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.

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.

“Camping Magazine” highlights Pemi’s Nature Clinic

The March/April issue of Camping Magazine features an article by Larry Davis—head of Camp Pemigewassett’s acclaimed Nature Program—on Pemi’s pre-season nature instruction clinic, now in its 22nd year. Enjoy the digital version here:

Turning Camp Counselors into Nature Specialists: The Pemi Nature Instruction Clinic  R. Laurence Davis, PhD

A reflection piece written by one of last year’s clinic participants accompanies the article: A Place to Share: Learning to Teach about Nature  Kathy Fitzgerald

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

Summer 2013: Newsletter #5

Hello again from Wentworth, where we are well into the fifth week of the 2013 season. As many of you veteran readers will recall, our storied rivalry with Camp Tecumseh is customarily renewed at the end of every Week Five, and this summer is no exception. We have engaged with our esteemed and talented rivals from Lake Winnepesauke virtually every year since 1908, and there is no question that this is the most important day in our entire athletic schedule. Think Harvard-Yale; Michigan-Ohio State; Red Sox-Yankees; Redskins-Cowboys. Think Super Bowl, but with over 150 boys from each camp competing in four sports (baseball, soccer, swimming, and tennis) in five age groups (10-and-under, 11s, 12s, 13s, and 15-and under.) True, we pride ourselves on being a well-rounded camp. But Friday is the athletic equivalent of the Allagash Canoe Trip for the Trip Program – or the Advanced Caving Trip for the Nature Program – or the Gilbert and Sullivan operetta and Annual Art Opening for the Arts and Music Program. As with these other events, even boys who are not participating take a keen interest in what their cabin-mates and colleagues are doing, living the truth that community can sometimes be as much about respectful attention and support as about personal participation.

Next week’s Newsletter is slated to come from Charlie Malcolm, our inspirational Director of Athletics who spends the off-season teaching History at Northfield-Mt. Hermon School, where he also coaches the boys’ varsity soccer team. This week’s, though, largely comes from Trip Counselor Dan Reed, recently returned from said Allagash canoe outing. Before we turn to Dan’s account of this most ambitious and wild of Pemi expeditions (barring, of course, Pemi West, which recently wrapped up after a spectacular 3-plus weeks in the Washington State’s Olympics including a succesful ascent of the eponymnous peak!!!), let us indulge in a little historical segue.

Early travel to Tecumseh

Early travel to Tecumseh

In the early days of camp, the pilgrimage to Tecumseh itself smacked almost as much of the trip program as of athletics. The event began with Pemi campers and staff packing sports gear, bedding, and clothing for three days and then walking the three and a half miles to the train station in Wentworth. A two-hour journey brought them to The Weirs, where they boarded the steamship Governor Endicott and travelled another hour or so to the cove where Tecumseh has its waterfront, then shuttling in small boats to get to shore. There, they established camp on the sandy beach and grass verges of the big lake, where the Four Docs built cooking fires and supervised the preparation of supper. After an evening of song and, no dount, heroic tales of past Pemi-Tecumseh clashes, everyone bedded down on the beach for the night. Shades of Henry’s troops before Agincourt (perhaps). Word has it that the mosquitoes were brutal, and rumors routinely spread that the Tecumseh management had specially ordered in millions of the tiny pests to suck the blood from their opponents of the following day. Current Pemi Nature Director Larry Davis assures us that the concept of mercenary mosquitoes was as unlikely then as it is now, but sound sleep was evidently hard to come by for our aspiring warriors on the shores of Winnepesauke. Then again, when Tecumseh journeyed to us (as they always did in what was then the home-and-home annual exchange), the tables were turned and our lads may have had the advantage of a miniscule version of blood doping. In any event, once the day’s competition was over, it was another supper and night on the beach, re-embarkation on the Endicott, a return to the train at The Weirs, then back to Wentworth for the long walk home to Pemi. You’ve all heard those stereotypical tales of how our parents or grandparent walked every day to school through five-foot snowdrifts – and uphill in both directions. In this case, there’s hardly any exaggeration involved. But, while the modern Pemi kid rides to Moultonborough Neck in a plush school bus and dines, shoulder-to-shoulder, with his Tecumseh rivals in their screened dining hall, the competition is no less intense or fulfilling. Stay tuned for Charlie’s detailed account in next week’s missive. (Read Charlie’s 2012 newsletter recounting Pemi’s 11-8-1 win!)

Now for Dan’s rendering of the Allagash trip.

It was a glorious week of paddling, bald eagle sightings, great food, and the sense of total independence from the rest of the world.  The Pemi Trip Program offers campers incredible opportunities all summer long.  We hike in the White Mountains.  We go caving in Schoharie, NY.  We explore natural wonders both local and distant.  And, for our oldest campers, we send an annual canoeing trip to the Allagash Wilderness Waterway in northern Maine.  Someone with an appreciation of puns might call this the “flagship” of our Trip Program.  This term also accurately describes the journey’s significance, as it is a celebrated trip open only to Pemi’s full-season 15-year-olds.  This year the trip was populated by ten young men – Ben Chaimberg, Zach Leeds, Nick Bertrand, Bryce Grey, Hugh Grey, Ned Roosevelt, Matt Kanovsky, Daniel Bowes, Jack Green, and Ethan Pannell – and led by former cabin counselor and division head Andy Kirk and current trip counselor Dan Reed.  The adventure was comprised of four full days paddling the Allagash, with a day on either end spent driving the 8 hours between Wentworth, NH and Allagash, ME. 

