Monday, July 30, 2012

Geronimo with Forest!

Tom Cometa's son

Tom Cometa, whose glory Frost Valley years where in the 1980s, has a son Andrew here this session, in Lenape. Andrew introduced himself to me today at lunch. He looks so much like Tom did back in the day!

Al Chrone, helped Wawayanda in early FV days, has died

Al Chrone, long associated with the Westfield NJ YMCA, has died. In the early days of Wawayanda at Frost Valley, from 1958 through the early 1960s, Al worked hard to enroll Westfield and Westfield-area children into camp sessions here and also at Camp Speers (later Speers/Eljabar).

Below is a 1961 newspaper article reporting that the first three camp sessions at Wawayanda were full and that there were a few openings for fourth session. It was Al Chrone who announced this from his position at the Westfield Y. (For a slightly better image of the article, click on the image below.)

Al Chrone was beloved by the people at Speers-Eljabar and here is the text of the announcement made by them:

Dear Friends,
I am deeply saddened to inform you of the passing of a beloved member of the Camp Family, Al Chrone. Al was a young YMCA program director who in 1947-8 helped recruit the first group of campers to participate in what was at the time the first racially integrated YMCA Camp in the Y system. In subsequent years, Al became the Camp Director of Camp Speers. He and his family lived in the rustic cabin that sat above the lake each summer. Campers of that era often recall Al fishing during the evenings off the dock below the Director's Cabin. As "Taps" was played by the Camp Bugler, he would reel in his fishing line and go make his nightly rounds of the camp. Al later became the CEO of the Madison (NJ) YMCA where he continued to promote Camp Speers-Eljabar YMCA and summer camp experience for kids.
Al and his wife, Rae have been lifelong supports of Camp Speers-Eljabar YMCA. The Chrone Cabin now stands at the location of the old Director's Cabin and our annual award for program excellence is named in his honor. The Al Chrone Program Service Award is given to the group or individual who have supported, enhanced, and enriched our programs through their participation and leadership. The most recent recipient of the Al Chrone Program Service Award is Bob Lomauro, CEO of the Somerset Hills YMCA.
I was blessed to work with Al at the Madison YMCA during my college years as a part time sports instructor and then as an intern. At one point during my Junior year of college internship at the Madison Y, Al encouraged me to work at a sleep away camp as a way to really understand the depth and breadth of YMCA work. Of course, he pointed me to Camp Speers-Eljabar YMCA. I'm happy to give Al all the credit for helping me to connect with Camp Speers-Eljabar YMCA - a connection that has lasted all of my adult life and enriched my life beyond description.
There will be no funeral service. In lieu of flowers, the family would appreciate donations in Al's name to any YMCA of your choice or to Bayshore Home Keystyle Living at 512 Bayshore Rd. Nokomis FL 34275. Cards and letters of sympathy may be sent to Rae Chrone 324 Dolphin Shores Circle Nokomis, FL 34275.

Glenn Kreismer

I've mentioned Glenn Kreismer here before. A long-time camper from years ago (1970s), he re-connected a few years ago and is now (for session 3 this summer) sending three of his children to camp. I saw him yesterday as he dropped them off. This morning he wrote me a note:
Attached is the photo of your "68" - "75" alumnus [Glenn himself, that is] pointing to his signed oar and wood log in your administration building, with his three kids that are going to session number three. My daughters Ava and Sophia are on their third year and this is my sons first year of many to come.
Yes, a few years ago and he came with memorabilia, which we now display in the "historical room" of the main office.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

....and another Eufemia (well, Italiano)

Lauren Eufemia was a camper and staff here through at least the mid-1980s. (Her sister Nancy Eufemia rose to the rank of VC of Sacky.) Lauren is now Lauren Italiano and her and her husband Joe have a daughter Ali, who is in camp now this session for the first time. Welcome another generation of Eufemias! The photo above (shot into the sunlight of the dining hall) is of Lauren and me at the end of check-in, after Ali was safely set up in her cabin. Don't worry, mom - we will take good, good care of your beloved daughter just as we took care of you once upon a time.

alumni children abound

Session 3 checked in today. Went so smoothly. I'm going to guess that there are FIFTY children, nieces and nephews, and grandchildren of former camp staff in camp today. It was like a reunion today. Bennett Brooks (long-time-ago camper) was here dropping off daughter Rory for an Adirondack "rambler" adventure trip. Glenn Kreismer (mentioned in this blog before) brought three of his kids, including his youngest son who is in Totem and is ready to go. The son of Jacqueline Dundorf Kremer and John Kremer - Ben - is here in Pac. And Andy Kremer's son Garrett is in Outpost. Steve and Amy Neubert Ketcham came with three kids for camp - a son for the farm, a son for Forest, and a niece also for farm. Stuart Duff's son Jamie is here to be a CIT. (Rumor is that Stuart will come for a week of session 2.) Lillian Rountree Lippincott drove daughter Jane for her CIT month, all the way from Pittsburgh. They stayed with Eileen Bradley last night, and I had the pleasure of seeing them together again, and took this happy photo (above). The Ketchams are below and, below them, are the Kremers.

