Pemi celebrated America’s two-hundred-and-fortieth birthday on a flawlessly beautiful day. The strong westerly breeze that had dominated our weather on the 2nd and the 3rd (even forcing Saturday’s campfire indoors) had dropped away overnight. Dawn found Lower Baker mirror-smooth, with wispy wraiths of mist weaving their slow way down the pond. Following reveille, scores of Polar Bears broke the silence with joyous shouts (or were some of them gasps?) as they plunged into the water and the expanding ripples caught the slanting rays of the sun and bounced them up into the trees in a ravishing play of color and motion.
Ironically, the day’s hearty Birthday Breakfast featured Canadian bacon as a complement to good ol’ Yankee scrambled eggs, oatmeal, and cold cereal. Such as it was, though, the meal’s topical program stressed the virtues of inclusiveness and trans-border tolerance and understanding. Tom Reed, Jr. rose to note that the Fourth was unquestionably a time for celebration but also for serious contemplation of what our country now is and was originally intended to be. The Founding Fathers had not invented democracy, that honor going to the Greeks, but the United States of America came into being as the first great modern experiment in that collective form of government. As with any experiment, ours represents an evolving process. Thomas Jefferson and his fellow revolutionaries had nobly declared that all men were created equal. It has nevertheless taken us some time to realize that, to be truly noble, their original concept of equality might well be extend to women, and to people of color, and to those of a different sexual orientation than Washington and Adams. In a time when some honestly question how much “unity” characterizes the “United” States, not to mention the extent to which statuesque Liberty’s arms remain open to the tired and poor and homeless who have done their parts to make this nation great, Tom observed that Pemi can be a place where we can all reinforce the national effort to foster community and inclusivity and mutual understanding. Be it at the end of three and a half or of seven weeks, we can all resolve to go back to our “normal lives” and do everything we can, regardless of our political party or belief system, to further the noble collective endeavor that is every American’s hard-earned birthright.
As the first reflex of communality, mutual understanding, and support, we turned to our dozen-odd friends from the British Commonwealth, staff member and camper alike, and invited them to join us in singing the melody that does very nicely both for “My Country, ’Tis of Thee” and for “God Save the Queen.” All stood in the mess hall as Luke Raffanti went to the keyboard to accompany our joint chorus, and all sang with commendable force and gravity. After we had all filed onto the porch for our daily salute to the American flag (which, as Tom had pointed out, shared the colors of the Union Jack just as the United States shared so many of the tried and true humane principles and interests of the Commonwealth) second-year Brit staff member Charlotte Jones thanked us all for making her feel so welcome. Perhaps, as we like to say here for everything from Lost-and-Found “reunions” to thunderstorm warnings, “the system is working.”
Other staples of our Fourth celebrations? More campers and staff members than one are sporting red, white, and blue apparel today (Junior Camp division head Wesley Eifler indulging in a highly “interested” form of patriotism by donning a New York Rangers sweater/jersey.) Sunday afternoon witnessed the annual Counselor Hunt, moved up a day to allow for regular occupations on Monday morning to avoid a three-day hiatus in instructional activity, given inter-camp sports all day Saturday, a normal Sunday break from routine, and the traditionally altered schedule for the Fourth. While fewer staff members than usual seem to have been caught in the hunt, and thus obliged to plunge from high-dive tower into the chilly pond in whatever regalia they were wearing when found, the boys seemed to love this yearly opportunity to revert to the predatory ways of our tribal ancestors, at least in play. Later this afternoon will come the annual Fourth of July Pee-rade, and after supper the old-time Vaudeville show that always represents one of the dramatic and musical apogees of the summer.
Now, if we may be allowed what might seem a strained segue, let’s bring you all up to date on one of the four principal areas of the camp program. “My Country, ’Tis of Thee” famously ends by imploring Freedom to ring “from every mountaintop.” Pemi’s trip program is not in any overt way political, but the payoffs of careful planning, and hard work, and group unity/decision-making, and appreciation of the fragile beauty of the land around us are among the most important things that boys learn at Pemigewassett. They also drive our broader national identity and values. It seems no accident that John Winthrop’s vision of America’s most alluring potential was for it to become a bright “city on a hill” – a glorious civilization set amidst and reached by an effortful passage through the natural world.
Anyway…Pemi’s trip program got off to a successful start last week. Amongst the first occupation offerings was “Allagash canoeing.” Joining Head of Boating Reed Harrigan and experienced Allagash trip leader Harry Morris on the water for an hour every morning were eager 15’s Will Adams, Sam Beesley, Nick Bowman, Reed Cecil, George Cooke, Jake Cronin, Ethan Elsaden, Rafe Forward, Lucas Gaffney, Pierce Haley, Thaddeus Howe, Tucker Jones, Andrew Kanovsky, Nolan Katcher, James Minzesheimer, Jackson Morrell, Reed O’Brien, and Dash Slamowitz. They learned (or refined their knowledge of) the parts of their boats, tricks of putting in and pulling out, strokes for the bow and stern, management of the canoe in various conditions, single canoe and canoe-over-canoe rescue, and most of the other necessities for the five-day voyage planned for later in July. Sunday afternoon, half of their number travelled to the nearby Pemigewassett River for a taste of the moderate whitewater they will encounter on stretches of the Allagash. Next weekend, the other half will do the same.