Our first day started at the ripe hour of 4:30am, when the yawning but excited crew loaded into a van at Pemi and started the long drive north.  We were soon greeted by the sunrise, and enjoyed a beautiful morning on the road.  Around noon we stopped for a refreshing lake dip in Maine’s Baxter State Park, and quickly followed with lunch at a local pizza joint.  Then we met the able crew of Katahdin Outfitters, who supplied us with canoes, paddles, and life jackets.  They drove us the final three hours along backcountry logging roads to Churchill Dam, where we set up camp for the first night.  We were greeted there by our friends the blackflies, deerflies, and horseflies, who would keep us company for the entire trip.  After setting up our tents and enjoying a dinner of burgers, spaghetti, and fresh vegetables with ranch dressing, we went down to check out the river that would carry us the entire 62 miles over the next five days.  With Andy lifeguarding, we enjoyed a belated polar bear before zipping ourselves into our tents and enjoying our first night’s riverside sleep.

Velocipede

Velocipede!

As we would for the next several days, we pulled up on shore for lunch around midday.  We refueled with sandwiches (ham/kielbasa/pepperoni and cheese, sunbutter and jelly, etc.) and a candy dessert, took a quick dip in the river, then set off across Umsaskis Lake.  Our campsite at Sandy Point was at the far end of the lake, and we pulled in at around 4pm.  Like the first night, we set up camp and enjoyed some time swimming in the river.  Dinner was plentiful with a huge pot-full of spaghetti with meat sauce.  The ever-helpful boys gladly finished off the pot and offered to clean dishes.  Another camp group pulled in and stayed at the next site over. Our experience with them and with subsequent groups reminded Andy and me of how Pemi boys’ maturity and respectful behavior on trips really sets them apart.  No wonder the AMC staff in the White Mountain huts is always happy to see a Pemi group come through!

After another good night’s sleep, we started the third day with toasted English muffins, bacon, and fried eggs.  The weather looked promising at first, but the clouds darkened as we made our way across Long Lake.  We took a break on a beach covered with flat round stones – so the obvious response was to have a rock-skipping contest.  Hugh Grey, Ned Roosevelt, and Zach Leeds ended the session at the top of the heap, each with a toss of around 20 skips.  As we paddled the latter half of the interminable lake, the skies broke open and treated us to a downpour.  Fortunately we had all our gear packed in waterproof bags, and so could enjoy the free shower, the sound of the rain on the water, and the perfect symmetrical splash made by each rain drop as it hit the surface of the river.  But New England weather is predictably unpredictable, and the sun was out and shining brightly by the time we stopped for lunch.  We enjoyed a sunny afternoon, with the occasional sighting of a bald eagle overhead or a river otter alongside the boats. 

We pulled up to the Outlet campsite on Round Pond in the mid-afternoon, with our camp setup accelerated when we observed some threatening thunderheads on the horizon.  We unearthed what we affectionately termed the Tarp Mahal, a huge 40 ft. x 24 ft. blue tarp, which would for the next few days protect our eating area from the occasional deluge.  Indeed, soon after we began making the dinner of couscous and chili, a massive thunderstorm moved overhead and parked itself there for an hour or so.  We enjoyed our immunity from the rain while eating dinner, and then settled down to sleep, enjoying the sound of the rain on our sturdy tents.

Allagash PaddlersOur third full day was a long one: fifteen miles along the river to majestic Allagash Falls.  We saw our only moose of the trip that morning, lounging in the river about 150 yards ahead of us.  The sight of twelve humans staring in awe must have made her self-conscious, because the moose climbed up the riverbank and disappeared into the forest as we came closer.  The day continued with many sightings of bald eagles.  In the minutes leading up to our arrival at our campsite that afternoon, we paddled to the growing roar of the falls ahead of us.  After having come ashore well in advance of what would have been an exciting but perhaps ill-fated waterfall experience, we set up camp and headed down below the falls for a quick swim.  Here the water is deep with a fast current, and we let ourselves float downstream a few times before calling it a day and enjoying a dinner of beef stew, mashed potatoes, and homemade tortilla chips with cinnamon and sugar. 

Our last full day on the river started with more heavy rain.  We kept dry under the tarp during breakfast, and the short day of paddling ahead of us meant that we could stay put and wait out the downpour for a few hours.  During a lull in the rain, we carried our canoes and gear down the quarter-mile path to a safe launching point downstream of Allagash Falls.  We went swimming once more beneath the falls, this time jumping from riverside rocks into the deep pool gouged out over time by the falling water.  A short 2-hour paddle brought us to East Twin Brook campsite, where we would spend our last night on the river.  There we ate an early dinner of leftovers, then went to bed along with the sun.

TentsiteA dark, pre-sunrise morning greeted us as we got up on our last day.  By now experts in campsite setup and take-down, we quickly packed up our tents, tarp, and other gear, and got onto the river as the sun came up.  We only had an hour’s paddle to our destination, where we came onshore, packed our gear into our waiting van, and started the long drive south.  Ten hours later we pulled into camp, greeted by both the familiar and new faces of Pemi’s second session.  After a week of brilliant canoeing, we were all excited to be back home.  Thanks to all the Allagash guys for a fantastic trip.  Now our attention turns to the enjoyment of the final few weeks of the summer, back on the (often) sunny shores of Lower Baker Pond.

Many thanks to Dan for this evocative account. We should say in passing that one of the pleasures of the outing for both staff members was that, thirteen years ago, Dan was an eight-year-old camper in Andy’s cabin, Junior One. Little could either of them have predicted that, over a dozen years hence, they would be co-leaders on Pemi’s most celebrated trip, Dan sharing van-driving duties with his former mentor. That’s one of the joys of Pemi, though – that longevity and continuity regularly allow for this kind of “years later” serendipity. It’s one of the things that makes us feel as much like a family as anything else.

That’s it for now. Come Friday, keep an eye on the ticker at the bottom of your ESPN screen. Win or lose, though, we’ll be throwing ourselves wholeheartedly and joyously into one of the great and timeless rituals of Pemigewassett.                                   

