Bean Soup

On with the Soup!

One of Pemi’s weekly highlights occurs each Monday evening, which is when the most delicious meal is served: Bean Soup. Campers arrive with carved wooden spoons in hand, ready to taste the delicious soup.

If you’ve been to Pemi, you know that Bean Soup is not really food in a traditional sense, although it certainly does provide nourishment. (And campers don’t really arrive with carved wooden spoons, although making the spoons used to be a camp tradition.) For those unfamiliar: Bean Soup is, loosely speaking, the camp’s newspaper, and is read aloud in the Lodge to the entire camp by editors, who sit perched on chairs atop a wooden table, above and in front of the gathered crowd. The editors write a lot of the articles, but also read ones submitted by campers, counselors, and staff. For the record, the whole experience is supposed to be humorous, and frequently, it is. (I’ve heard that the name Bean Soup came about because, in camp’s early years, there was a great deal of real bean soup served in the Mess Hall.)

Bean Soup, like any newspaper, is topical, timely, and provocative. It thrives off of whatever funny thing has happened at camp that week, and proudly shines a spotlight on the person responsible for the funniness. Awards are given each week for the director, camper, staff member and counselor who deserves to be recognized for, usually, something silly that he or she has done. And, in the final serving of Bean Soup, these awards are given out in a serious way to those who have had the greatest contributions over the entire summer.

Each holiday season, a bound edition is mailed out to the camp family. In this sense, Bean Soup serves (no pun intended) as the camp’s history book. It chronicles the funny things at camp that have happened, but also tells of trips, sporting events, and the everyday minutia of a season (the jokes, the weather, the food) that wouldn’t be preserved otherwise. It captures, and helps define, each season’s zeitgeist.

To me, Bean Soup has always been one of my favorite things about Pemi. It’s funny, and on its best days, maintains a balance between the kind of humor that might make a Junior camper laugh and the stuff that might make the back of the room, where the counselors and staff sit, laugh too. Bean Soup is light-hearted, sure, but it’s also a place where important things happen: people are recognized for the good they have done. And all of the best things about Pemi—the great humor, the sense of community, the unselfish spirit—are written down and captured, to be read again, when the camp season has long since ended.

Rob Verger

David Pogue remembers Pemi

If you read The New York Times and have an interest in technology, there’s a very good chance you’ve read David Pogue’s work. He is the Times’ personal technology columnist, and he’s also a former Pemi camper. (Read his full bio here. Or, join the more than 1.3 million people who follow him on Twitter.)

Whether he’s reviewing a cell phone, an e-reader, a camera, or any other piece of technology that you might find yourself interacting with, Pogue’s articles and videos are witty, relevant, insightful, and always carefully consider the pros and cons of whatever the item at hand is. (For example: Curious about what Google’s new Buzz service is all about? Or, want to see a good comparison of the best cameras under $300?)

He also has a great sense of humor; one of my favorites of his video reviews is this sketch about the Barnes & Noble Nook e-reader.

I caught up with David Pogue via email to ask him about his summers at Pemi.

Pemi: What years were you at Pemi, and what are your memories of your favorite activities there?

David Pogue:

I went to Pemi for two summers, when I was 12 and 13. I think that would have been 1975 and 1976. A bunch of kids from the Cleveland suburbs, where I grew up, all went to Pemi.

Really, I have a huge number of fond memories, some of which you could even say were career-shaping. I wrote for “Bean Soup” and performed in it regularly, which helped to foster a love of writing, humor, and live performance.

I learned to sail at Pemi, too; I sail to this day, and every time I get into a Sunfish, I’m taken back to that sunny lake!

I remember Hurricane Belle in particular, which hit the East Coast in 1976. It was dark and rainy and windy—one of the few times I’d ever seen whitecaps on the lake—and our sailing instructor, Chris, yelled: “Come on, David! You and me, on the Sunfish! We can do this!” I climbed aboard in the howling gale–and we actually sailed a Sunfish on Lower Baker Lake in a hurricane!

Today, Wikipedia tells me that by the time Hurricane Belle hit New Hampshire, it was little more than a rainstorm. Since a professional sailor had the controls, I’m sure there was no danger whatsoever. But to me, there was nothing more exciting and dangerous than to go zipping around the lake in a real live hurricane, splashed by spray and foam! I’ve never forgotten that day, and have told my kids about it many times.

But I also loved the Gilbert and Sullivan musicals; I’m sure Pogue fans will tell you that my acting career’s highlight was when I played Angelina, in drag, in “Trial by Jury.” That scrappy spirit—piano accompaniment, going into town to do the show for the locals, learning real harmonies in rustic wooden cabins—has never left me. I got the musical-theater bug at Pemi, and went on to spend ten years on Broadway, conducting and arranging musicals!

Not a bad life impact for a place where I spent only a few weeks each summer!

Thank you very much, David Pogue!

Rob Verger

White Mountain trips at Pemi

Upper 2 on the summit of South Twin. July, 2008.

A Pemi day has a great, busy rhythm to it. But one of the most rewarding parts of the camp season comes when that routine is replaced by a trip into the mountains, whether it be a quick scramble up to the bald, brisk summit of Pemi’s neighbor, Mt. Cube, or a four-day trip through the Franconia Range.

