It’s 5 PM Monday afternoon and the predicted heavy rains are still holding off. It now seems likely the day will stay dry through suppertime, and then, even if it starts to pour, we’ll be safely in the Lodge for the second ladling of Bean Soup. Many of you will have been following the unstable weather conditions we’ve been enjoying (if that’s the word) in the Northeast, but we assure you that almost everything we like to do here at Pemi we’ve managed to do. Dozens of boys have swum their distances, morning occupations have been blessed with dry conditions (most of the showers coming in the late afternoon), and our first full day of athletic competition (with Camp Kingswood) went off without a hitch on Saturday – Pemi prevailing overall by an 8-7-1 count. As Athletic Director Charlie Malcolm so charmingly says, “There’s nothing wrong with winning.” At the same time, the thing we continue to be the proudest of on days such as these is that both we and our varied rivals firmly believe that determined play and good sportsmanship are at least as important as the final tally. Oh, and let’s not forget participation. At least four of the contests we dropped might well have been won had the coaches not gone out of their way to make sure that everyone who came out for the team actually played.
After an indoor campfire the first night of the season, we were delighted later this past Saturday to gather in the stone circle at the Senior Beach and enjoy a traditional outdoor iteration. Dorin Dehls’ a capella occupation kicked things off with a tight and complex rendition of The Lion Sleeps Tonight, with Upper Division Head Henry Eisenhart, on hands and knees, donning a yellow wool mane and tail to wind sinuously around the legs of the performers. The distraction factor was considerable, but no one missed a beat. Ian Axness was next with his Soundpainting occupation (curious? Read all about Soundpainting, here. And sorry about the Wikipedia reference. Not a scholarly source, we know!), followed by Will Thomas telling a trio of jokes. Alex Goldman performed for the second consecutive week, covering Neil Young’s Heart of Gold in a way that was almost totally convincing – except when the ten-year-old crooner claimed “And I’m gettin’ old.” Older, perhaps, but trust us. Alex!
Reed O’Brien raised the academic tone of the gathering with a brief excursus on the Norse pantheon, followed by Ezra Nugiel with an all-but-professional rendition of Sugarland’s “Stuck on You.” Those of you who are familiar with Pemi campfires and Gilbert and Sullivan shows alike will know that, if anyone was ever born with the capacity to charm an audience, it’s Ezra. We hear he had the OB-GYN nurses snapping their fingers moments after they calculated his APGAR.
Other camper acts included James Minzesheimer with some riddles, Isaiah Abbey with a spirit trick, and staple singers extraordinaire Andre Altherr (singing “You’ll Never Walk Alone” – a song which he somehow claimed might not have any name at all. Go figure!) and Robert Loeser, who set the woods and lakeshore ringing with a powerful rendition of Mariah Carey’s “Vanishing.” It’s hard to be sure, but we think the heron that lives in the Lower Lake circled back on its evening way west just to hear Robert wrap the ballad up. Staff joined in to fill out the bill, with musical offerings from Henry Eisenhart (on tenor sax), Ian Steckler and Matt Bolton (both on guitar), Ryan Fauver and visiting alum Conor Shaw (on trombone and guitar), and Tom, Danny, and Jack Pierce (these last on guitars and fiddle, playing one of Bob Dylan’s least scrutable songs, “You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere.”) After Larry Davis closed with a couple of especially outrageous Maine Stories, all rose for the traditional “Campfire Song,” everyone swaying together, arms on their neighbor’s shoulders, “as the moon drifted low oe’r the hillside and finally dropped in the west.”
So, despite the rain, Pemi 2013 is Pemi Same-As-It-Ever-Was. The only program area to have been substantially hit is Trips, with almost unvarying daily predictions of afternoon thundershowers cramping our style quite noticeably. Still, we’ve managed to get six cabin groups across the lake by canoe for al fresco meals, four cabin groups up nearby mountains on day trips, and we’ve just sent a Lower 3-day out to the Appalachian Trail south of us for a walk back to camp via the Hexacuba Shelter, the summit of Mt. Cube, and a night at the Pemi Shelter. Even now, Quinn O’Keefe, Matt Edlin, Pierce Hayley, Jacob Berk, Nick Hazard, Nick Wernink, and Harrison Potts are probably getting ready to tuck into some pita pizzas rustled up by trip counselors Matt Bolton and Charlotte Pringle – most likely in the company of an AT through-hiker or two! It’s always terrific fun (and wonderfully humbling) for our boys to compare hiking notes with dudes who have been on the trail for four months straight. Meanwhile, sixteen Seniors in two groups are slated to head to the Presidential Range tomorrow for overnights at Madison and Lakes-of-the-Clouds Huts. So, we are getting out of camp – and we’re definitely looking forward to more stable conditions next week (and a consequent acceleration in the pace of trips.) That said, we also think there are valuable lessons to be learned when common sense and caution compel decisions that may be disappointing but are clearly the smart choice. “What? Our three-day has been postponed again?” “Well, we thought about sending you on a day when there was a 100% chance of torrential rain interspersed with thunderstorms producing high winds and large hail – but then . . . .” “Oh, yeah. Okay. I get it. What’s for lunch?”
As noted occupations have been pretty much going off without a hitch, and, without many trips venturing out, Tom had a spare hour to cast an eye over some of the activity on the lake. Here’s his account.
