#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

 

 

One thought on “#3: The Elephant in the Room

  1. I so look forward to these newsletters every week. I read every word! So well written and gives the parents and anyone not there a perfect image of what summers at Pemi are if we can not experience them first hand!!! Grateful!!

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