#5: Pemi Legacies…Pemi Family

After four days of as-close-to-perfect summer weather as we can ever remember, spanning from Wednesday to Saturday last week and blessing us with cloudless blue skies, fresh and cooling breezes, and air so clear that the distant hills seemed as close to being on top of you as that next wave just about to break over you at the seashore, we are experiencing a rainy interlude. Actually, given how dry it’s been, the precipitation is welcome—greening our fields, damping down the dust on our dirt thoroughfares, and making today’s a perfect Rest Hour for a nap. Naps this week, in fact, are a particularly good thing. I believe we hinted in our last number that our annual athletic extravaganza with our storied rivals from Camp Tecumseh is coming up this Friday, and amid frenzied preparation for competition in four events (baseball, tennis, soccer, and swimming) in five separate age groups (10-and-under, 11’s, 12’s, 13’s, and 15’s) and equally frenzied “Beat Tecumseh” cheers in the Mess Hall, it’s great to have some southerly wind, grey skies, and drizzle on the cabin roofs working alongside a spectacular roast pork and potatoes lunch in all our bellies to inspire a little restorative slumber.

Athletic Director Charlie Malcolm will take pen in hand to record for you some of the highlights of the coming Big Day, but know for now that the tone he set for the staff at last night’s post-Taps meeting was classic Charlie. While the odds-makers in Las Vegas are not necessarily choosing us (as opposed to their favorable prognosticating prior to our recent and plentiful triumphs over Camps Moosilauke, Kingswood, and Walt Whitman), the day is important and it makes us a better camp, regardless of the final tally. Tecumseh is a sports camp. We are an all-around camp. They build their entire summer around playing us. We build ours in part around playing them, but also around, for example, caving in upstate New York, the annual Gilbert and Sullivan production, the Allagash canoe trip, singing in the Mess Hall and at the Campfire circle, the annual loon and butterfly counts, the Pemi Week Art Show, our weekly serving of Bean Soup, etc., etc. But if they, year after year, are the best competition around, we become better competitors getting ourselves ready for them, doing everything we can to match them on the pitch or on the courts, diamonds, or docks, celebrating the victories we’re hoping for and accepting the defeats that sometimes come our way—shaking their hands afterwards, though; cheering them and their grit and their skill; sitting down with ourselves afterwards and acknowledging that we really did give our all, that we and our teammates really did leave it all on the field, and that (darn it!) we really had fun! Given this somehow stirring but still settling key note speech by Charlie, the coaches are now working with their charges to get them prepared for their time in the sun—this despite the lingering showers. We know you’ll all stay tuned!

In the mean time, Associate Director Kenny Moore has put together some thoughts about one of the demographic rather than programmatic distinctions that we think sets Pemi apart from a lot of other institutions. Kenny, consistent with his role as Director of Alumni Relations, is our contact person for legacy families, one of his special purviews being the recruitment of sons, grandsons, and great-grandsons of Pemi veterans.

Since 1908, the Fauver and Reed families have built a solid foundation, ensuring Pemi’s success long into the future. We believe that Camp Pemigewassett is the oldest residential boys’ camp in the country under the same continuous family ownership, and the central emphasis on family extends into every facet of our camp. Each cabin group, division, occupation, sports team, and hiking group, together with the collective staff, operates similarly to a family unit. All Pemi individuals take on specific roles, provide leadership, care for one another, and take responsibility for their actions.

Pemi creates opportunities for boys to work together within their newly established family groups on a daily basis—say, eating as a group in the Mess Hall, encouraging each other on a mountain trip, or cleaning the cabin for daily Inspection. Beyond that, the interaction that boys have with different Pemi generations is particularly unique and valuable. The annual Gilbert and Sullivan show is one of the best examples of multiple generations coming together. The cast this year for H.M.S. Pinafore ranges in age from 8 to 71 years old, with our youngest campers in Junior 1 practicing and performing alongside venerable camp folks and cast members Tom Reed, Jr. and Larry Davis. Experiences shared across generations allow traditions to carry forward in an extremely organic and effective way, clearly defining who and what we are at Pemi.

Legacy campers—those boys whose fathers, uncles, grandfathers, or even great grandfathers attended Pemi—offer another snapshot of family at Pemigewassett. This year, close to 30% of our enrollment is made up of legacy campers. Will Silloway, a First Session camper, is our first fourth-generation camper (excluding children of the founding Reed and Fauver families, who are on the 5th generation). Will’s father Roger, grandfather Skip, and great-grandfather Stewart (counselor in 1928) were all Pemi boys!

Alumni parents contemplating sending their boys to Pemi often comment on the wave of Pemi nostalgia that comes over them as their sons near camp age. Treasured stories and memories from their own past pave the way for new experiences for their boys. While father and son are not physically at Pemi at the same time (except, perhaps, for drop-off, pick-up, or visiting days for Full Session campers), this type of shared experience is extremely special. Accustomed to singing traditional American, Pemi, and college songs in the Mess Hall in their various respective decades, more than one “extended” family has been known to croon at their own family dining tables when the nostalgic spirit moves them.

