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Sunday Meeting: Reflections on Al Fauver
2016 Newsletter # 4
How it happened so quickly we don’t know, but today we reach the mid-point of the 2016 season. While the eighty-five full-session boys plunge and slither at the Whale’s Tale water park in nearby North Woodstock, their eighty-five cabin mates call an end to their season and return to their homes (or perhaps head off to Nantucket or vacation points even more distant) for the remainder of the summer. It’s been a great three and a half weeks for them, marked by sunny weather, some stunning mountain and river trips, and an overwhelmingly successful athletic season. Add in the huge range of occupations Kenny Moore documented last week, a steady run of lively and entertaining special events, and scrumptious and copious output from our revitalized kitchen, and it’s no surprise that some of the farewells this morning have been especially wistful. Tomorrow, of course, brings us eighty-five eager new faces, and we ramp up again for the final session. We’ll be more than ready to go.
Speaking of readiness, eagerness, and going, the twenty Senior camp participants in this year’s Allagash expedition climbed into two of our Ford Transit vans at 6AM this morning and headed off to Millinocket for what is sure to be a highlight of their final year as campers. The party is sufficiently large that we’ve had to break it into two groups. George Cooke, Ethan Elsaden, Lucas Gaffney, Henry Jones, Nolan Katcher, James Minzesheimer, Reed O’Brien, Pierce Haley, Andrew Kanovsky, and Dash Slamowitz with paddle under the vigilant eyes of staff members Charlie Malcolm (finally getting to one of those peskily resistant on his bucket list) and Jackson Reed. Travelling within radio range, and often within eyesight, but by park regulations as a separate group, will be Reed Cecil, Sam Beesley, Nick Bowman, Jake Cronin, Rafe Forward, Thaddeus Howe, Tucker Jones, Jackson Morrell, Will Adams, and Nick Carter, led by veteran Trippie Harry Morris and first-year Kiwi outdoorsman Zacc Dwan. Their four-day paddle will take them through Chamberlain, Eagle, and Churchill Lakes and then down the moderate rapids below Churchill Dam to their pull-out in Umsaskis Lake. Look to their letters for more details, but count on their having a transformative experience, complete with bald eagles, moose, and myriad other unforgettable memories.
Pemi’s Allagash outing was inaugurated close to a half-century ago by Director Al Fauver, about whom many of you have heard. Al was the son of Pemi co-founder Edgar Fauver, and for many years counted the supervision of trips among his countless (and tireless) contributions to camp. As recounted in the Pemi blog, Al died this past winter at the age of 100 after a long and wonderful life. Hundreds of us were fortunate enough to have celebrated his century mark with Al last August, and as a second movement in our tribute to this transcendent Pemi figure, yesterday’s Sunday meeting was dedicated to telling the present camp population a little more about the man. Among the speakers were Peter and Jon Fauver, Al’s sons, and Larry Davis, head of our Nature Program. Their words overflowed with warmth and appreciation for Al’s contributions to every aspect of Pemi’s program and physical plant. Also sharing their thoughts and memories with a rapt audience were Tom Reed, Kenny Moore, and Al’s grandson Jameson Fauver. Their digitally-captured words follow.
My father, Tom Reed, Sr. loved the hills and high peaks, but it was Al Fauver who made them my favorite part of the planet. Al had a vast knowledge of the White Mountains, something he consolidated as a member of the Appalachian Mountain Club’s elite Trail Maintenance Crew. Driving Al’s knowledge was a deep and abiding love for the New Hampshire wilds, something that must have played a part in his joining the history faculty at The Holderness School in Plymouth, just sixteen miles from here, where he made his off-season career.
Al ran the trip program at Pemi for over 35 years, having taken it over from his uncle, Doc Win Fauver, in the nineteen-forties. Al’s tenure was in an age before cushy frame packs, Gore-tex jackets, and lightweight backpacking stoves. The trips he ran were “old school” – blanket rolls and ponchos, high-top basketball sneakers, tarps instead of bug-netted tents. There was no tech craze for Al. He taught us to make do with the simplest equipment – adequate with no frills. A week of campcraft instruction preceded every three- or four-day outing, and we learned how to select campsites, how to tie knots, how to cut spruce boughs for our beds, how to string up a poncho to defeat the rain. You sometimes felt you were heirs to a school of wilderness survival that stretched all the way back to Lewis and Clark.
