2018: Newsletter #1
Welcome to the inaugural Pemi Newsletter of the 2018 season, our 111th, supplemented this week by an introduction to this year’s stellar staff.
Except for a few latecomers whose arrivals we knew would be delayed, all of our first- and full-session campers have safely arrived—many of them by parental car, two dozen on the chartered bus from New York, and the rest via air to Boston or Manchester and then in Pemi vans. One of the highlights of the automobile influx was, for yet another year, the public-minded “Cans from Campers” initiative, which yielded hundreds of meals of canned and packaged goods to be distributed by the Plymouth Food Bank. Especially seeing families new to Pemi rolling up to the cornucopial kayak in which Dottie Reed was stashing the donations—with Mom or Dad leaning out the window shouting “Here’s a can from our camper!”—boded wonderfully well for the speed with which our community will come together as a caring and supportive family. Within minutes of their arrival, boys old and new had their luggage unpacked, their beds made, and their lockers filled, then heading out for their first game of tennis, pick-up soccer, or roof ball. Come six o’clock, we all headed up to the mess hall for the traditional opening night supper of pizza (shamelessly calculated to appeal to every camper’s palate for this all-important, first-impression meal.) Unable to find the wonted Hood’s Rockets for dessert, food service director Tom Ciglar substituted Hoodsie Ice-cream cups, the ones that come with the paper-wrapped wooden spoons. The boys seemed delighted by this retro treat, and at our table, it was especially fun teaching our British Head of Staff, Nick Hurn, that not licking the residual ice-cream off the lid as soon as you’ve removed it constitutes the social gaffe—not the opposite.
As many of you know, every week of the season will bring a newsletter from one hand or another. Together with your boys’ personal communiqués and, after the season, the questionably veracious articles in Bean Soup, these epistles will provide what we hope are informative and entertaining glimpses into life on Lower Baker Pond and beyond. Before we get any more newsy, though, let’s briefly set the historical and geographical stage.
Pemi was founded in 1908 by Dudley Reed and the Fauver twins, Edgar and Edwin. The trio had been friends since grade school, when the first thing their teacher did every year was shoo them out of the back row and disperse them to three corners of the room so as to improve everyone’s odds for learning. They carried their youthful energy and exuberance through their four years at Oberlin College and their medical studies at Columbia University, Gar spinning off from his comrades in the summer of 1905 to take a job at nearby Camp Moosilauke. The following year, Gar was joined by both Win and Dudley, and the summer after that, the three resolved that the best thing for them to do was to start a camp of their own. After looking for sites all over the Northeast, they settled on a spot just a mile down the valley from Moosilauke, opening Camp Pemigewassett in June of 1908. Doc Reed had finished his final medical school exams earlier than the Fauvers, so they sent him ahead to New Hampshire to dig out the lake (as he claimed), build a mess hall, lay out a baseball diamond, and establish five tennis courts. The job was well underway when the Fauvers arrived, followed within days by the fifteen campers who made up the first Pemi family. History records that everyone pitching in together to get the place built made for a very tight community, something we have endeavored to maintain even in these days when a week’s worth of staff work before opening day means that today’s campers arrive to an immaculately prepared camp.
The founding trio might well have felt they were beating back the wilderness, and to this day one of the charms of Pemigewassett is that our beautiful grounds are used only nine weeks out of fifty-two. We are the only concern going on Lower Baker Pond, and we own over six hundred acres stretching up to the tops of the hills on both sides of the valley. By the first of September every fall, well before the leaves turn, Pemi’s small but loyal maintenance staff is putting the camp to bed for the winter, when no one will be living anywhere within two miles of us. If one of your goals is to get boys comfortable living in Nature—or at least on her threshold—you have to give Nature a chance to flex her muscles, knit herself back together. As a result, a mere ten days before opening day, casting a glance to the left as we drove across the bridge into camp, we could see a great blue heron fishing on the shore of the Lower Lake, just opposite the aptly-placed “Moose Crossing” sign on Route 25A. Just a little farther on was a loon’s nest, the first we can ever remember seeing on our waters, with Mom and Dad Loon trading off incubation duties. Meanwhile, just across the waters slouched a sizeable beaver lodge, its gnawed rafters and roofing material deftly interwoven with a few standing trees to provide stability in what can be the swift currents of the Lower Lake. In counterpoint to the rumbling of the bridge planks as we drove over them, we could hear the deep croak of bullfrogs, different sizes of them sounding different notes. There were deer tracks on the sand of the Senior Beach, criss-crossing with the labored tracks of a snapping turtle, and as we drove up the hill to our cabin, we could see a skunk scuttling under the Big House—Gar, Win, and Dudley’s common residence in the summer of 1909, when they and their wives decided against a second summer in tents but before they decided that three married couples under one roof was two couples too many. Regarding the skunk, word had it that a red fox had been seen scuttling under the same porch a few days earlier. In other words, you can bring campers to camp, but the natural world and its denizens are thriving all the while. Even those boys who throw themselves into athletics more than into our nationally renowned Nature Program are better off for it. There’s nothing like waking in the morning to the sound of a loon’s call echoing eerily off the distant shore. If, for some reason, you were to doubt that, just ask the next Pemi camper you find yourself conversing with.