— Tom and Danny

2012 Summer Newsletter: #7

As we sit in the Pemi “West Wing” this morning of August 6th, the truck from E&R Laundry is filling up with green camper bags and pink staff bags for the last laundering run of the summer. Hard to believe that the next time these Pemi shorts and T-shirts, these Smartwool and Champion socks, these Manchester United and Barcelona jerseys go in the wash  . . . it will likely be in your very own Maytags and Kenmores!

Time may be flying, but it’s a beautiful day in this little valley (after some much-needed rain last night) and, as always with “Pemi Week” stanzas, it will be filled to the brim with varied (and sometimes frenzied) activity. Lowers and Seniors are down at the beach locked into the Divisional Swimming Championships, in which almost every camper participates (many, we’d bet, secretly imagining themselves to be the next Michael Phelps or Ryan Lochte.) Uppers are working through the middle rounds of their Tennis Tournament, and select Seniors will soon be out on the lake for the opening races of their Sailing Championship, taking advantage of the brisk north-westerly breeze that often accompanies clearing weather up here. Meanwhile, there’s a Junior Soccer Tournament unfolding as well, with all of Doc Nick’s wonders assigned to three teams for a spirited round-robin competition that begot thunderous applause when it was announced in the mess hall this morning. (Who, we wonder, will be today’s Clint Dempseys and Lionel Messis and Tim Howards?)

Grand Opening of the 2012 Art Show

This afternoon, Uppers and Juniors will don their jammers and head to the waterfront, many Lowers and Seniors will move to the tennis courts, other Lowers and Seniors will head to the soccer pitch, and the preliminary races of the Windsurfing Championship will get underway on the white-capped lake. Meanwhile, Deb Pannell, Dottie Reed, and Harry McGregor will have finished the installation in our Library of the Annual Pemigewassett Art Show – and then host the gala opening, complete with cornucopial cheese platter, fresh fruit, and delicious sparkling punch. (Everyone gets firsts. For seconds, you have to answer some searching trivia questions about the items on display!) Then, after an early supper, the G&S cast trundles down to the Lodge for the dress rehearsal of Pirates of Penzance, while Ryan Fauver hosts the rest of the camp in the Mess Hall for the second of this season’s Vaudeville Shows. Did we say we were busy this week?

Did we say we were busy last week? Advanced Caving Trip to Schoharie, New York, with Zach Leeds, Dan Bivona, Harry Cooke, Alex Baskin, Dylan O’Keefe, TH Pearson, Sompy Somp, Max Von Passchen, and Dan Reiff marveling at their subterranean adventures.

The annual trip to Mt. Katahdin in northern Maine (details below). Uppers 1 and 2 overnighting at Greenleaf Hut in the spectacular Franconia Range on Monday and Tuesday, respectively. Florian Dietl, Daniel Bowes, Max Pagnucco, Charlie and Will Parsons, Julian Hernandez-Webster, and Hugh Grier joining staff members Peter Siegenthaler, Juan Gallardo, and Dan Reed for a spectacular traverse of the Presidential Range, staying at the recently renovated Madison Springs Hut. Richie Carchia, Owen Fried, Jack Wright, Alex Sheikh, Johnny Seebeck, Jamie Zusi, and Greg Nacheff tri-summiting Mt. Tripyramid on a (yes!) three-day. Simultaneously, some thirty miles west of them, Hugh Gray, Ben Chaimberg, Nate Blumenthal, Charlie Scott, Nat Healy, Patrick Sullivan, Jamie Nicholas, and Colin Alcus summiting Mt. Moosilauke on the same schedule. The entire Junior Camp on an afternoon field trip to the Science Center of New Hampshire on Squam Lake. A second geology field trip to Crawford Notch just west of the Presidentials (details below). The entire Lower camp headed off to Lebanon, NH for a pizza dinner followed by a viewing of Ice Age IV. (Remember? Before climate change?) The entire Upper Camp traveling to Manchester to take in an AA league baseball game (details below). The entire Senior Camp hosting the lasses from Camp Merriwood for an afternoon of sports, a barbecue on the beach, and a brief evening of what we are assured is still called “dancing.” The same lads, the next day, heading south for Hanover Day, with supper at that much-favored bistro “Everything but Anchovies” and a screening of Dark Knight Rising. All terrific fun, and great ways to side-step any possible feelings of let-down after our magnificent day against Tecumseh at the end of Week Five. By the time Saturday rolled around, with the annual Brad Jones Day and the thirtieth iteration of Games Day, everyone was ready for a sleep-in and an afternoon “at home.” Add to Saturday’s activities an evening showing of How to Train Your Dragon and Pemi Week was well off and running.

Now for some of the “details” promised above. First, we hear from Jamie Andrews who, together with Ben Walsh, led the trip up Katahdin, Maine’s highest peak and the northern terminus of the Appalachian Trail. They were joined on this always-memorable jaunt by Nathaniel Kaplan, Thompson Bain, Alex Baskin, Spencer Cain, Dan Reiff, Andreas Sheikh, Ben Stone, and TH Pearson (many of whom had just returned from caving!)

Mount Katahdin, a wilderness monolith at the end of the AT in Maine, is an arduous climb. It has tough bouldering sections, and long stretches of exposed trail making its traverse particularly dangerous in inclement weather. Due to these factors, Pemi’s group headed off any storm danger by starting our hike at seven AM, ascending the AT Hunt trail. With a cooling morning drizzle pattering on our heads, we quickly climbed the first few miles until we reached the aforementioned bouldering section. Without tree cover, a dragon’s spine of stone stretched out upon the ridge ahead of us. We adopted a slower pace, and eventually passed through the “gateway,” onto the flat terrace near the top of Katahdin. The weather cleared some, with the mountains behind us looking like islands jutting through a sea of clouds. Covering the last mile and a half through the flatter alpine zone, the Pemi boys made it to the top just in time to eat lunch and witness a group of thru-hikers complete their trek. With beards to their chests and 2,100 miles at their backs, the trekkers yelped and yodeled like the proverbial “Happy Wanderer,” celebrating their final ascension. We turned to head down after a hearty meal of crackers, ‘roni, and cheese, with the sun becoming fully uncovered for the first time in the day. We had heard of potential thunderstorms in the later afternoon, so we booked it down over the sharp ridge-top and back into tree cover. Feet sore from 10.4 miles and smiles wide from surprise trip-candy, we made it back to camp around four PM, ate delicious pepperoni-potato chowder, and drifted to sleep in our tents.