I asked a few of our current legacy campers about the lead-up to their first summer at Pemi. What was the conversation like with their fathers and family members before camp? What sort of advice did their forebears give, and how did that prepare them for their own experience at Pemi? What happened when they returned home?

Fischer Burke, son of alumnus Jeff and Kirby Burke, lives just north of San Francisco and is in his second year as a camper at Pemi. “It was exciting,” Fischer reports, “to hear the stories about camp from my dad. He told me about all the fun he had, the camp records he broke, the activities he did.” When Jeff came to pick Fischer up last August at the end of the 2017 season, Jeff had firsthand knowledge of Fischer’s experience. “Dad knew what I was talking about, and that got him excited to tell more stories from his day.” This story swapping continued well into the fall and winter.

Wim Nook, son of alumnus Bill and Melissa Nook and grandson of alumnus William Nook, loved hearing camp stories from his family. “I remember hearing about singing in the Mess Hall, the Polar Bear swim, even though it was different then (a bit more au naturel!), playing baseball, taking Nature with Larry. Everything was still here for my first year.” Wim commented on Pemi’s living history: “The markings on the cabin show me the guys that were here before. To see their names and dates is pretty cool.” [Editorial comment: Wim’s sense of “cool” runs distinctly counter to our official policy against leaving names carved or Magic-Markered into cabins, but we suppose there’s a “Kilroy” in all of us, and it is always fun to know who got here before we did!]

Angus Williams, grandson of alumnus John “Torpedo” Lewis and wife Cathy, son of Cara Lewis, and nephew of alumnus Will Lewis, is in his fourth summer and is one of our fifteen-year-old leaders. Before he first came to camp, Angus remembers hearing about the classic elements of Pemi: singing in the Mess Hall, campfires on Senior beach, and all the sports his grandfather and uncle played. “They told me what Pemi was about, that it was a home away from home, and when I came here I really understood. It seemed like home to me.” He distinctly recalls driving back to his winter home, answering questions from his family about his camp experience. “My grandfather would ask me if we sang this song, and then we would just start singing it together. He asked me if I did my Distance Swim, and when I told him the story, he just laughed. We did so many of the same things.”

This summer, Angus’ cousin Richard Lewis is in his first year as a camper, and Angus loves having him at Pemi. “I really want to be there for Richard in his first year, to help him out if he needs anything.”  These shared camp experiences across multiple generations are an unparalleled way to create bonds between family members.

The traditions and customs of a family or institution bind its members together, giving each individual a strong sense of belonging. The familial nature of Pemi, with its varied and rich traditions, allows worthy and rewarding customs to be passed down to each generation. These customs provide structure for individual members and make it easier for us to be good citizens of the broader world. By living amid the rhythms and rituals of a thoughtful and humane institution, we are included in a community that transcends time.    ~Ken Moore

Many thanks to Kenny for his evocation of the way the Pemi Experience, over the years and generations, can bond not only individuals who share the same genes but also those who share only Polar Bear dips, rousing Mess Hall choruses of “We’re From Camp Pemigewassett,” accomplishing their Distance Swims, and drinking in the sunset view with their cabinmates outside Greenleaf Hut high on the shoulder of Mt. Lafayette. They say it takes a village to raise a child. We count it among our blessings that, in playing our small part in raising children, we somehow manage, decade after decade, to create a village.

–TRJR

 

#4: “Things to Look For!”

2018: Newsletter #4

Pemi’s infamous journal, Bean Soup, is celebrating its 109th season this summer, having come into being in the same year as The Wind in the Willows, “To Build a Fire,” and Dorothy and the Wizard of Oz. As far as we know, it’s the oldest and longest-running such camp publication in the country, and boys and staff alike look forward to its Monday night ladlings with all of the excitement of fans awaiting the next season of Madmen, Game of Thrones, or The Handmaid’s Tale. The only difference is that there’s no binge-watching Bean Soup, as every pot is boiled up fresh every week. Even the editors never know what will go into the pot until hours or even minutes before they take their places on top of their table/bully pulpit at the front of the Lodge.

By now, you’ve noticed that the metaphoric language used to refer to this time-honored Pemi institution (e.g. “ladling,” “boiled up fresh,” and “pot”) are very much in line with the admittedly odd title: Bean Soup. Even as you quietly approve of the way Pemi exposes your sons to figurative language at an early and impressionable age, you may be wondering, “Why Bean Soup?” Honestly, we don’t know. Maybe the best guess is that the first editors were taking a subtle (or not-so-subtle) dig at the monotonous and dollar-conscious menu-planning in Pemi’s early seasons. Whatever the explanation, some regrettable hazing evidently surrounded the first “servings.” Boys new to Pemi, it seems, were assured that the potage about which they had heard so much was very literal soup—and that, in order to down theirs, they would have to carve a wooden spoon for the steaming, after-dinner snack. We weren’t personally there to witness the “gotcha” laughter that must have transpired, but we’re glad that Pemi has grown softer and more humane in this sense at least. That said, some of the lampooning that goes down on a regular basis is often fairly spicy. We continue to believe that satire, when it observes appropriate limits, is a potent tool of collective social awareness, helping people laugh at themselves in a way that makes them better for the chuckles and, finally, parts of a jovial and accepting community. Think best friends making fun of each other playing softball, or at a bridal shower, or at a rehearsal dinner.