With those historical and natural prefaces out of the way, let’s get back to the Pemi present and the camp population. Shortly after our pizza and Hoodsie supper, we all headed down to the Lodge for the first Saturday-night campfire of the season. There had been intermittent showers all afternoon, so we elected to go for an inside version, although a roaring fire blazed in the fireplace at the northwestern end of the building and the feeling was cheery as the boys settled, cabin-by-cabin, on the floor. Staff impresarios Matt Kanovsky and Cole Valente got the show underway by introducing Junior Three counselor Nick Gordon, who told the charming old African tale of Anansi and how he came to be the first spider. Next up was Luke Larabie, one of the stars of last season’s Fourth of July vaudeville and hyper-solid chorus member of Iolanthe, who entertained the crowd with a brisk rendition of Oasis’s “Wonderwall.” (It was particularly good to see mention of a wall bringing an audience together in appreciation rather than dividing them in mistrust.)
Following Luke, Oscar Anderson came to the front of the room to demonstrate “How to Hold a Tennis Racquet.” If anyone thought this was going to be way of kicking off the sports season on the first possible day, it quickly emerged that Oscar’s aims were comic rather than athletic. Almost all of us had played enough tennis to realize that holding the racket as though he were strangling a chicken was not going to allow Oscar to drive a winner to any baseline corner in the State of New Hampshire. Even assistant Tristan Barton seemed perplexed as he fed Oscar balls, only to see them spray around the room like popcorn exploding from an lidless pot. More demonstrative of true hand-eye coordination was Carmen Facciobene’s riveting performance with the devil sticks, Carmen taking up where he left off last season with an incredibly deft, spinning and flipping, tour de force effort.
Next up was Nature Staffer Scout Brink (named, indeed, after the hero of To Kill a Mockingbird!), who read Richard Nelson’s moving short poem ‘The Island Within” as a tribute to the spiritually-settling community that is Camp Pemi. Scout was followed by four-year veteran Michaela Frank, who came forward with her tiny ukelele to offer a lovely rendition of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” as modified and performed by Israel Kamakawiwo’ole. In entertaining counterpoint to a mainland American channeling an inspired Hawaiian, first-year Scottish counselor Donald Turvill strapped on his guitar and delivered a cogent rendition of Johnny Cash’s signature “Folsom Prison Blues.” His performance reminded the older folks among us who were fans of Average White Band that being from north of Hadrian’s Wall doesn’t keep anyone from shredding American classics. Just to be sure that Donald wasn’t feeling as though working at Pemi was like being in the slammer, I asked him how the summer was going. He said he was having a terrific time.
Scout returned with another short poem—Joseph Wood Krutch’s “Man’s Ancient and Powerful Link to Nature”—a paean to the natural world that seemed just right, considering our sylvan setting. Danny Kerr and Tom Reed, Jr. next stepped into the spotlight, seriously inflating the average age of the performers. With Danny on guitar, they delivered Bob Dylan’s lyrical but enigmatic “You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere” in a way that somehow managed to get the audience singing along. Call it politeness or call it catching the spirit, the house sang along with the chorus with the tuneful gusto you might hear at a Grateful Dead concert. Following Danny and Tom and furthering the golden years trend was Larry Davis with “Huntin’ Lessons,” the classic Down East tale that Larry tells more and more colorfully every year. There wasn’t an un-enthralled eye in the house.
As always, we closed the evening’s festivities with Doc Reed’s classic “Campfire Song,” penned in the opening decades of the last century but still capturing the question we like to ask ourselves every night as, getting ready for bed, we run through the doings of the day: “I wonder if anyone’s better for anything I’ve done or said, and whether good will in the heart may offset mistakes of the head.” Timeless questions indeed, and perhaps seldom more urgent than now. Even as the last notes echoed in the old Lodge rafters, boys and their counselors filed thoughtfully out into the night, wending their ways back to the cabins what will be their homes for the coming weeks. It seemed like a good beginning.
With that, we’ll end this week’s edition, promising you in coming weeks accounts of the instructional program, various athletic events and wilderness outings, and special events. For now, let me just add that, two nights ago, we were treated to the most animated vocal sparring of barred owls we have ever heard. Oh, and earlier that day, a few of us spied a deer with her fawn and the first bald eagle of the summer. We think it was taking the measure of our early preparations for the Fourth of July.