Flat Rock, Pemi Hill, day trips up Cube and Moosilauke, overnights at Greenleaf Hut or canoeing on the Connecticut River, three-days in the Kinsman’s, four days in the Mahoosucs – Al perfected them all. Even after severe arthritis kept him from hitting the trail himself, Al clearly loved sending others out to the rivers, and ridges, and high peaks that he had explored and loved as a younger man. He always sought you out personally after a trip, asking how it had gone, relishing every detail of weather and view and event. “Is that old fire warden’s cabin still standing south of Smarts?” he’d ask. Or “Did you find that huge pot-hole down beneath the falls?” The sparkle in his eyes as he listened told you everything you needed to know about the man’s passion.
I was flattered beyond words when Al asked me to step into his shoes as Trip Head back in the 70s, and even now I constantly ask myself, when the trippies and I are discussing a route or something unanticipated pops up on a trip, “What would Al do?” In some ways, what I came to appreciate most about Al was his amazing sense of logistics. Working with two and a half trucks (remember what I said last Sunday about his little red pick-up!), he could get more trips bouncing around the White Mountains than I can generally manage with three vans and two big buses. If General Eisenhower had known about Al, he probably would have signed him on to help plan D-day.
Somehow, Al got to be known around camp at The Weatherman, not only our best prognosticator but also personally responsible for whatever happened with the sun and clouds and wind. What amazes me, in those days before satellites and computers and Doppler radar, is how often Al got his forecast right, fitting a half dozen trips into an eighteen hour slice of fine weather in between torrential rains.
It was actually one of the times Al got the weather wrong that he showed what a great boss and kind soul he was. He’d sent my cabin out for an overnight at the base of Mt. Carr (the big mountain you see from the messhall porch) predicting we would stay dry. We awoke at about 5 AM with raindrops plinking on our closed eyes. No sooner had we had a chance to contemplate how challenging it would be to start a fire in the mounting deluge – something big enough to cook our breakfast over – than Al sauntered into the campsite with a half dozen dry split logs in his pack. “Guess I didn’t see this coming,” said Al with a smile. “Thought I’d join you for breakfast.” Within fifteen minutes, Al had a roaring blaze going and proceeded to cook up the best batch of scrambled eggs and bacon any of us had ever tasted.”
Al was that kind of guy. You came to care about what he cared about. You came to love what he loved.
“Good Enough is the enemy of the best.”
A slogan taught to me by Al Fauver back in 2001. That year, I began work as Head of the Dock Crew, and Al was integral in teaching me the basics of building a safe swimming area, the nuts and bolts of dock work. He explained the process, very specific in nature on how to tackle this herculean task. The challenge: place two perfectly parallel and straight dock piers, exactly 25 yards apart. “Aim,” he said, “for the white birch just to the left of the notch on Sugarloaf (the hill on the far end of Lower Baker).” “If you follow that mark, the docks will be straight,” he finished with a glint in his eye. I stood there on the beach with the other rookie members of dock crew, and gazed towards the other end of the pond, searching for that white birch. I challenge all of you next time on Senior Beach to see how close this year’s dock crew was to Al’s white birch.
Al joined us that summer, hammering in the first pipe (“leg” in dock vernacular) when he was in his mid 80’s. We all stood around the dock, holding it in place, as he wielded the sledge with remarkable precision, landing the head of the hammer squarely on the pounding cap, sending the leg through the bracket and into the floor of Lower Baker. And when the feet, the pipes that sit on the sandy floor of the lake, were in place, we cranked the set-screw on the bracket to set the dock.
“Is it level,” he asked. “Good enough,” someone in the group said. Al replied, “Good enough is the enemy of the best.” His comment, that slogan, resonated instantly with all of us. We suddenly realized we didn’t just want good enough, we wanted to achieve the best. That’s the standard that Al set in every task that fell to him. “Any task that’s worth doing is worth doing well,” Al would say. If you spend time and your energy, don’t you want it to speak well for you? Your hard work? Your dedication? Your work is a direct representation of you. That’s the standard Al set, and what we all worked towards.
