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Summer 2012: Newsletter #1

It’s 10 in the morning, Tuesday, June 26th, and we’re now well into the third full day of Pemi’s 105th season. As we sit here in the “West Wing,” the sound of Owen Fried working through Pachelbel’s Canon under the attentive ear of Ian Axness drifts into the room, as Owen preps to perform at an upcoming Sunday meeting. Out on the courts, Jeff Greene and his staff run the twenty boys in tennis occupation through some lively drills – and off the lake come the sounds of Sunfish slapping through choppy waves while the ski-boat tows a wake-boarder through the same. All’s as it should be, despite some pesky gray weather we’re expecting to clear in a day or so.

2012 staff on Mt. Cardigan, preseason

It was good seeing many of you on Saturday as you dropped your boys off on Opening Day. That day’s showers actually broke a mild drought we’d experienced during staff training week so, on balance, it was okay to see Jupiter Pluvius roll back into our valley to green things up again. By Saturday, the staff was anything but green, having been through a week plus of orientation – and certification in everything from Red Cross Lifeguarding to Wilderness First Aid. We’re really excited about the group of young men and women who will be looking after your sons this summer, and hasten to refer you to the blog post detailing their backgrounds and interests.

One of the most gratifying developments so far is the quality and quantity of food coming out of the Pemi kitchen. We’re delighted to have hired a new chef, Stacey Saville-Moore from Richmond, Kentucky and she and her crew are most definitely living up to the Michelin-guide-style reviews that came from her references. The initial acid-test of any Pemi kitchen is, of course, the pizza turned out on opening night, and Stacey’s was right up there with Frank Pepe’s in New Haven. Stacey also pleasantly surprised us by lining up a source for the traditional first-night dessert – Hood Rockets. We’d been told they’d finally gone the way of the Edsel, but Stacey proved us wrong. She’s already confessed to loving this place. We’re already thinking we’re reciprocating.

Henry Eisenhart and Harrison Green

Saturday’s evening program featured our inaugural campfire, thankfully held outdoors as the skies cleared and left the pond laced with drifting mist fired to glowing pastels as the sun dropped in the west. First on the playlist was a spirited, all-hands-on-deck round about the Chicago Fire of 1871, featuring blood-curdlingly loud yells of “Fire, Fire, Fire!” Campers Phineas Walsh and Andre Altherr then calmed the crowd with a guitar solo of the Beatles’ “Blackbird” and an old British ballad, respectively. They were followed by a staff trio of Bridgid Ruf (also on mandolin), Zach Barnard, and Dorin Dehls with a stealthily-philosophical number about multiple voices becoming “one.” Ben Ballman stepped up boldly on his first Pemi day ever with a riddle that tested the geometrical acumen of the average camper, and then Robert Loeser returned triumphantly to the virtual microphone with an unaccompanied cover of “Somebody to Love” that left this correspondent sockless. In pursuit of his one-man campaign to preserve 90’s indie rock, AC Harry Eifler then brought in Peter Siegenthaler to accompany him on guitar on “The Aeroplane over the Sea” (“Oh, yeah,” you’re all saying to yourselves, “the song by Neutral Milk Hotel.”) After some quotable quotes from Jeff Greene on the importance of play and playfulness, a lakeside sax improvisation Henry Eisenhart (age twenty-two) and Harrison Green (age ten), and our annual visit from Maurice Gagnon, world-champion moose-caller (who, if truth be told, always looks suspiciously like Nature Director Larry Davis), it was “The Campfire Song,” back to the cabins, and a cozy tuck-in to freshly made beds as the crescent moon dropped quietly over Pemi Hill.

Sunday dawned brilliantly, as more than a few of your boys awoke to what may have been the unusual stimuli of the sun pouring directly through an open window or doorway onto their pillows – and dozens of birds testing their chirps as they stretched their wings in trees mere feet away. A live bugle rendition of “Reveille” finished the job (thanks to Ryan Fauver in the Upper camp and Teddy Farkas in the Junior), and then it was a few calisthenics and into the pond for the season’s first polar bear dip. A busy day followed: swim tests, health checks, weight checks, all-camp photo, cabin photos (on both of which more later), letters home, team practices, group-building scavenger hunts, and 2012’s first free swim. Stacey and her crew get Sunday afternoons off, so supper was a cook-out run by the division heads, with the whole camp spread out on the lawns in front of the messhall. Trip Counselor Richard Komson played DJ, and more than a few barbecue chefs, food-servers, crowd-managers, and diners were seen to prance and gyrate to the likes of Freddy Mercury, The Boss, and the Supremes. Timeless stuff – and rock-solid fun for young and old (no pun intended). The first Sunday meeting honored our more personal past, with a look back at the first two generations of Pemi directors and the qualities that helped them make this camp what it is – all of which we hope were presented to the night’s audience as things that campers might find it worthwhile (and possible!) to emulate.  True history out of the way, the evening ended with a recently-recovered, seven-minute, b&w silent movie assembled here in the ’40s and ’50s – “Foolish Flashes” – depicting Pemi in ways more reminiscent of Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin than the current camp recruiting video. Ask your sons for details – but the message (if there was one) is that one of the more underappreciated ways to guarantee that you accomplish something in life is not always to take yourself too seriously.

Helping, as always, with the task of greasing the skids of institutional progress with the lubricant of laughter was last night’s first reading of Bean Soup, now in its 103rd year as the opinion leader of Pemigewassett. A crowd of 240 gathered in the Lodge at 7:30 in the evening, eagerly awaiting the arrival of this year’s editors, Ian Axness and Peter Siegenthaler. When these two strode to the front of the room and mounted the table that is the traditional bully pulpit, no one was disappointed: BS got off to one of the strongest starts we can recall. We’ll spare you the details for now, confident that some of you will seize the opportunity to read the thing itself when it arrives at your homes next December, all tastefully printed and bound. If, that is, you can wrest the copy from your enthralled sons. (BTW, will Bean Soup ever be distributed for Kindle and Nook, we wonder? And are the Four Docs rolling in their graves even as we ask that question?) Suffice it to say that one of the most memorable features of the evening was a part of an initiative this year to enhance opportunities for leadership for our oldest campers. Halfway through the Soup, Ian and Peter invited Lake Tent denizen Harry Cooke to join them for the week’s “Senior Moment.” Harry delivered himself of a masterpiece of terse whimsy involving (of course) life-searching questions about pagodas and their placement – serving notice, in the process, that he himself is very likely to be a Bean Soup editor before too very long.

That brings us up to this morning – and, as we wrap this missive, we’re pleased to say that not a drop of rain has fallen in the whole forenoon. The forecast for the end of the week is a good one, and plans are already afoot to get some Lower and Upper Intermediate backpacking trips into the mountains on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday. Speaking of mountains, participants in Pemi West, our mountain leadership program in Olympic National Park, arrive in Port Angeles this afternoon, joining leaders Evan Jewett, Dan Reed, and David Paolella for what will surely be a transformative experience in their young lives. We half wish we could join Dan Fulham, Peter Montante, Alexander Dietl, Sam Papel, Nathan Tempro, and Sam Harrigan as they shoulder their packs and head off towards Mount Olympus. Then again, there’s plenty that’s equally exciting going on here. Stay tuned for further details.

— Tom and Danny