A truly memorable day! Now, here’s Deb Kure, super-mega-ultra-dynamic Associate Head of our Nature Program, who led last week the second of 2012’s outings to Mt. Willard (taking Athletic Director Charlie Malcolm along as a reward for his teams’ acceptable performance against Tecumseh. How cool is it, by the way, that any camp’s storied AD is the first to line up for a geologically-oriented Nature Trip?)

Crawford Notch

What? There’s a nine-mile, perfectly symmetrical U-shaped glacial valley in our White Mountains? One which campers are likely to see in their future geology textbooks? Time to pack a trail supper, load up the van, and hit the road!

Twice a summer in recent years, we’ve ventured out to “take a closer look” at Crawford Notch. Driving there via Franconia Notch and driving back over the Kancamagus Highway provides an ideal geology field trip route. Campers of all ages and interests have enjoyed the 1.6-mile walk to the cliff summit of Mt. Willard, at the north end of the Notch. The final approach is a memorable tree-arched path, with The View opening a little more with each step, until you’re on the edge of the precipice face-to-face with a glacier-bulldozed trough so symmetrical that it looks like a giant forested skateboard half-pipe. The Presidential Range forms the east wall of the Notch – with Mt. Washington sometimes visible in to the northeast – and the Willey Range forms the west wall. Weaker Conway granite allowed the more-than-one-mile-thick Continental ice sheet to gouge and scour a U-shaped valley, in between the resistant volcanic igneous and metamorphic rock of the ranges, 13,000 years ago. Seeing this natural wonder – and beginning to understand the prodigious forces and protracted time scale that led to its creation – is always something of a scientific and a spiritual education.

Great to have campers who consistently realize the artistic and scientific majesty of this view – and to be able to introduce them to the adventure and excitement of a field-based science!

And now for a national-pastime-oriented word from Danny, who spear-headed the Upper trip to Manchester – and is rumored to have thrown out the first pitch (although details of the deed have proven hard to come by!)

This past Thursday, August 2, the Upper Division campers asked their counselors to “take them out to the ballgame” and the counselors took them literally by putting the boys onto a Pemi bus and heading to the big city, Manchester, NH, to watch the Manchester Fisher Cats “play ball.” The ride to the Queen City was a smooth one, and the boys arrived in plenty of time to enjoy an all-you-can-eat feast at a guest tent in the stadium, featuring burgers, sausage, chicken, salad, and cookies – with an abundance of drink, as well.

As game time approached, the boys settled into their seats, directly behind home plate, to enjoy the contest. The Pemi lads showed their enthusiasm throughout, chanting the names of the Fisher Cats batters, starting a “wave,” and screaming in glee at every hit, of which there were many, as the game turned into a slugfest between the home team and the Erie Sea Wolves. In total, 31 hits were banged out in the eventual 9-7 Erie victory. A fun time was had by all, and we look forward to a return date in 2013!

And this brings us right up to yesterday. One of the highlights of Sunday morning was our weekly Meeting being focused on Pemi West, our mountain leadership program based in Washington State. Three of this year’s participants – “students” Dan Fulham and Nathan Tempro and staffer Dan Reed – treated the entire camp to a spectacular slideshow of their trip, accompanying their inspiring images with some riveting words about how well this kind of challenge can paradoxically forge both team-work and independent, individual growth in those lucky enough to be a part of it. We’ll be in touch this fall about 2013’s edition of PW, which will be open to motivated and adventurous16-, 17-, 18-year-olds, male or female, Pemi alums or not. Suffice it to say, though, that more than a few eyes were opened Sunday morning to the allure of this exciting wilderness adventure with a distinctive “Pemi stamp.”

That takes us close to our word limit (a coy way of saying it’s almost time for lunch – and we do get excited about lunch these days, given Stacey’s cuisine.) We’ll close with an extremely fresh bit of news coming from Zach Barnard, who teams with Henry Eisenhart (whose birthday is today!) as one of our two fine division heads in the Junior Camp. This treats the latest installment in our Big Guy/Little Guy mentoring initiative.

Senior and Junior buddies gather for s’mores

Yesterday evening, the Juniors and Seniors gathered around the newly created Junior Campfire Circle. Situated right on Junior Point, the circle overlooks the lake, sheltered from gusts of wind by the plants along the stream. Every Junior was paired with a Senior buddy, and to the tune of three or four s’mores each, the campers had a great time finding marshmallow roasting sticks and getting their hands and faces sticky. Everyone then quieted down and gathered around the fire together, Seniors sitting with their respective buddies. The counselors asked questions such as “What types of things do you do here that you don’t do at home?” and “What advice can you give to each other for the last week of camp?” The introspection and concern, as well as the thoughtfulness and maturity in so many of the answers, was awesome. We had a great time together, and we’re all looking forward to being together once again, next year!

We’ll close with that. Tune in next week for this year’s final missive, complete with Clive Bean’s annual review of our Gilbert and Sullivan production. Until then!

— Tom and Danny

Summer 2012: Newsletter #5

As promised, this week’s newsletter comes from Assistant Director Ken Moore, in charge of Pemi’s general program.