Printed, bound up, and distributed to the whole camp family just before the Winter Holidays, Bean Soup has always aimed to be something of an historical record of the season. Look back to the oldest numbers and you’ll find directorial newsletters, accounts of mountain trips and athletic events, reviews of vaudeville and Gilbert and Sullivan shows, rosters of various athletic teams in all of the different age groups, the names of the recipients of our major awards, and so forth. To ring a change on the old New York Times motto, “All the news that fits, we print.” We must admit in this age of charges of “fake news” that Bean Soup (as it is democratically written by editors, general staff, and campers alike) has sometimes allowed zaniness and imagination to take scrupulous verity hostage—yielding something more like The Colbert Report or even SNL than the PBS News Hour. Favorite genres over the years have included supposed transcripts of the directors’ financial schemings to host a new Woodstock, say, or to open an Elvis theme park; or “intercepted letters” from Junior campers who are, sub rosa, Russian spies or feasibility experts looking into a new MacDonald’s franchise in the mess hall; or re-writes of various Pemi or public-domain songs that turn melody to mayhem in all the ways you might expect of zany and creative individuals having a good time at staid decorum’s expense.

Way, way back, servings of Bean Soup began by just diving into the real news of the week. In the fifties and sixties, however, brief “introductions” became increasingly common, taking a minute or two to suggest, for example, that a recent four-day spate of rain had Mr. Jefferis up in the shop secretly building an Ark. One marked initiative of the nineties was to send up the contents of the previous (Sunday) evening’s edifying talk—as, just last week, superlative 2018 editors Harry Cook, Wes Eifler, and Dan Reed made gentle fun of Larry Davis’s hyper-informative but amusing Sunday talk on insects’ place in the food chain, entitled “What Good Are Black Flies?” Their parodic PowerPoint presentation? “What Good Are Juniors?” Last week, this inventive trio had kicked off the Soup with an hilarious edition of Pemi Jeopardy, with categories you probably have to be a Pemi person to appreciate fully: “Wretched Waiters,” “Things that Flush and Things that Don’t,” or “Things that Larry Doesn’t Like.” To be honest, much of today’s Soup is more performative than simply aural, but judging by the volume of laughter generated, it is still preternaturally adept at striking the collective funny bone.

Every ladling of the Soup ends with “Things To Look For,” which first became a staple back in the late fifties. Here’s where the foibles or fixations of a number of our company can be brought to light in a grin-inducing way. If there’s a Senior who tends not to respond to Reveille, the Thing To Look For might be a nuclear alarm clock or a special bunk featuring a water slide into the lake. If a pitcher has had a spectacular game against Camp Moosilauke, the Thing To Look For might be a contract from the Yankees (sure to bring resounding “Boos!” from any Red Sox fans in the room.) If a counselor has notoriously forgotten his Nalgene on a Mt. Cube trip, the Thing To Look For might be a personal drone from the Poland Spring bottling plant. And always—always—the last Thing To Look For is “A better Bean Soup,” that final item chanted out knowingly by every person in the room as they rise from their seats, applaud the editors, and head off to their cabins to get ready for bed. There’s something charming about this weekly acknowledgement that we can, all of us, do a little better next time—even if that particular night’s serving had us weeping repeatedly with laughter.

Oh. One more thing, and then we’ll turn to a couple of example of articles that really do capture the content and feeling of the 2018 season. I just mentioned the collective response of “A better Bean Soup.” For a good half dozen years now, before the editors first stride into the room to thunderous applause, the gathering crowd is as likely as not to fall into the call and response patterns of Loony Toon’s infamous “Duck Season/Rabbit Season” cartoon. Two or three boys will stand up and call out, say, the name of one of our twins—e.g. Ollie Fauver—and eight or ten will pick up the game and leap up shouting the name of Ollie’s brother, Leo. Soon, half of the room (100 souls) will be popping out of their seats to yell “Ollie Fauver,” only to be countered by the other half jumping up to scream “Leo Fauver.” The reciprocal chants run on for some incalculable interval until a pair of staff brothers might supplant the Fauvers: “Per Soderburg”…“Kai Soderburg,” perhaps; or “Matt Kanofsky”…“Andrew Kanofsky.” It can go on for minutes at a time, either until the editors come in and begin the formal proceedings or until, as often happens, all rise spontaneously to sing the National Anthem as though we were all in Fenway Park or Camden Yards rather than the Pemi Lodge. It can all seem a little crazy, but it’s the ritual that has sprung up here as mysteriously and amazingly as mushrooms after a summer rain. It’s what we do, and everybody seems to love it.