Dock Crew is usually comprised of 6 counselors, each with a role, and if everyone works together, the task becomes very efficient. You have your sight guy, someone for legs, feet, ankles, the hammerer, the deep-water man, the leveler, and the setter. The rhythm of putting each dock in place requires each person to play his part, and when it’s all done right, it’s a beautiful thing. While the task may at first seem impossible, the challenge when embraced by all becomes a rallying cry, a goal for all to work for. But that’s the fun of it, too – working together towards a goal, with all members carrying their own weight.
Whenever Al tackled a task, he brought that good nature and fun spirit to the job at hand. I can’t tell you how many Alums speak to me about their experience on Al’s Crew, a collection of campers and young counselors who worked with Al on a variety of projects. They all comment about the life lessons that Al taught them: how to approach a task, how to work cooperatively together, and how to have fun while working hard.
At the end of each Pemi season, during the Staff Banquet, Al would always comment about how the docks were stacked for the winter at Senior Beach. The Dock Crew would disassemble the docks and stack them in very precise, neat piles, near the road. That way, they would be protected in the winter from the ice rising in the lake. Al would say after his annual inspection, “I know the quality of the Pemi Staff this year was strong, as those docks are perfectly stacked. This must have been a great summer”
The Dock Crew knew that Al would be looking, checking to see if they had the energy and pride in their work. Did they do just a good enough job, or did they strive for the best, even though stacking the docks is a tiny part of the many things done at Pemi? Think about what it represents: the attention to detail; the pride in finishing a task to the best of our ability; the teamwork necessary for accomplishing the goal. Those are the important things. Those are the symbols of Al’s legacy.
I will always remember Al for his good nature, his grandfatherly presence and advice to me in my years on staff, and his love for Pemi. If we all love Pemi, then we all love Al, as he was key in forming the ethos of the camp we cherish.
Finally, Jameson, his words delivered under the smiling gaze of Bertha Fauver, Al’s widow, sitting in the front row.
My name is Jameson Fauver and I spent eight summers here as a camper and three as a counselor. Al Fauver was my grandfather, and when I think of him, I think of a great man who took advantage of all the things and places the world had to offer.
Al played the Tuba. Al was a swimmer at Oberlin College. Al was a sailor. Of course, he was an avid hiker and outdoorsman. And, some of my best memories of my grandfather are from sharing time on the golf course.
He lived to 100 years because he was blessed with good health, but also because he kept busy doing not just one thing but many different things. So, perhaps one lesson you can take away from looking back on Al’s life is that a true life – a full life – is about filling it with many different people you love but also finding many different things that you love to do.
As we all know, one of the things that make Pemi a special place is the huge range of program offerings. Not many places you can spend your summer offer the opportunity to explore Nature, Sailing, the Arts, Athletics, Music, and Hiking all in the same stretch of time, and for many of you, in the same day! Yet, an expansive program does not mean much unless you take advantage of it. After just a day and a half here on my current visit, I know that the spirit to trying new things is definitely alive and well here, something that would make my grandfather very proud.
Yesterday, Danny asked me to coach the 15’s baseball game. I said “of course.” And then he said, “Most of the team is away so you’ll have to find some players!!” We were in fact two ballplayers short of nine. Fortunately, I was sitting with Emmanuel Abbey and Alex Zapata. They hadn’t played baseball in five years, but when I asked if they would play, they said, “Why not? We’re game. Who knows how well we’ll do or even if we’ll have fun! But you never know, unless you try.”
I think Al had that spirit in spades, and he would be happy to see how many of the people sitting in this room are taking advantage of the opportunity life gives us every day to try something new, speak with someone we don’t know, or to explore unchartered territory in every sense of the word. So please, in memory of Al, whether you have just a day left at Pemi this summer or three and a half more weeks, make sure to try something new.
Thank you all — and special thanks to Bertha Fauver, who fueled Al’s lively spirit for so many years.
And so we celebrated, with a clarity and forcefulness that no one could miss, the memory of a man who gave as much as anyone possibly could to the camp he loved so well. As you’ll gather from what Tom and Kenny And Jameson had to say, Al’s remarkable legacy is alive and well at Pemigewassett.
With that we’ll close. We look forward to being in touch again in a week’s time.