“The beauty of our programmed instructional time is that the boys become accustomed to making choices.”

Life is full of choices, and Pemi boys can speak firsthand about making thoughtful and good ones.  Each week, boys sit down with their counselor to sift through the upcoming occupation schedule.  They navigate through offerings in athletics, water activities, nature, music, and art.  They must choose among the twenty or so activity areas that are offered, and are required to make a choice for each hour.  “Should I keep working on my serve in tennis?”  “I’ve never water-skied, maybe I should try that?” “Larry mentioned some occupation called Wilderness Survival, which sounded pretty cool; maybe I’ll choose that.”  These are the questions the boys find themselves asking, as each of them independently chooses what he would like to pursue for the week ahead.  The beauty of our programmed instructional time is that the boys become accustomed to making choices.  Guided only slightly by his counselor, each boy is tasked with designing his own program.

Walking around camp during the 3rd hour of our fourth week of occupations, you gain a good sense of the choices available.  Head of Staff and basketball enthusiast, Dwight Dunston, opened up the 10s Basketball occupation by asking the boys the keys to winning a championship.  The responses were varied, but the boys eventually nailed his three keys: defense, lay-ups, and free throws.  Yesterday, the focus was on defense; today would be the fundamentals of lay-ups.  Dwight had the boys line up on the right side from the 3-point line extended. With a smooth fluid motion, boys took the necessary time to line up their lay-up to bounce off the backboard, using the square to guide their shot.  Ethan Elsaden and Kevin Miller showed extra focus by launching off of the left foot and using only the right hand.

On the archery range, Jon Belinowitz announced that he just hit his first bull’s eye.  Sasha Roberts added that he had just scored his first yellow shot, a 9 out of 10.  The boys left the shooting line to retrieve their arrows only after the appropriate “go ahead.” Safety is always paramount.  Instructor Adam Sandler reminded the boys about the procedures for removing an arrow from the target without ripping the fabric or damaging the arrow.  As they began to shoot again, the instructors gave individual attention to the boys’ stance, checking that their feet were a shoulder-width apart and that they had an upright posture and straight arm.  The combination of safety, strong instruction, and recognition of progress are hallmarks of Pemi’s commitment to our instructional program.

During this one particular hour of note, four nature occupations were meeting, exploring and discovering the world around us.  Deb Kure led the Animals and Animal Homes occupation, this week preparing the group for an upcoming trip to a porcupine den, now vacant in the summer months. Matthew Cornell and Will Olsen investigated the porcupine quills, eagerly awaiting more information from Deb.  Within a stone’s throw was Ponds and Streams, a classic nature offering that has been extremely popular this summer.  Each boy carried a net through the stream, actively seeking organisms native to the stream habitat.  Ty Avery uncovered a salamander, while Jack Wright and Will Noble caught water spiders.  The boys were eager to share their discoveries with the group, and intently listened to what the others had to say about their findings.  Inside the Nature Lodge Library, the Nature Drawing-Water Colors occupation was underway, led by Kristen Cole.  Music played to set a creative mood, helping the boys in find inspiration from their natural surroundings.  Michael Kelly colored a mountain scene reflected off of a pool of water, using high-quality water color pencils as his tools. Caleb Tempro, while canoeing earlier in the morning, had found a flower on Lower Baker Pond and began to trace its basic shape before painting in the details.  The final nature offering was the ever-popular Wild Foods, led by Larry.  This group was off-site collecting their next tasty ingredient for a delicious – and unusual – upcoming meal.

Going full tilt further down the camp road in J-Ville was Deb Pannel’s Art World, today focusing on African Mask making.  The boys, of all ages I might add, had constructed the basic frame of the mask using cardboard and were in the paper mache process when I stepped in.  Lots of unique artistic visages were taking shape before receiving the final coat of paint.  Henry Seebeck explained his design, as he chose to create a round nose, triangular mouth, and a yet to be decided eye.  Eli Brennan’s choice in eyes was clear –  only one – as his African Mask was a cyclops¸with a long nose and almost bunny-shaped ears.

In the Junior Lodge, Ryan Fauver and the Advanced Music Class were practicing their riffs.  This music occupation, like African Mask making, was a mixed-age activity with Senior Jarrett Moore on the drums, Lower Jivan Khakee on the clarinet, and Junior Nick Holquist on the trumpet.  The group listened to Freddie Hubbard’s piece “Red Clay” and made a game effort to emulate the patterns and the chord changes. The potential was clearly there for a hip performance at an upcoming vaudeville or campfire.

Just outside was the Knee/Wakeboarding occupation, one of Pemi’s most popular and sought-after activities.  Graham Struthers, on his second day on a wake-board, successfully stood up and traveled the full loop around the lake.  Devin Hohman showed improvement in jumping the wakes, a more advanced maneuver, and was very pleased with his progress.  Perhaps in an effort to beat the heat of this summer, windsurfing has become a close second to this last activity in terms of its popularity.  Alex Sheikh was caught grinning ear-to-ear while carrying his sail out of the water.  He commented on the strength necessary to pull the sail up and the balance and touch needed to surf properly.  He advanced on the learning curve every single day, explained Alex, who was clearly enjoying his time on what we used to call a sail board.

Back on land was Jeff Greene, our Head of Tennis, who had a small army of 12-year-old tennis players improving their net game in a version of King of the Court.  In a best-of-three-point challenge, partners needed to win two points while approaching the net.  If the winners, the Kings, held their court, a new duo would step up from behind to challenge.  If the Kings were unseated, those challengers would race to the other side of the court to take their rightful place as the new Kings.  This fast-moving activity allowed many boys to be involved and to improve an important skill to count amidst their tennis arsenal.

