interesting lesson. This year we instituted a new version of this. It included map and compass reading, tracking, a discussion and simulation of hunting skills that would have been used by Native Americans here in northern New England, a discussion and simulation of field dressing of animals, shelter building, tinder bundle firestarting, and more. In other words, we tried to present, in five days, as complete a snapshot of ways to survive in the woods while living off the land as we could. This could also be followed by more advanced activities where we actually try to build skills in some of the shelter building, wayfinding, and tracking techniques.

Conclusions

I hope that you have enjoyed this foray into our new, expanded list of occupations. We instituted these because we wanted to offer our campers a chance to go beyond introductions. Older campers need new challenges as they continue to return. We need to be able to keep the interest of both the boy who wants to specialize and the one who has been here for seven or even eight years and who wants something new. I believe that we have succeeded. We will continue to refine the occupations that we have instituted this summer (along with those that have been in place for years and years) and, I hope, produce new offerings in years to come.

~ Larry Davis
Director of Nature Programs and Teaching