Pemi Newsletter #2, 2019
Hello, once again from Camp Pemigewassett, where we are now over a week into the 2019 season. Despite an unusually wet spring in northern New England, our weather so far has been fantastic: warm, sunny days, punctuated by spectacular sunsets, fading into cool, star-lit nights. Lower Baker Pond, which three weeks ago hinted to a brave swimmer how a real polar bear feels paddling between ice floes, has quickly warmed to a point where our obligatory Week-One “polar bear dip” isn’t unlike jumping into a 300-acre spa, sans the water jets. With an excellent staff taking hold in the cabins and instructional areas, with plentiful and tasty food in the mess hall, and with a full cadre of campers throwing themselves into the season with energy and commitment, life up here is good. Let’s take the opportunity to say a few words about what’s been happening.
Pemi’s trip program is the most weather-dependent component of camp operations, and first-year Trip Director Sam Papel has made wonderful use of the days so far available to him. A half-dozen cabins have already enjoyed cookout suppers across the lake at Flat Rock and Pine Forest, a pair of Junior cabins have overnighted at the Adirondack shelter up on Pemi Hill, and cabin day trips have summited Mt. Cube, Mt. Moosilauke, and Rattlesnake Mountain (so named not for its herpetological population but rather for its profile seen from afar.) This last peak was climbed by Junior One and Lake Tent in our annual “Bookends Outing,” as our oldest Seniors (Elliot Jones, Nelson Snyder, and Timmy Somp) teamed up with the cabin counselors to squire our youngest Juniors (Gray Axel, Will Bartlett, John Hood, Richard Rider, Rudi Wei, and Denver Yancey) to the bald rocky top in a very admirable big-brotherly way.
As for more ambitious trips, last Tuesday and Wednesday saw Trip Leaders Will Katcher and Johnny Saras leading a group up craggy Mt. Chocorua, reputed to be the most photographed mountain in the Northeast. A stalwart Lower Intermediate crew of Porter Hutchinson, Chris Cappillo, Philip Fauver, Will Jones, Charlie Parkes, Priester Davis, Henry Sawin, and Emmett Itoi enjoyed the trip thoroughly, returning to camp tired but happy and full of engaging tales from the trail. Meanwhile, Nate Blumenthal and Pierce Haley traversed the southern end of the lofty Presidential Range with an Upper group made up of Davis Bachner, Julian Berk, Connor Emmert, Stefan Luedtke, Dalton Smith, Dez Starks, Fernando Hokello, and Daniel Jones. They climbed up out of Crawford Notch, one of the world’s most signal U-shaped glacial valleys, up to the Crawford Ridge, spending the night at the hyper-scenic Naumann Tentsite. The next day took them past Mizpah Springs AMC Hut and then up over Mts. Pierce, Eisenhower, and Monroe before they dropped down the waterfall-festooned Ammonosuc Trail to the Cog Railway Base Station and their pick-up. Few Pemi backpacking trips could cover such remarkable terrain over such a short stretch of time, and these boys, too, returned for Wednesday supper tired but happy.
The central pillar of Pemi’s varied program—this year as every other—consists of the wide range of instructional offerings we teach on a daily basis, quaintly named “Occupations.” While some camps run their campers through a pre-established set of activities, often in lock-step with their cabin mates, we allow boys to choose what they’ll be doing individually. While they are always encouraged to go further with established interests, we also try to create a climate in which they feel comfortable trying things that are completely new to them. Another significant difference between Pemi and our neighbors is that boys choose occupations for a full week at a time, working their way through thoughtfully pre-planned curricula in each area. To bring in an academic parallel, it’s as though they’re not just attending lectures; they’re taking courses. One extension of this principle is that most of our occupations are taught at beginning, intermediate, and advanced levels, so boys can stick with one area and really advance their skills and knowledge over the weeks and years. With this “expertise-building” shape in mind, our offerings evolve over the course of the season—in the Nature Program, for example, responding to each summer’s cycles as both flora and fauna emerge, thrive, and disappear. We thought it might be instructive, though, just to pass along the list of activities we offered in Week One.
In Art and Wood Shop: Dragon Eyes, Name Game, Ninja Rock Climbing, Sea Serpents, and Shop (Juniors and Lowers);
In Music and Drama: Auditioning and Gilbert and Sullivan, Character Building for Actors, Guitar (beginning and advanced), Piano (beginning and advanced), Mindfulness, Music Playing, Song Writing, Sound Painting, Stagecraft, and Ukelele;
In Nature/Photography: Animal Evidence, Birding (beginning), Butterflies and Moths (beginning), Environmental Sculpture, Junior Environmental Exploration, Junior Nature Book, Photography (advanced digital, beginning digital, beginning darkroom), Ponds and Streams, Rocks and Minerals, and Wild Foods;
In Sports and Athletics: Archery (Junior, beginning, intermediate/advanced), Baseball (for three separate age groups), Basketball (for three separate age groups), Canoeing (Lowers 1&2, Lowers 3&4, and Seniors Allagash prep), Lacrosse (for two separate age groups), Rugby, Sailing (Junior, beginning, and intermediate), Soccer (for three separate age groups), Swimming (instructional, Juniors 1&2, and Juniors 3&4), Tennis (for four separate age groups), Ultimate Frisbee (for two separate age groups), Wakeboarding, and Waterskiing (Junior, beginning and slalom).