Now, let’s turn to a couple of “real,” “substantial,” “historical” accounts—the items that, once all the laughter has died away, will remind readers come December of all of the great and substantial things that have happened at Pemi in 2018. The first is from our wonderful third-year Nature staffer, Scout Brink, who reports on one of the life-changing trips that sally forth from Pemi every year.

CAVING 2018 

On July 2nd, in the year 2018, nine of our bravest Pemi 15’s embarked on a trip into the depths of the Earth. With Larry Davis, Reed Harrigan, and Scout Brink as their trusted leaders, the group traversed over 6,000 feet of caves within the Schoharie County of New York. Our departure from home base was slightly delayed due to an overactive dumpster and a blind spot behind the van. Our men, however, would not be deterred; a replacement van was drafted and we were able to head out around 10:30 AM.

We stopped for lunch on the way to our base-camp, which was at Larry’s sister Emily’s house. Once we arrived at her place, we put our gear on and set out for our first adventure: Knox Cave—a wonderful introduction to caving, as the entrance was a slanted rock that we had to slide down, followed by a 15-foot ladder. Once in The Big Room, we discussed how jointing of the Earth’s crust can cause rocks to collapse and passages to develop into large caves. From here, we split up into two groups. Four campers went with Scout to The Dungeon, where we had to climb up the wall and then crawl through a hole to a secret room. Our campers came in waves of four to find this secret room, but only after they had army-crawled through a small tunnel to look down the infamous Gun Barrel. Our first mission was exceedingly successful for several reasons. First, Hisashi [Lonske] overcame his fear of heights, earning the new title of Hero-shi, and Angus [Williams] saved an amphibious friend who had been washed into the cave.

Back at Emily’s, we could relax with a delicious chicken dinner and s’mores over a campfire for dessert. Larry showed how proud he was of our campers’ accomplishments by telling a secret campfire story, just before the storm came. Lightning began to flash in the distance, and we made our way to our sleeping bags. There was a bat singing “Strangers in the night” with us in the attic where we bunked, which was no surprise considering that Emily (a world-renowned caver) is an avid bat lover.

Our final day began at 7:00 AM, with an amazing buffet-style breakfast, with juice-tube-straw-thingies, to fuel us for our double-cave extravaganza. On July 3rd, we dominated Schoharie and Clarksville Caves, both of which were created by water saturated with carbon dioxide dissolving limestone as it followed the paths of least resistance, through joints and faults within the crust. Because of this, our mission was to wade through an underground stream, and as we got up to our waist in 40-degree water, our men got tough skin and took it in stride. Both caves ended at sumps, which are areas in a cave where the ceiling drops down and the tunnel becomes so full of water that it would require the use of scuba gear for passage (which we didn’t try!) It was here, at the sumps’ beginning, that we sat in a circle, turned off our headlamps, and experienced total darkness!

All three missions were deemed successful, and we celebrated at Chelsea’s Royal Diner.  Eli Brennan, Angus Williams, Ailer Thomas, Matthew McDonough, William Ackerman, Hisashi Lonske, Quinn Markham, Ian Hohman, and Mitchell Chin all became better men throughout those two days.  They toughed through phantom smelly water, hornets, clogged toilets, and came back to Camp Pemigewassett wiser, more patient men, with a new appetite for adventure.

And now we move to a poetic but excruciatingly factual account of a recent soccer match, penned by Trip Specialist John “JP” Gorman, who moonlights as a football coach. JP’s effort confirms that there’s something in the Gaelic blood that lends itself to verse of an epic sort. (Please note that the names included in [brackets] are there only for informational purposes and are not to be sounded as you read either silently or aloud! There is true, metrical music in JP’s lines!)                                               

15’s SOCCER VS MOOSE

P-E-M-I Sis-Boom-Bah
This game belonged to Isaiah [Abbey].
When Pemi toiled to conquer Moose,
He decided to let loose—
First one, then two, and finally three,
Each met by cheers from ol’ Pemi.
A hat trick on the day for him,
But this was more a Pemi win.

From Gordo [Robbins] standing tall in goal,
To Andrew Roth with each through ball,
We showed true class with grit and skill,
And Luca Tschanz prepared to kill
Any soul who tried to score!
Our defense held, a solid core,
Then [Sebastian] Soto cutting from the flank
Let loose a rocket that will rank,
Among the best that Pemi’s seen.
He’s so much skill for just fifteen.

One not enough, he struck again,
Enabled by the other ten,
Who moved and passed with poise and grace.
[Luca] McAdams touch and Tristan’s [Land’s] pace
Brought only grief to each Moose boy,
Then aided by Coach Malcolm’s ploy:
He played the squad’s trump card of depth.
With each fresh sub the Moose team wept—

First H.Mo [Henry Moore], Bennett [Braden], Cam [McManus] and [Eliot] Jones,
Then Simon [Taylor] shook them to their bones.
Braden [Richardson] followed, [Nick] Ridgeway, too,
With [Timmy] Somp and Teddy [Applebaun] in the groove.
Marshall [Nielsen] held at left full back,
Helped of course by mighty “Wack”—
Will Ackerman that is, you see.
Our centre back of steel is he.