Seeing so many occupations underway during one hour demonstrates in a marked way the breadth of choices that Pemi boys have, and further highlights the importance of offering such a dynamic range of choices.  The campers were so engrossed in the great variety of options, and it’s even more impressive that each occupation was staffed by caring and knowledgeable instructors.  Each counselor was focused on creating a goal individualized for each boy, whether introducing a new activity or  concept or helping him master a previously discovered area of interest, and provided just the right amount of coaching to achieve that goal.

“We don’t know of many camps that do this, and it’s an initiative of which we are very proud.”

The passion of our instructors is evident to anyone lucky enough to see our full-time staff in action.  Occasionally, though, we are fortunate to have Visiting Professionals join our ranks to raise our already first-rate instruction to even greater heights. Some of these experts from the outside world can offer a week or more of their time to our program, while others offer singular afternoon events that leave the boys thirsty for more.

One wildly successful example was the Silk Painting Workshop held the past two Sunday afternoons by Zosia Livingstone-Peters. Zosia, a graduate of the Pratt Institute in New York with a focus in Fashion Design, has found great success bringing her workshop to elementary schools and wellness centers in Vermont.  The boys at Pemi love it as well, as it offers them the chance to experiment with different mediums while creating their own individual works of wearable art.  Many of the silk scarves will soon be traveling homeward as gifts for you lucky mothers.  [Ooops. Did we forget our spoiler alert?]

Jim Dehls, a Pemi boy from 1959-1965 and an Assistant Counselor in 1968¸added to our already stellar music staff earlier this summer, during Week 2.  Jim, a former high school choral and general music teacher, currently offers private piano and voice lessons as well as hospice music therapy.  During his stay with us, Jim worked with the Gilbert and Sullivan Pirates chorus, arranged and sang The Marching Song with the a cappella group, and created our first ever Drum Circle occupation, focusing on a variety of types of percussion instruments and non-conventional devices.  Jim’s love for Gilbert and Sullivan operettas began at Pemi in the early sixties, and they are something that still engage his time and sustain his interest.

During week three, Brian and Alison Mitchell visited, lending their hands to the Lacrosse and Diving programs respectively.  Brian, a soccer and lacrosse coach at the Boys Latin School in Baltimore, MD, and Alison, a former springboard diver at Virginia, combine their expertise with their love for Pemi.  The boys enjoyed learning the fundamentals of diving from Alison, working on the timing of their jump and the use of their hands for a smoother entry.

Trey Blair, one of the Varsity Baseball coaches at the Kentucky Country Day School in Louisville, has enhanced our baseball program over the past two weeks and is guiding our instruction for this week’s culminating five baseball match-ups against Camp Tecumseh.  Trey, a four-year standout player at Kenyon College, works with large, eager groups during the occupations and then offers individualized instruction after our structured occupations for those boys interested in learning the nuances of fielding, hitting, or pitching.

Finally, Susan Perabo, one of Tom Reed’s colleagues and Writer-in-Residence at Dickinson College, recently offered poetry workshops in the Library, inspiring the participants to lend apt words to their many varied experiences and perceptions at camp and in life generally. As always, getting the chance to meet with someone “new to camp” who nonetheless so clearly cares about their development as young and creative individuals offers the boys rewards that far surpass what they might have anticipated. We don’t know of many camps that do this, and it’s an initiative of which we are very proud.

That’s it for now. When your son returns home come mid-August, be sure to ask him for details about who’s been teaching him what – and what he’s learned. Better yet, ask him to play that Frankie Hubbard tune, demonstrate that change-up, or explain where he found that Luna moth or the natural dye for that wool.

Summer 2012: Newsletter #3

Greetings again from our snug little valley, where a remarkable run of good weather has allowed all areas of the camp program to run at maximum capacity and with maximum benefit. Athletics are thriving, with Pemi compiling an admirable 16-11-7 record in the first ever Baker Valley Tournament Day last Saturday, featuring round-robin contests in all five age groups. We’ve now sent out five standard extended backpacking trips, three jaunts to the high-mountain hits of the Appalachian Mountain Club (with another slated for tomorrow), and are ramping up for next week’s five-day canoeing expedition to the Allagash Waterway in Maine (not to mention 30-odd trips of a more local nature.) Drama and music got off to a terrific start with the Fourth of July Pee-rade and old-time Vaudeville Show, and rehearsals continue apace for Friday’s world premiere of Metal Boy: The Musical. As for Nature, sign-ups for occupations haven’t been this robust in years, thanks to the ever-renewed and –evolving efforts of Larry Davis and Deb Kure.

Speaking of Nature, we thought this would be a good time to hear from Larry on the Instructional Clinic he runs every June, a unique national training program that he inaugurated some years back and that puts Pemi at the forefront of the camping world’s commitment to environmental education. As you read the following description, we’re sure you’ll have no trouble imagining how staff members who have been fortunate enough to participate in this clinic can inspire your sons with a profound appreciation and knowledge of the natural world in which they find themselves. Over to Larry!

As many of you know, Pemigewassett runs a preseason, 5½-day-long “Nature Instruction Clinic” for staff members from Pemi and other camps, and for students (as part of their programs) at the University of New Haven. As this was the 20th year for the clinic, I thought that I would use this space to tell you a bit about it—how it came to be, what we do, and how it benefits Pemi, the participants, other camps, and the children who are taught by our participants.