Pemi has a long tradition of taking trips into the woods—the Appalachian Trail even cuts through a corner of camp property—and it’s always been one of my favorite parts of the camp experience. I can still clearly picture sitting on the warm rocks of a White Mountain summit on a Pemi trip, taking a sip from a water bottle and refueling with cheese and crackers. As both a camper and later, a trip counselor, I hiked up countless White Mountain trails.

Mountains in the Whites offer striking environmental contrasts. At the lower altitudes, just a few minutes away from the trailhead, the forests are quiet and stream-filled, and clusters of Goose Foot Maples line the trail. From there the trail usually steepens, and the group might become quieter as the climbing begins up a packed-dirt and rocky trail. As you gain altitude, the trees generally transition from deciduous to coniferous, and just below the tree line, the trees are usually compact, sturdy little evergreens. Then there are the summits and ridgelines of the Whites: these are breezy places where on a sunny day in the summer everything is warm and wide open and expansive: if the visibility it good, you can see for miles, with rolling mountain ranges receding into the distance. And when it’s windy or stormy on these ridges, you feel grateful you packed a bomb-proof jacket.

Things change on trips. Far from the comforts of camp, Pemi boys are challenged on the trails, and are spurred out of their daily routines into a new world. Boys on trips find themselves tested, in a good way. You carry your own water, and learn to take care of the needs of your body. If it’s raining, you use your rain jacket, and cover your pack with a pack fly, or line it with trash bags, or both. You learn the importance of keeping your sleeping back dry. At night, the trip counselor and the assistant counselor cook food over a WhisperLite stove, which produces a comforting little roar and an efficient blue flame. Dinner might be macaroni and cheese with tuna, which I think is delicious (but hunger is the best sauce). At night, you sleep in a tent, just a sleeping bag and pad and tent floor between you and the earth. Breakfast might be instant oatmeal, eaten quickly before hitting the trail.

With all these changes in routine and environment, hiking trips can be some of the most memorable experiences a boy will have during a season at camp: while days at Pemi blur together happily, trips have a way of drawing out the day and becoming bigger, more luminous experiences. Conversations on the trail and jokes over supper become all the more memorable, because there are no other distractions. Even your thoughts might seem stronger, more focused, in the woods and on the trail.

I have plenty of vivid images in my head from Pemi trips: dipping a Nalgene bottle into a cold stream and then dropping an iodine tablet in it to purify the water; eating dinner out of a plastic cup and then later eating oatmeal out of the same cup the next morning. Or, as a counselor, waiting until all the campers are in their tents at bedtime, and then making the rounds once more, double-checking that the tents are pitched properly and will stay dry in a storm, tightening the stays and stakes, saying goodnight to each group of kids.

Then there’s perhaps the sweetest part of the trip: emerging out of the woods and then hopping in the van or bus to go back to Pemi, and stopping on the way back for rare treat: candy and a soda. Rolling back over that bridge, coming back into Pemi, even just from a day trip, might be the best feeling of all: it’s a feeling of coming home after an adventure.

My experiences on trips with Pemi were incredibly formative in producing who I am today. What memories do you have? If you went on trips as a camper at Pemi, or led them as a counselor, what was the experience like?

Rob Verger

Packing the trunk for a summer away

These days, when I travel, I take one of two rolling suitcases I have. Both are convenient, and either will easily glide between the turnstiles in the subway in Boston or New York. But when I took my first trip to Pemi when I was a kid— for half of a season in 1988—I took with me what might seem like a much less practical item by today’s standards: a big trunk.

Recently, I dug it out of storage in the basement just to take a look at it. It’s three feet long and nearly two feet wide, and heavy even when pretty much empty. It’s dark green on the outside with an even darker trim, and has metal rivet-like things holding it together. Curved and delicately shaped pieces of metal are wrapped protectively around the corners and the edges, and there are heavy clasps on the front. The associations it has for me are all tied to Pemi, for I’m pretty sure I took this big clunker with me each season, packed full of stuff.

This was actually my father’s trunk before it was mine—and he took it to summer camp, too. On the inside there’s a white label with green writing on it that has my father’s name on it and then the words “Camp Zakelo, Harrison, Maine.” My name is literally tacked on over this label, on masking tape, and in my dad’s handwriting, it says “Camp Pemigewassett” now, on the bottom of the old Camp Zakelo label. My family isn’t big on hand-me-downs or heirlooms, but I still love the fact that both my dad and I used this trunk for camp.

Packing a trunk full of stuff for a summer on Lower Baker Pond was a ritual for me, and I’m sure that it was, and is, for countless other Pemi campers. But however you get your stuff to camp (and these days, for storage reasons, Pemi prefers you use duffel bags), there’s something about that summertime ritual of packing that, for me, really captures and symbolizes something essential and wonderful about spending a summer away from home, at Pemi.

Ultimately, you might pack something you don’t need, or leave behind something that you do: and at Pemi, you learn to live and thrive with what you have. For most boys, they’re living away from home for the first time, and it’s a journey that, in the act of packing and leaving and adjusting to life in a new place, is fantastic preparation for all the transitions that happen later in life, like going to college.

Rob Verger