[Jacob] Smalley started number nine
With Nelson [Snyder] sprinting down the line.
Moose had no chance; we could not fail!
With [Coach Will] Meinke’s tactics we prevailed.
They did strike once, from a P.K.,
But all-in-all a Pemi day.
So P-E-M-I Sis-Boom-Bah!
We’re coming for you Tecumseh!!

Tecumseh Day, against our ancient rivals from Lake Winnepesauke, is indeed coming up in just a couple of weeks—the unquestioned highlight of our athletic season. We’ll offer in these very pages a full account of this annual encounter in a coming number, but for now, let us just say that JP’s poem is a great example of the tony-ness of Bean Soup over the years. In a world increasingly dominated by fast-paced, video-based narrative and sound bites, it’s refreshing to witness on a weekly basis a medium that still celebrates finished, grammatical, and amusing language. I owe a lot of being a writer myself to Bean Soup, to which I contributed as a camper well before I had any dreams of becoming an editor. Storied American novelist Rick Moody’s first published works were in the pages of BS, where the satiric incisiveness of The Ice Storm and other Moody classics was already appearing and being nurtured by an appreciative audience. And this year, Dexter Wells, son of novelist Susan Choi, is regularly contributing pieces that read more like something from Trevor Noah’s atelier than from a 13-year-old camper. In sum, while Bean Soup entertains us and makes us laugh, we like to think it also makes us more appreciative of our language’s capacity to embody and proclaim wit and wisdom. So, as the editors always conclude their Introduction, may it always be joyously urged, “On with the Soup!”

–TRJR

 

 

 

 

#3: The Elephant in the Room

It’s a spectacular Monday afternoon—temperature in the low eighties, humidity at thirty percent, breeze out of the northwest at twelve miles per hour, and the sky a cerulean blue with nary a cloud in sight. As we sit here in the West Wing, the action around the ping-pong tables in the Lodge is as lively as at Wimbledon, minus the strawberries and cream. Tennis balls plunk out on our own courts (red clay rather than green grass), and the water-ski boat is growling down the lake with Dylan Vigue in tow, tossing up modest rooster tails on his slalom ski. Last week was a great one, despite the heat, including over a dozen challenging mountain hikes, a full Fourth of July program (including fireworks for the first time since 1922!), two canoe trips, and a winning day of competition against our neighbors at Camp Moosilauke. There are dozens of new occupations slated for this week, Pinafore has definitely weighed anchor and is warping out of the harbor, Uppers 3, 4, and 5 will all be headed up to the Appalachian Mountain Club’s splendidly-situated Greenleaf Hut (high on the shoulder of 5200-foot Mt. Lafayette) in the coming days, and Saturday brings both our first parents’ visiting day for full-session boys and a full day’s competition with Camp Kingswood. Oh, and did we mention that the food this summer is perhaps the best we can remember? In short, 2018 is shaping up very sweetly.

This week, Director Danny Kerr fires up his MacBook Pro and confirms our sense that Pemi really is a kind of Renaissance camp, something that we feel gives everyone a chance to carry on in an area they already know and love and to feel both comfortable and inspired to extend themselves in various novel directions. With no further ado, here’s Danny.

Greetings from the sun-drenched shores of Lower Baker Pond! While I am no scientist, I do know that the Theory of Relativity states, among other things, that time is relative, which helps explain how we can possibly be heading into the last week of Session One and making plans for the Birthday Banquet, first-session awards, and the arrival of our second-half boys. The moments, hours, and days slip by in the blink of a smiling eye! Indeed, we look forward to Week Three and all of the enjoyment it will bring. We are so pleased to be spending this time with your sons!

One of the things I am frequently asked by families who are first learning about Pemi is, “What type of camp are you?” The question always makes me think of the old story about four blind men who lived in a village. One day the other villagers told them, “Hey, there is a new and strange creature called an elephant in the village today.” They had no idea what an elephant was but they bravely declared, “Even though we will not be able to see what an elephant is, let us at any rate go and feel what an elephant is.” Every one of them touched the elephant and was asked to describe it in terms of what they felt. “The elephant is a pillar,” said the first man, who had touched his leg. “Oh, no! It is like a rope,” said the second man, who had touched the tail. “Oh, no! It is like a thick branch of a tree,” said the third man, who had touched the trunk of the elephant. “It is like a big hand fan,” said the fourth man, who touched the ear.

They began to argue about the elephant, each blind man sure that he knew best. Then a wise man overheard them and asked, “What is the matter?” They said, “We cannot agree on what the elephant is like.” The wise man calmly explained to them, “All of you are right. The reason every one of you is telling it differently is because each of you touched a different part of the animal. So, actually the elephant is like all those things together.”