Nature Clinic History

In 1992, former Director Rob Grabill, former Associate Nature Head Russ Brummer, and I attended the International Camping Congress in Toronto. We were there to present a workshop entitled, “Building a Camp Nature Program: 12 Keys to Success.” Our “keys” were divided into two groups, the institutional framework and the program structure. As examples, two of the institutional framework “keys” were, “The Directors must provide philosophical and financial support for the program” and “There must be a permanent facility of the program—even if it is only a corner in a larger building.” Two of the program structure keys were, “The program must be rigorous; the activities must have some educational substance to them and not be just meaningless games.” and “The program must be demonstrably as ‘prestigious’ as other major camp training programs in terms of access to camp facilities and vehicles, type and level of awards, and place in such all-camp activities as color wars, individual achievement awards, and so on.” We were prepared for an audience of 30 or 35 and were very surprised when over 100 showed up. People were sitting in the aisles and standing against the walls. The questions following our presentation clearly indicated that we had struck a chord. One that was frequently repeated, both at the session and during informal “corridor” discussions throughout the rest of the meeting was, “You’ve said that there must be ‘a well-trained and enthusiastic staff.’ Where can we find these people?” This got us thinking and we looked to see what was “out there.” The answer was “not much.” So, we decided that we needed to do it ourselves – and the “Camp Pemigewassett Nature Instruction Clinic” was born.

Our basic idea, still in place, was not to train people to duplicate our nature program, but rather to give them the tools that they needed to create a nature program suited to their own camp, its setting, its clientele, and its overall program structure. We thought that contact with nature played an important part in childhood development and that a camp was the ideal place to provide it. Of course, since then, Richard Louv’s book Last Child in the Woods has put a national spotlight on this idea, and with the increase in electronic “entertainment,” the role of camps in providing access to nature is even more crucial. Beyond that, we hoped to spread the good word about nature study. After all, we reasoned, we can only reach a small number of boys here at Pemi each summer. However, by training others, we could magnify this number many fold.

The basic objectives of the clinic, established from the outset, were to: 1) help the participants become familiar with the flora and fauna of northern New England, 2) show them how to plan and execute lessons for teaching about nature and natural history, in the outdoors, and 3) familiarize them with the resources available to help them with their teaching. These might include books, state and federal agencies (such as the U.S. Geological Survey or NASA), non-profits (Audubon Societies), and museums or science centers.

The first clinic was in 1993. Russ Brummer and I taught it and we had 11 participants. Two were from Pemi and nine from other camps. Since then, we’ve taught it every year, adding current Associate Head of Nature Programs, Deb Kure, in 2009. Not so coincidentally, Deb was a participant in that first clinic and so now, as an instructor, has come full circle.

The 20th Annual Nature Instruction Clinic

This years’ clinic, the 20th, took place on June 10-15 with Russ, Deb, and me instructing. We had 14 attendees, which is the most ever. There were two from Pemi, four UNH undergraduate and two graduate students, and six from other camps. One of those camps, nearby Walt Whitman, sent a participant to our very first clinic and has had participants periodically since.

Nature Clinic participants, 2012

As I said earlier, the clinic’s objectives are to introduce the participants to the local natural history, to teach them how to teach about it, and to show them the resources that are out there to help them in their teaching. We break the clinic up into two halves. For the first days, we focus on the natural history. We do this mostly in the field, modeling some of the teaching techniques that we’ll be talking about later and introducing the participants to the resources that we’ve used to create our lesson plans. The second half of the clinic focuses on teaching. Here, too, it is “hands-on,” as they have to create and teach an actual lesson with the rest of us being the “campers.” They also will create and build a display as an example of how you can teach without actually being there. Both of these activities further serve to introduce them to the area’s natural history and to the resources available to help them with their teaching.

The Clinic Schedule

Here is an example of a day’s activities, as listed in the schedule:

Tuesday (June 12)

Early Morning (6:30-7:30 AM)           

Tweet, Tweet: Birding with Russ

Morning           

Creepy Crawlies: Workshop on Insect Ecology, Collection, and Preparation

Afternoon           

A Colorful Feast: Wild Foods and Natural Dyes

Field Walk and Cooking Lesson (Wild Foods)

Nature Crafts, Natural Dyes (Demonstration and Activity)

Evening           

Rocks and More: Workshop on Rock and Mineral Activities, Weird Science Stargazing, Nature Drawing and Journals, and More Students will participate in these activities.

The pace is fast and the schedule is intense. In fact, the participants this year nicknamed it “Nature Boot Camp.” It also takes up an entire week. This is very different from other pre-camp instruction clinics such as lifeguarding or archery instruction or sailing. These last only 2 or 3 days. Even the Appalachian Mountain Club’s Mountain Leadership School lasts only 4 days. I think, however, that we need this much time even to begin to reach our objectives.

While space and time (and I’m probably stretching your patience too) do not allow a detailed discussion of what happens each day, I’d like to enlarge upon a few of these activities.

Sunday Evening: In the Dark

Nighttime can be scary or entrancing. There are new sounds, new sensations, colors fade, shapes loom out of the dark. We want kids to be comfortable in the dark and fascinated by it. We really start the clinic in earnest with this night walk. We get out the bat detector and listen to the bats use their sonar to chase a tennis ball or moth. We watch the female fireflies signal for mates and the males answer. Each species has its own unique “Morse code.” Some females, however, will also mimic the flashes of another species, lure the males to them, then eat them—true “femme fatales.” There is a constant chorus of frogs—at this time of year, mostly the chirps of grey tree frogs. Occasionally there is the plucked banjo call of the green frog or the “jug-o-rum” of a bull frog. Russ imitates the call of the Barred Owl (“Who cooks for you? Who cooks for you all? Hawwwwww, hawwww”. They are highly territorial and will call back to defend their territory. We look at the flashes generated when one bites into wintergreen lifesavers and by scratching two pieces of smoky quartz together. All of these activities can be used to safely introduce children to the wonders of nature at night. The two hours fly by and then it is time for bed.

