It’s 3:40 Monday afternoon, and we have just finished the last of the four daily instructional periods we call “occupations.” It is 84 degrees in Wentworth under partly cloudy skies, just warm enough that the thought of jumping into the lake for Free Swim (5PM) is most attractive. At the same time, there is a moderate northwest breeze coursing down the pond, and Olivia Walsh’s sailing class (Andre Altherr, Emmanuel Abbey, Jack O’Connor, Thomas Moore, Will Leslie, and Alex Marshman) has had plenty of wind in their sails to get their Lasers and Sunfishes bubbling briskly along. Overall, seventy separate sections of instruction have been offered today, covering everything from soccer and baseball – through Journal Making and Dragonflies – to Plaster Worlds, Chihuly, and Rock Band. Nate Kraus and the boys of Lower Seven will soon be headed across the lake to the Pine Forest for an al fresco supper, while Will Clare, Idrissa Bangura, and their Upper Four charges will be paddling to the “Flat Rock Café” for the same. Meanwhile, Bean Soup mavens Dan Reed and Harry Eifler have retreated to their editorial offices, sorting out the last spices before ladling up their first serving of Pemi’s comical “food for thought” at 7:45. The 2014 season is well underway!
It was wonderful seeing those of you who drove your sons to camp on Saturday. The longer we do this, the more established and rewarding our partnership with you good folks seems to become. Reviews of our recently-modified arrival schedule—with veteran campers rolling in during the morning and new boys in the afternoon—continue to be highly positive. Perhaps the best part of it follows from Danny’s lunchtime invitation to the old boys to play a substantial role in welcoming and orienting the first-time campers in the afternoon. It’s also great hearing longtime camp parents like Tripp and Robin Jones speaking to the new moms and dads about the rigors and rewards of leaving their boys in the middle of the New Hampshire woods for three and a half or seven weeks. One relatively novel but charming experience for one of your correspondents—who was joined by his daughter in escorting the New York/Stamford bus up to camp—was witnessing two dozen coach-riding campers beginning to chant “Pemi, Pemi” as soon as they spied the waters of Lower Baker through the quickly-passing trees. Pemigewassett is never alive until the boys get here, and it is simply incredible how spontaneously and completely they can bring it back to life within seconds of their arrival.
At 7:45 on what was shaping up to be a perfect summer evening, two hundred and fifty of us joined the odd pesky mosquito around the campfire circle and waited expectantly as the veteran denizens of the Lake Tent – Hugh Jones, Will Jones, and Will Katcher (do you see any pattern in the names?) – lit the fire and wished one and all a happy and successful season. Speaking for all the other Seniors, they offered to help anybody reach that goal in any way they could, whereupon the inaugural campfire of the season moved ahead with all the pace and vigor of the Pemi Kid himself. The show kicked off with a best-ever performance by chanteur Robert Loeser, who soon had us spell-bound as he belted out Newley and Bricusse’s “Feelin’ Good” from The Roar of the Greasepaint and the Smell of the Crowd. In between his soulful phrases, you could have heard a pin drop – even on the sandy beach.
Next up was Alex Goldman, familiar to all veterans from last summer’s rendition of Neil Young’s Heart of Gold – most memorable, perhaps, when Alex added to Neil’s “and I’m growin’ old” the wry caveat “even though I’m only ten.” This year, at an august eleven, Master Goldman delivered himself of an extremely finished cover of The Lumineers’ “Ho Hey” that would certainly have brought the house down if we hadn’t been outdoors. Alex was followed by Junior Two counselor Wesley Eifler, one of whose winter projects had been to memorize the winningly grim Robert Service poem, “The Cremation of Sam Magee.” Adding immeasurably to the chilling effect of Wesley’s recitation was the thick billow of smoke wafting his way from the camp fire, very much akin to Service’s “greasy smoke in an inky cloak” that “went streaking down the sky” as the titular character cooked.
Wesley was followed by campfire regular Eli Brennan, who varied his customary tales from the Greek and Roman pantheon with an admirably succinct narrative about – as far as we could tell – the Egyptian sun-god, Ra. Eli was so succinct is was hard to tell. In any case, he quickly yielded the stage to staff members Max Livingstone-Peters, Maggie Boomgaarden, and Joey Gish who, to the dulcet strains of Max’s guitar and Joey’s fiddle, offered a spirited version of a longtime Pemi favorite, “Wagon Wheel.” Neither the Old Crow Medicine Show nor the song’s first Pemi performer, Christian Ruf, could have done a better job. Since we’re usually long on guitarists but short on fiddlers, it’s especially nice to have Joey with us this summer. When he’s not out leading overnight trips, we look forward to hearing many more tunes like this night’s “Lazy John,” a traditional old-time fiddle tune that Joey delivered with a singular briskness that suggested the handle “lazy” could never be fairly attached to Mr. Gish.
Ezra Nugiel returned to the Pemi soundstage with a particularly finished cover of Dolly Parton’s “Jolene.” From his debut as one of our smallest Juniors, Ezra has performed with ever-increasing energy and assurance, and it’s clear this summer will see him adding to his past triumphs. Speaking of acts of long standing, Nate Blumenthal once again dazzled the crowd with his rare capacity to lick his own elbow – instantaneously inspiring scores of wannabe elbow lickers, whose efforts we’ll be sure to keep track of for your sake. And, longest-standing of all, Larry Davis cast off his urban sophistication and assumed the manner and accent of a Down East ironist, telling the wonderful tale of an aspirant hunter’s “Beginner’s Luck.” One Pemi West participant was heard to say, “I’ve heard Larry do that story for nine years now, and it never gets old!” There are lots of forms of community, but listening as a group to a master story-teller working his magical way through a familiar tale is one of the best.
The evening ended, of course, with everyone rising from their seats, casting their arms over their neighbors’ shoulders, and joining together in singing Doc Reed’s moving “Campfire Song.” As we look forward to making the 2014 season one of the best ever, its timeless words equip us with the question and concerns that will keep our eyes on the prize for the next seven weeks: “I wonder if anyone’s better for anything I’ve done or said.”
Highlights of other sorts? No sooner had the first boys arrived on Saturday than the first Frisbee-Running-Bases and Roofball games formed up and took fire. Their excitement and energy has rivaled anything we have seen telecast from Brazil. By Sunday morning, as well, a dam had been constructed in the stream by the Lodge – in preparation for the “Pink Polar Bears” of those boys for whom 65 degree lake water is not sufficiently bracing. And finally, right after the Sunday Noon meal, this year’s Pemi West Participants left the messhall and ran through a “tunnel” of raised arms (the whole camp community’s) on the way to their van and Logan airport beyond. It was wonderful having Nick Bertrand, Ben Chaimberg, Matt Kanovsky, Zach Leeds, Will McNear, and Jackson Seniff with us for six days as they completed a Wilderness First Aid course and prepared for the trip. It will be even more wonderful to welcome them back in just under four weeks, after what is sure to be a life-changing experience.
Well, swim call is just about to blow (ably played by Atilla Petho, our first-ever bugler from Budapest.) We will restrain ourselves from suggesting that, on a day as warm as this, his summons to the waterfront will be a true Hungarian Rhapsody. (Well, we tried!) But it does feel like time to sign off for now. Until next week! We wish you all a healthy and happy Fourth of July.
~ Tom and Danny