The first trips of the season actually went out last Wednesday in the form of two overnights with our specialty trip staff. Moses Bank, Landon Burtle, Andreas Geffert, and Chris Ramanathan from Lower 1 joined Mac Cottman and Nicky Harwich from neighboring Lower 2 and trip leaders Nick Davini and Thomas Strnad for a three-day trek along the Appalachian Trail just south of camp. They hiked up a logging road to hit the AT just south of Hexacuba Shelter, where they spent the night in the company of a pair of “through hikers” on their way north from Georgia. The following day, in perfect weather, they continued to the summit of Mt. Cube (2800 feet, just northwest of our lake), enjoying lunch on the open ledges before their descent to Rte. 25A, one mile up the valley. While they had intended to spend the second night at our Adirondack shelter on Pemi Hill just above the Junior Camp, a few health issues brought them back early. Nonetheless, as they hiked back onto the grounds, their faces were as bright as their boots were muddy.
Meanwhile, Trip Leaders Michael Kerr and John “JP” Gorman had headed off to the Waterville Range with a group of uppers that included Eli Brennan, Orson Edwards, Alex Goldman, Garrett Whitney, Nolan Snyder, Teddy Foley, and Elliot Muffett. Their route took them up the Mad River to just short of the notch in which the twin Greeley Ponds nestle like sapphires beneath the converging, verdant slopes of Mts. Osceola (4315ft) and Kancamagus (3728). The Livermore Trail they ascended had been unavailable for years, washed out in Hurricane Irene back in 2011, but the boys enjoyed like their predecessors one of the classic “relaxed” walks in the White Mountains up to their wilderness campsite just short of the ponds. The next day was another matter, involving the remarkably steep climb out of the notch to the shoulder of Osceola. There are a few miles in the Whites that are more exacting, but not many – and when the group summited Osceola’s East Peak (4156) at around 1:30 PM, they were wise to break out lunch, enjoy the view, and call it a day. It may have been a little like making it to the South Col of Everest and not the summit, but a good and worthy day was had by all.
The following day, Lowers 2 and 3 set off up Rattlesnake Mountain, a tidy little peak on the way between Wentworth and Plymouth (and so named, we assure you, not because it is infested by serpents but because of its suggestive profile from the east.) Joining counselors Luke Raffanti and David Lampman were Finn Hayes, Benjamin Herdeg, Drew Johnstone, Henry Simmons, George Clough, Andrew Donnell, Lucas Gales, Oliver Giraud, Ollie O’Hara, Jack Reid, Jack Simmons, and Dexter Wells. Short but steep, the climb yields an unexpectedly “cozy” view of the Baker Valley, just below, its roads and houses parceled out like something you’d see in a basement train layout. No doubt the scores of wind turbines atop the next ridge provoked some conversation about scenic vistas, sustainability, and what it takes to power our many-faceted “city on a hill.” Perfect sunny weather guaranteed the success of the outing, which was only enhanced by a stop at a local general store for a soda and bag of Gummi Bears or Twizzlers.
Also out for lunch were Lowers 4 and 5, headed up the west ridge of Mt. Cube for the day. Isaiah Abbey, Ted Applebaum, Stanley Bright, Enrique Mantemayor, Henry Moore, Teddy Nuttal, Andrew Roth, Hunter Goldreich, Charlie Haberman, Elliot Jones, Cam McManus, Teddy Shapiro, Nelson Snyder, Luca Tschanz, and Marco Zapata were thrilled to reach the South Summit, only to run into the boys from Lower 1 and 2, as mentioned above. Fully 4/7ths of the Lower Division were joyfully reunited some two thousand feet above their cabins.
That evening, Dan Reed and Nick Bertrand picked up some supplies in the kitchen and canoed across the lake with the boys of Upper 3 for an al fresco supper at Flat Rock (aka “The Flat Rock Café.”) Helping them collect wood and build the fire were their charges Will Ackerman, Whit Courage, Auguste Dupichot, Luke Hayes, Ian Hohman, Matt McDonough, Sam O’Hara, and Jacob Smalley. As the sun settled into the west, thrusting golden shafts of light into the pine and spruce trees that shade this select lakeside spot, Dan and Nick boiled up the chili then spooned it onto the plates of their hungry companions, some of whom parleyed the hamburger buns and cheese slices into something between a Sloppy Joe and a Philadelphia cheese steak. Potato salad, chips, and cookies filled out the fare prior to the dousing of the fire and the slow, relaxed twilight paddle back to camp.
As we write, two groups of Seniors are assembling their gear for tomorrow’s 10AM departure to two Appalachian Mountain Club huts high in the Presidential Range – Lakes-of-the-Clouds and Madison. These are amongst the best outings we take, and the participants are chomping at the bit, especially given the sublime weather forecast currently in place. Look to their letters for details.
With that promise of further but more personalized communication, we’ll close for this week. Look for Newsletter Three for Kenny Moore’s annual disquisition on this year’s instructional program, “Occupations.” For now, farewell – and happy outings to you all.