Tuesday Afternoon: A Colorful Feast

Collecting plants to create natural dye

Many children think that nature is just for nerds. What we need is a “hook” to catch them and reel them in. Two great hooks are wild foods and natural dyes. On this afternoon we do both, collecting plants to eat and collecting plants to dye wool that can then be used for weaving or other nature crafts. These can also be powerful tools to introduce children to where their food and clothing comes from. We try to show our participants sure-fire, and safe, plants to use. We also try to show them how to deliver a message about how hard the Native Americans had to work to keep themselves fed. These activities can also be combined with gardening or raising animals (they do this at some camps). This year we had deep-fried black locust flowers, milkweed shoots and unopened flowers (yes, you can eat milkweed if you change the water frequently while cooking it), wintergreen tea, yellow wood-sorrel, and indian cucumber root (these last two are trail-side nibbles).

Wednesday Afternoon: All Together in the Field

This is the “capstone” of the first half (the natural history half) of the clinic. We spend the entire afternoon walking the trail around Quincy Bog in Rumney, NH. The bog is formed by beavers. Their dams and lodges are clearly visible as is their recent (the night before?) work. It is a fantastic ecosystem, and the trail moves up and down through hardwood forest and bog. There are even rock outcrops. It is a perfect summation of all we have done before; a chance to review what we’ve seen; a chance to discuss some of the teaching techniques that we have been demonstrating. I should note that this excursion is a recent innovation. It is only the third year that we’ve done it, and we had to expand the length of the clinic by a half-day in order to include it. It was suggested by one of my UNH graduate students Yi-chen Luk who said, “Why isn’t there a…?” It was truly one of those moments where you think, “This is so obvious, why haven’t we been doing it?” and we made the change the next year. By the way, Yi-chen completed his Masters degree and has gone on to a career in outdoor education. He currently works at Islandwood on Bainbridge Island, Washington.

Wednesday Evening and Thursday: Putting it Together; Getting Ready; Trying it Out

Wednesday evening marks the start of the teaching part of the clinic. We introduce the participants to the concept of a lesson plan, explain why it is needed, and do a simple exercise that shows how one is written and executed.  The next day (Thursday) we break the participants into four groups and ask them to plan a new lesson. The “rules” are that it must last 50 minutes, it must deal with a “natural” subject, it must be taught mostly outdoors, and it has to stand alone (i.e., not be part of a multi-day series). The students also need to select an age group to which they will be teaching the lesson. The entire morning is devoted to preparing the plan. The groups have access to all of the resources in our 1,000-volume nature library, and Deb, Russ, and I circulate to answer questions and help out where we can. One of the things that we have to keep emphasizing is that games and activities must serve the objectives of the plan and not the other way around. It is very tempting to find a great game and put it first.

In the afternoon, each group teaches its plan while everyone else acts as campers. After each presentation we ask, first the teachers, then the other participants, then Deb, Russ, and I, to comment on what went well and what they would do differently next time. This year, we had two different approaches to learning about leaves and trees, one about ponds and streams, and one about sensory awareness on the trail. This last had the memorable activity, “Who is a naturalist?” As the kids shouted out answers about who and what a naturalist was, one of the “instructors” was busy writing on a white board, but no one could see what she was writing. When it was revealed, the answer was “YOU!” This activity is probably the most important thing that we do. Everyone finds out how hard teaching is and how hard it is to plan and execute a lesson plan. It is a humbling experience, but the participants also finish feeling empowered because they know what to expect and what they need to do.

Thursday Evening and Friday: Teaching When You’re Not There and HELP!

Displays with flip-up cards

Because we had such a large group this year, we had our final lesson plan presentation on Thursday evening, before retiring to a well-deserved campfire and s’mores feast. On Friday morning, we repeated the exercise, but with displays. These are ways to teach when no one is there. (It’s how museums work). It is also a way to familiarize everyone with the resources that are available to them. Each group spends the morning (and part of the afternoon) working on a project which, when completed, is evaluated in the same way as the lesson plans (“What worked?, “What would you do differently?,” “What could be improved?”). This year we had a habitat map of camp with fold-up cards that showed “What lives where,” a model bat and a model wolf spider with cards that discussed different parts and different activities, and a do-it-yourself food web game that allowed the user to connect different parts of the food web here at camp. We finish with a brief discussion of resources available, including museums, organizations, state and federal agencies, and more. We try to make this as specific as possible based on the camps and locations that our participants come from. The last thing is filling out the evaluation form (this is where we first saw the idea of expanding the clinic ), the awarding of completion certificates, and hugs all around for a job well done and new friends made.

What are the Benefits of the Nature Instruction Clinic?

The clinic has both direct and indirect benefits. Pemi campers benefit from it because we use it to train our own nature staff. Our regular preseason is jam-packed with workshops on child development, training on behavior management, discussions of safety issues and risk management, and lots of work preparing camp for the campers. There is little time for in-depth discussion of specific program teaching techniques such as we do in the clinic. By the way, it’s worth mentioning that many Pemi staffers attend other specialty clinics during the pre-preseason. These are taking place at the same time as our clinic. Indirectly Pemi campers benefit because we (Deb, Russ, and I) are forced to constantly think about how we run our own program, and constantly read about new approaches and new techniques. It keeps us on our toes and prevents things from becoming stale.

Of course, campers at other camps and in other settings benefit in the same way from the training that their instructors have received. This sometimes goes well beyond camps as several of our participants have chosen careers in outdoor education, at least partially because of the experiences that they had at the clinic. These include our own Deb Kure who went on from that first 1993 clinic to teach at, among other places, the Los Angeles Museum of Natural History, and who now teaches afterschool outdoor science programs for inner city students in Austin, Texas, through Camp Fire USA.

Finally, the clinic itself may serve as a model for similar clinics that could be developed elsewhere. This year, Rob Bixler, Associate Professor of Recreation and Tourism at Clemson University, attended the clinic as an observer. He, I, and some of his colleagues at science centers are in the process of preparing a National Science Foundation grant proposal (under their “informal science” program) that would provide funds for developing a template and testing it out. This could truly spread the benefits to a much, much wider audience.

~ Larry Davis