My immediate thought is that Pemi is like that elephant. If I walked into the Nature Lodge or Art World and heard the instructions that Deb Kure, Larry Davis, or Deb Pannell were giving in their occupation, I might say Pemi is a like a place of learning, for great instruction in art or the ecology of the area. If I went down to the soccer fields or tennis courts and heard Charlie Malcolm or Chris Johnson instructing a group of athletes in the finer points of soccer or tennis, and if I noticed the level of play there, I might insist Pemi is a sports academy. Could this level of instruction really happen at a boys’ camp? If I sat in the West Wing and listened to a rehearsal for the annual Gilbert and Sullivan performance and heard the instructions that Director Jonathan Verge is giving, I would surely think Pemi is a music or theatre performance camp. If I came upon Dan Reed discussing a list of required equipment for a high-mountain hike in the Whites, I might think Pemi is an outdoor adventure camp. If I happened upon a conversation between one of our counselors or a fifteen-year-old Senior and a younger or new camper trying to find his way at Pemi, I would think we are a place for boys to learn and practice leadership skills where learning about how to be a fine young man is the paramount objective. And, if I sat by the campfire on a Saturday night, watching another amazing sunset glimmer on Lower Baker Pond, and seeing the close friendships, spirit, and traditions, I might think that Pemi is a family, where lessons about kindness, community, and love are the great, overarching objectives.

Of course, all of these ideas about what Pemi is are correct. Pemi is a place where boys can learn how to be artists and scientists, athletes and performers, community leaders and loyal friends and companions. Pemi boys grow in confidence, stretch themselves in ways they never imagined, learn to thrive independently, live joyfully in an unplugged community, and make friendships that last a lifetime. No wonder so many Pemi boys and counselors want to return to our little valley each summer. A summer at Pemi isn’t just one thing. Like the elephant, it is many things to many people. As we all know, there are countless ways to be a Pemi boy, and yet all that we do is guided by our traditions and a set of core values and beliefs that help us uphold our mission.

The boys in the trenches had a few opinions on Pemi’s identity as well! I asked four of them what they thought about the question, “What type of camp is Pemi?” and here is what they reported.

Lucas Gales, a sixth-year camper from Vermont in Upper Four, said, “We’re kind of a mix of a sports and nature camp, but we also do so many other things! I love the variety each day brings!”

Grady Gore, a first-year camper from New Jersey in Junior Four, said that he thinks Pemi is an “outdoor camp with a great deal of creativity.” Grady reported that he’s been to “art, music, and tennis occupations,” but that it’s “so cool that we can always go to the Nature Lodge or anywhere else we like.”

Ollie Schiff-Stein, a third-year camper from New York City, said that while Pemi is an “all-around camp,” he thinks the trip program makes Pemi “kind of a trip camp,” based on his very recent experience of going on a “gnarly” three-day Uppers’ trip in the Pemigewassett Wilderness, where the group “summited seven mountains and went 25 miles in total!”

And finally, Dexter Wells, in his sixth year from New York, said, “I get frustrated when my friends at home think that Pemi is a sports camp based on the fact that we are an all-boys camp.” Dexter said one of the things he loves most about Pemi is, “seeing the starting pitcher from the baseball team also spend time at nature-photography and then go on a hike that afternoon!”

One of my time-tested beliefs is that there are many ways to be a Pemi camper, and nothing I have heard or seen thus far this summer makes me worry that this maxim has changed or will change anytime soon! So here’s to a wonderful final week for our first-session boys—and to an amazing final four weeks for our full-session boys and the second-session boys who will be joining us very soon.

We eagerly second that motion. Thanks, Danny, for your revealing folkloric perspective on the programmatic diversity that makes Pemi what it is. Thankfully, our boys are not completely in the position of those four visually-challenged villagers. On a daily basis, they see in unmistakable ways the full variety of things going on at camp, watching their compadres throw themselves into an ever-changing array of offerings and then energetically following suit. With that, farewell for a week. We’ll be back in touch very soon!

–TRJR

 

 

#2: Pemi’s Program…On A Roll!

(July 1) – Greetings from the unusually steamy shores of Lower Baker, where the thermometer has just nudged up into the nineties for the first time in recent memory—not to drop below that decade, midday, until this coming Friday. But then any of you in the Northeast will be coping with the same torrid conditions, while the rest of you will be reading about them in your newsfeeds. Waterfront Head Charlotte Jones has responded by organizing a camp-wide swim meet for the entire afternoon, and we expect even the most inveterate land-lurkers will be drawn to the competition, whether or not they have any ambition to become the next Michael Phelps. Danny Kerr was slated to conduct Sunday’s Weekly Meeting in the Lodge, but the prospect of casting his pearls before row upon row of sweating boys and staff led him to postpone until the mercury drops a mite. Instead, Tom Reed is slated to reinstitute his “Chillin’ with Lit” series down at the Senior Beach at about 8, when the campers will prove yet again that listening to a retired professor read short stories is entirely worth it as long as you’re able to sit, up to your neck, in the gently lapping waves. (Actually, past victims report that Tom’s wonted choices aren’t all that bad, and might actually help out with future SATs.) So, given tonight’s cookout supper was always planned to be outside, our chances for surviving this first scorching day seem excellent. As for tomorrow, we’ll exercise good judgment when it comes to physical activity, drink plenty of water, slather on the sunscreen, and perhaps even consider “Chillin’ with Bean Soup.”