Pemi celebrated the Fourth of July in perfectly clement weather, very much unlike the rainy conditions prevailing in Washington D.C. Tom Reed, Jr. kicked off the morning with observations in the mess hall that the flag we were all about to salute as it rose outside to the colors featured fifty stars all of the same hue, “united” in that fact just as the states they represent have long been united by common goals and interests. Sadly, he noted, hardening divisions between “red” and “blue” at many levels of state and national discourse and decision-making have troubled our union in ways that the vast majority of adults would love to rectify but that we seem to be struggling to bring to pass. Our brightest hope at the moment, Tom suggested, may well lie with the youth of America and the broader globe beyond, among whom the students from Parkland, Florida and Greta Thunberg and Malala Yousafzi stand out as inspiring examples of how those who have yet to grow into power can sometimes see and speak with a clarity and transcendent good sense that can elude those “in the trenches.” He urged the campers, as they were about to stand at respectful attention on the porch while Old Glory ran up the flagpole, to think about taking on the full mantle of citizenship sooner rather than later and to do their best to export the good social lessons they learn at Pemi to their school-year communities. Following that, we natives all joined with those British brothers and sisters in attendance this year in exemplifying identity in difference—singing, to one melody, both “America the Beautiful” and “God Save the Queen.”
For the second or third year running, Occupations ran as normal in the morning, but the sunny and warm afternoon featured the annual Fourth of July Parade (aka “The Pee-rade”), lately less a procession than a series of impromptu skits performed by each cabin group before a discerning panel of judges. This year’s offerings were, as always, a lively and inventive set of enactments of one or another aspect of global, national, or Pemi history. Garnering first prizes this year were the Upper Juniors, with a tribute to Nature Head Larry Davis (retiring this summer from that position after fifty years of stellar and brilliantly innovative service.) Stealing the act were Henry Shapiro as Larry Davis and River Hambleton as the sunny and sometimes frenetic Deb Kure, now assuming the mantle from Larry after years of inspiring service of her own. Among the Lower Lowers, Cabin One took top honors, with a stirring reenactment of the entire Battle of Fort McHenry in two minutes. As for Upper Lowers, Cabin Four carried the day with a skit called “Ever Since the Incident,” documenting the recent impact on our staff and their shopping habits of a recent diatribe against Walmart delivered by Drama Head Jonathan Verge. Philip Fauver was truly masterful as Pemi’s own Dr. Phil, sorting out and prescribing for those folks traumatized by Jonathan’s scathing anti-capitalist critique. Upper Three returned to Larry’s long and excellent run at Pemi with a fact-packed but hilarious “tribute quiz,” and Senior Two dusted their neighbors with a “Miss Pemi” dating show focused on what various staff members (and Miss Pemi suitors) might do to make ours an even better camp. Overall, the Pee-rade was an exemplar for witty invention, apt performance, and timely completion.
After supper we all retreated to the Junior Camp, where impresario Donald Turvill had arranged for the annual Fourth of July Vaudeville Show to unfold, al fresco, on the Junior Point. With the tranquil lake as a backdrop, third-year camper and guitar master Luke Larabie kicked the show off with a Jimi-Hendrix-style rendition of the National Anthem. Those who missed Woodstock fifty years ago might well have thought they were magically there, as the crowd sprawled on the grass enjoying the varied acts as the evening deepened. Other great camper performances included River Hambleton with King George’s “You’ll Be Back” from Hamilton, Michaela Frank’s ukelele group playing “My Girl,” Luke again (with Donald and Danny Kerr) in a three-way string jam, and Liam Stephan with a funky guitar blues. Staff members Jonathan Verge and Sabrina Lawrence showed truly professional chops with two vocal performances of their own, backed wonderfully by pianist Taiko Pelick. And closing the show proper, with the perennial crowd favorite “The Little People,” were counselors Matt Cloutier and Henry Day, experiencing a Pemi day as abbreviated as their foreshortened bodies. As milk, cereal, shaving cream, razors, toothbrushes, toothpaste, quiche, and a half dozen other materials and foodstuffs went everywhere but where they should have gone (the “arms” of their concealed co-counselors showed them no mercy whatsoever!), the crowd roared by turns their incredulous horror and full approval. And so, with a grandiose fireworks display orchestrated by Buildings and Grounds Head Reed Harrigan, ably aided and abetted by Nick Davini and Danny Kerr, a near perfect Pemi Fourth came to a rousing conclusion. Thanks to all who made it such a great day! Including all of the Founding Fathers (and Mothers!)
Well, let’s leave it at that. This past weekend featured some rousing sporting events with our Baker Valley neighbors, but we leave it to your sons to fill you in more succinctly and sensibly than we would probably be able to manage. Tune in next week, though, for more news (of the true variety) from our happy little corner of the Granite State.