I got a chance to hang out at the Boathouse this morning, watching two third-hour occupations. One was an advanced sailing class taught by Nate Kraus and Buck Baskin (both veterans of the Pemi yachting program) with Dash Slamowitz, Sam Seaver, Andrew Appleby, Thomas Moore, Antoine Leunis, Jack Davini, and Per Soderberg as their aspiring skippers. The other was a beginning whitewater kayak occupation, overseen by veteran counselor Nick Ridley. As I arrived at the waterfront, Alex Marshman, Nick Toldalagi, and Andre Altherr had already been fitted out with helmets and flotation vests and stood there with their spray skirts fitted snugly around their waists, the hems flaring out like tutus. (We are doing Iolanthe after all this year.) “Nice outfits!” I quipped as I strolled up to them. “Waterproof skirts are all the rage these days,” countered Andre; “Baker Valley Vogue.” Nick got them to sit in their boats on dry land and helped them adjust their seats and foot pegs. “We’ll get you fitted in – and then remember which boat you have and you’ll be set for the whole week.”
Once the kayaks were set up, Nick had the boys carry them to the very edge of the pond and, again, climb into them. He asked if they knew what the skirts were for. “To keep the spray out.” “Right. But if they keep the spray out, they can also keep you . . . what?” “In,” came the chorus of replies. “Right. That’s why you need to listen really carefully now.” Nick proceeded to show them how to fit the skirts over the lip of the gunwales: you fit the back of the stretchy neoprene rig over the stern lip of the cockpit then stretch the front forward towards your feet. “This is hard,” said Nick. “Especially with the skirts stiffened up from the winter. If anyone can get theirs attached, they can have my dessert for a week.” All three struggle gamely, but to little avail – until Nick sits on all the bows in turn and pulls the skirts into place.
“Now,” he says. “What do you notice about the skirt handles?” Stout loops of neoprene are visible sticking up at the very front of the rubber fittings. “They’re all out, ready to grab.” “Right,” says Nick. “And that’s extremely important. If you roll and can’t roll back up, you have to be able to pull on the handle and release the skirt. Then you can pop out of the boat.” The boys all nod, fingering the loops. “Here,” says Nick. “Look what happens if I seal the skirt with the handle inside.” He does so, and then flails his hands uselessly over the taut fabric. “Handle out. Got it?” The boys nod again, the point made perfectly.
“So what we’re going to do today is get you guys comfortable exiting the boat if you roll. Now you know just what to do. So there’s no panic, right?” More nods. “Then later in the week, we’ll learn how to right the boats when you’re inverted. Before you paddle out a bit, let me show you where to grip the paddles.” Nick gives them the basics on the breadth of their grip, how feathering works, etc. Then he shoves each boy off the shore and into the shallow water, where they scuttle about like waterbugs in the highly maneuverable (read “really-hard-to-paddle in a straight line”) kayaks. “I love this,” shouts Nick Toldalagi, barely containing his mirth as he rushes up towards Andre’s boat and then veers away at the last possible second. “Okay, guys. Out to the end of the boat dock.” As they comply, Nick walks out to the end of the small pier.
Once there, he explains yet again about pulling the handle to release the skirt. He then says that he wants the boys – one at a time – to roll their boats over, bang on the hull three times, and then pull the handle and slip out of the boat. Each of them does this in turn, popping to the surface with water gushing out of his helmet, blinking furiously above a toothy grin. “How was it?” asks Nick. “Easy” comes one answer. “Fun,” another. “Okay,” says Nick. “Now lets go back ashore, get the skirts back on, and we’ll try something different.”
This time, Nick Toldalagi manages to secure his skirt all by himself. “Oh, my,” says Nick Ridley. “There go my desserts.” Mr. T. chuckles and slaps happily on his boat. Once they are all re-inserted and “attached,” they paddle out to the end of the dock again. One at a time, Nick, sitting with his legs in the water, talks quietly with the boys and then rolls them over away from him. For fifteen or twenty seconds they remain inverted, then Nick pulls them back upright. “How was it?” “Cool.” “Scary at all?” “Not at all.” “No panic?” “No panic.” “Great. That’s just what we want. You guys are terrific. Tomorrow, we’ll go over what we did today – and then we’ll work on righting ourselves with just our paddles. Okay?” “Cool” comes a chorus of replies.
Nick goes over a few things on maneuvering and then brings everyone back to shore, where he teaches them to flip the full boats before they attempt to drag them from the water, pairing the boys up to lower first one end and then the other, shaking the craft side to side until most of the water is out. “The drier you get them today,” Nick says, “the more comfortable you’ll be tomorrow. Okay?” “Got it,” comes another chorus. “Thanks Nick.” “Right. Now hang up your helmets and spray skirts where you can find them tomorrow and get changed into dry clothes. Lunch in half an hour.”
It all went by so fast you might miss how much the boys learned here. Technical stuff, safety stuff, psychological stuff – and all with a pretty remarkable 1-3 staff/camper ratio (not at all uncommon at Pemi). Nick covered everything in a clear, measured, commonsensical way, and the boys’ excitement to be doing what they were doing obviously sharpened their attentiveness. You could almost see they were imagining themselves negotiating some Class III rapids on a future trip. Because I was further from the sailors, I can offer fewer insights into how things went for them. But watching Nate and Buck in the safety boat shuttling between Sunfish and Lasers let me know that their charges, too, were getting lots of individual advice and support. As Antoine finished mooring and putting his Sunfish to bed, he waded in to shore exclaiming about how much fun it had been, how cool the Lasers were, how he was looking forward to moving up to sailing them in due course. It’s only a matter of time.
Well, we seem to be butting up against our maximum word count, so we’ll close. The long range forecast is for a tolerable Fourth and a fine weekend to follow, so we’ll keep on keepin’ on and report back to you in a week’s time about how it’s all gone. For now, best wishes to you all for a wonderful Independence Day!
— Tom and Danny