Meanwhile, the 2018 season is off to a great start on all programmatic fronts—sports, trips, nature, and music and the arts. Yesterday saw ten Baker Valley Tournaments in five age groups at three different camps: four tourneys in basketball (10s, 11s, 13s, and 15s), two in ultimate Frisbee (13s and 15s), two in soccer (10s and 12s), one in baseball (11s), and one in lacrosse (12s). On the trails, lakes, and rivers, eighteen cabin groups have enjoyed one sort of trip or another. Lowers 3 and 4, Uppers 1 and 2, and Uppers 4 and 5 all summited Mt. Cube, a sporty 2800-foot peak right at the head of our valley and climbed by virtually all Pemi-ites since our opening season. Lowers 1, 5, and 6 and Upper 3 experienced elegant al fresco dining at the Pine Forest, just a canoe’s ride across the lake from the Lodge. Meanwhile Uppers 4 and 5 and Senior 3 canoed across to the storied Flat Rock Café (so named after the huge, table-like granite boulder hunkered on the far lakeshore.) A select group of Seniors joined Athletic Director Charlie Malcolm for a dash up Mt. Moosilauke (4800 feet and the largest free-standing mountain in the state), some of the same souls are currently out on the Connecticut River with Nick Davini and Fiona Walker as part of their training for the upcoming five-day canoe trip on Maine’s Allagash Waterway, and the first backpacking trip of the year completed the scenic but challenging Kinsman Range in what turned out to be thrashing rain (details below.)

The Nature program has sponsored open trips to the Palermo Mine, a world-class site for various rare minerals, and also to the Quincy Bog Nature Reserve for a talk on environmental change. Week One’s “occupations” (as we inexplicably but quaintly call our instructional activities) included Ponds and Streams, Animal Evidence (just what it sounds like), Birding, Junior Environmental Exploration, Wilderness Survival (not quite as exacting as it sounds), Environmental Sculpture, Butterflies and Moths, Junior Nature Book, Photo-Darkroom, Rocks and Minerals, Plant Printmaking, Wild Foods, Exhibit Making, Photo-Digital, Wetland Ecology, Spider Sculpture, and Nature Drawing. Jonathan Verge, Teiko Pelick, and the other staff in the Drama and Music program have offered Ukelele, Acting, Piano, Advanced Guitar, Band Camp, Pemi Chorus, Soundpainting (ask your sons to explain, but it’s marvelous), Beginning Guitar, Improv, Musical Theater, and A Capella. Oh, they have also held auditions for this year’s Gilbert and Sullivan production, H.M.S. Pinafore. Actually, the cast list just went up today, so let’s grab a moment to talk about this annual highlight of the Pemi dramatic and musical season.

We have been doing G&S shows at Pemi since the early 1950s, when Betsy Reed (mother of Tom Reed, Jr. and grandmother of Dan Reed) teamed up with former Camp Tecumseh and legendary Pemi counselor Scott Withrow to launch the first Pinafore. We have since mounted Trial By Jury, The Pirates of Penzance, The Mikado, and Iolanthe, most recently the last three in rotation with Pinafore. (There has admittedly been some talk of late about the cultural appropriateness of The Mikado in the twenty-first century, so whether or not it will be next year’s show we can’t currently say.) It’s hard to be objective about the aesthetic merits of our own dramatic productions, but more than a few outsiders have assured us that what we offer up every August is well beyond what anyone could reasonably expect of a seven week camp for boys, let alone one that doesn’t focus centrally on the arts. If you haven’t already graced our audience and if your son happens to be in the cast, we hope you can be with us on the evening of August 7th or 8th to give us your considered opinion. For now, here’s the cast list, all but complete, save for a few TBDs.

Cast as Josephine, the fetching daughter of the Pinafore’s captain who unfortunately falls in love with what would seem to be the lowliest swab on the boat, is veteran staff member Michaela Frank, erstwhile instructor in ukelele and basketball. Interestingly for the moment, three counselors and one camper are in the running to be her nautical beau, Ralph—pronounced “Rafe”—Rackstraw: Nick Bertrand, Nick Davini, Will Meinke, and Charlie Bell. How Jonathan and Teiko will choose among the four is yet to be seen, but Michaela is reportedly thrilled to have four handsome aspirants to her make-believe hand. “It’s a little like being The Bachelorette,” she claims, “but in a Victorian dress.” Josephine’s father, Captain Corcoran, will be played by Nick Paris, although it’s not clear that Nick is yet aware that the play will reveal him to be one of a pair of accidentally switched-in-the-nursery babies and that his resulting fall from Captain to Able Seaman will be as meteoric as Johnny Manziel’s. Cast as mixed-up (and mixing-up) nursemaid, dear Little Buttercup, will be Braden Richardson. Buttercup makes her living selling the Pinafore’s crew all manner of knick-knacks, what-nots, and thingamabobs, so Braden has been apparently been reading Jeff Bezos’s forthcoming biography to prepare.

Also very much interested in Josephine is the high-and mighty Sir Joseph Porter K.C.B., a coveted role secured this year by Eli Brennan, who proved in last season’s Iolanthe that he can play arrogant presumption to perfection—and that’s just what the role calls for. In this era of governmental cabinet members possessed of questionable experience, it will be interesting to see how Sir Joseph’s patter song goes down—the one in which he confesses that his only qualification for being “ruler of the Queen’s Navee” was his time in a legal partnership. All we know is that Eli will perform it with panache, ably assisted by Scout Brink as Sir Joseph’s rather snooty Cousin Hebe. Last but hardly least, Nature Director Larry Davis will play perennial malcontent Dick Deadeye, easily one of Gilbert and Sullivan’s most Voldemortian roles.

However good its leads, Pemi G&S productions are always carried by their choruses, and this year’s promise to be exceptional. Sir Joseph goes nowhere without his voluminous following of Sisters, Cousins, and Aunts, and Eli will be able to count on the support of David Kriegsman, Oliver Giraud, Owen Wyman, Luke Larabie, Noah Anderson, Christopher Ramanathan, Jake Landry, Elijah Dorroh, Jacob Kunkel, Cole Valente, and Ned Roosevelt as his plenteous petticoated relations. Sure to be ogling them with an appropriate blend of passion and politeness will be the sailors’ chorus of Nathan Gonzales, Augie Tanzosh, Aslan Peters, Thaddeus Howe, Felix Nusbaum, Teo Boruchin, Owen Gagnon, Henry Moore, Nelson Snyder, Andreas Geffert, Ben Herdeg, Dexter Wells, Lucas Gales, Nate Broll, and Julian Hernandez-Webster, with John Kingdon providing his steadying leadership as Boatswain’s Mate Bill Backstay. In sum, we can’t wait to make our way down to the quay come August and watch Pinafore 2018 set sail. It’s bound to be a fantastic voyage.

Speaking of fantastic voyages, we’ll close with a brief report on the Kinsman Traverse mentioned above, penned by co-leader Fiona Walker. To be honest, it contains a few examples of things not going quite as they were planned, but the judgment shown by the two trip leaders and, just as impressively, the pluck and determination shown by the boys makes it a worthy account to pass along.

Pemi’s 2018 Trip Program got off to a great start last week with our first 3-day (turned 2-day) trip of the season. Led by trip specialists J.P Gorman and Fiona Walker, our party was made up of seven gnarly Lowers, Emmett Itoi, Jack Greenberg, Hayden Garbarini, Tristan Roth, Brian Wolfson, George Devlin, and Jacob Kunkel. We managed to conquer the Kinsmans, North and South respectively, through what turned out to be trying conditions. Day one of the 3-day was a fairly easy and simple day. We left camp following lunch and hiked four miles up the Reel Brook Trail, taking about three and a half hours to reach the Eliza Brook Shelter. The weather was perfect—not too cold or hot—and we were able to enjoy a nice hot meal of stuffing and mashed potatoes and called it an early night. Unfortunately, at around 9 PM, it started absolutely pouring rain, seriously taxing all of our careful waterproofing efforts. Despite our best efforts, we left the Eliza Brook Shelter Thursday morning with an extra ten pounds of water weight added to each of our packs. The boys, however, had great attitudes and trudged along the trail as if there were blue skies shining above us. At around 11:45 AM, we made it to the top of South Kinsman, where we decided to unpack and have lunch, admiring the intermittent view across Franconia Notch amid the roiling clouds. At around 2:00 PM we made it to North Kinsman. At this point the rain and winds had not given us a break, and with the boys pretty wet despite their high spirits, J.P and I decided it would be best to get the boys down to the bottom of the mountain, adding our planned day-3 miles to our completed day-2 miles. Once we got down the infamous Fishin’ Jimmy Trail, we stopped at the Lonesome Lake AMC Hut, where the boys refilled their water bottles and enjoyed some well-deserved Swedish Fish. By that time it was 4:30 and we planned to meet the van at 5:30 at the Lafayette Campground. Unfortunately, J.P and I miscalculated which trail would get us to the trailhead most directly, and when we apologized to the boys for adding even more mileage to a long day, they all had incredible attitudes and simply responded, “Woohoo! Let’s hike down the mountain!” One of the benefits of the delay, by the way, was that we stopped at the local McDonald’s for supper! Overall we hiked sixteen miles, twelve of them on Thursday in the pouring rain and wind. Watch out Uppers, this may be the gnarliest group of Lowers I know!

With that engaging account—confirmation of Pemi’s belief in full disclosure—we’ll close this week’s number. More to come in seven days’ time. Meanwhile, thanks for lending an ear (or eye).

—TRJR