core values - yes, they take them home

From a mom whose daughter I met last session: "Annika loved camp -- she's been telling us stories about all her favorite things. And I was pleased to overhear her earnestly explaining Frost Valley's core values to her 4-year-old brother! She can't wait until he is old enough to go along with her. Thanks for providing such a great experience!"

a plea for Pigeon Brook

In this immediate area Pigeon Brook is probably the body of water that suffered the greatest damage from Hurricane Irene last August 27-28. Or let's put it this way: the ways in which this brook was changed are still almost entirely apparent.
Pigeon has always been my favorite stream here, and it has some serious competitors.
There's the stateliness and historical significance of the main river flowing through our land - the Neversink, a mecca for flyfishermen starting with the Dutch in probably the 17th century - a classic.

High Falls Brook above the falls itself is a lot like Pigeon, actually, but below it it's slower, wider, more "obvious" than Pigeon. And it has a reason for going: High Falls. Forgive me for putting it this way, but it's like a tourist-destination stream. Not for me when I want the real thing. I've climbed up all the way along High Falls Brook to its source, up a ridge of Doubletop and is probably the best way these days to get up Doubletop. So H.F.B. is special to me but still there's that hike-a-little get-big-payoff thing that seems facile. Hemlock Brook aka Trickle Creek isn't really much and it runs right through the middle of camp, so it hardly counts, and it's dry a lot of the year. It does, when it's been raining a lot, go through the middle of Big Tree Field and that's a nice feature.I don't know if the stream that once flowed through the meadow that is now Lake Cole ever had a name. I suspect not. Two or three streams feed the man-made lake. Anyway, that can't count, can it?
The East Branch of the Neversink flows down the back side of slide, picks up real stream status through the Tison preserve (Frost Valley land), then passes right next to the old Straus estate (now East Valley Ranch, also FV), passes across the road from our Farm Camp (where the kids actually have their "waterfront" period in one of its deep-ish holes) and flows all the way to Claryville, where, just at the famed turn-off to county road 47 and the 7 miles to Frost Valley's main property, the two branches of the early Neversink converge. I love the East Branch and it's getting to be one of those rivers I can drive next to and feel lots of feelings. For one thing, as I drive alongside it toward and at the Tison property, near the head of the Denning trail, I can fool myself into believing that I'm existing in 1870 or 1890.

Biscuit Creek - she's got to be at least everyone's second favorite. Biscuit is what you think of when you think of this part of the Catskills. Really gorgeous. Moves slowly and knows where it's going. Flumes here and there cut through the glacial boulders - making mesmerizing features such as Devil's Hole. It's easy to hike alongside. The train dates back at least to Forstmann's time, when he laid down felled Hemlock trunks on the creek-side edge of the trail, and rode big horses pretty far down the river. I think of Biscuit Creek as Forstmann's stream. The storm messed with Biscuit down near the open fields of camp and down to where it joins the Neversink. Damage upstream is not so horrid. It still looks like Biscuit. (Above: Biscuit Creek falls a few years ago.)
But Pigeon Brook. It's crazy and it's wild. It drops from around 3750 feet at its 2-pronged source, up near the top of of Doublestop, to the spot (right at Sequoia) where it meets its calm brother Biscuit at around 2000 feet (the bottom of our valley is 1900 feet). That's a steep drop. The Pigeon Brook valley, formed between (and actually dividing) Doubletop Mountain and Big Indian Mountain, is very steep. Thousands of years of erosion and this little feisty waterway has done most of that deepening. At right above you can see a Google Map version of the first part of Pigeon. See where Biscuit, much thicker blue, goes off to the east or right. That's Pigeon, ending at Sequoia, bending up off to the west or left and then turning north and up the mountain. Below you see a satellite photo of roughly the same sector: again, Pigeon off to the left, Biscuit to the right. Pigeon goes almost due north up the mountain. That accounts, of course, for its sections of steep descent.
Yesterday - the Saturday of holdover weekend between sessions 2 and 3 - was the perfect day for a hike up Pigeon. At least by the calendar. By the weather, not so much. An hour into our 5-hike hike up and back it started pouring, and I mean pouring. I hadn't brought rain gear because - what the hell. I knew I'd be scrambling hand and foot up the creek itself much of the time and so I'd be very wet anyway. So I put on non-cotton shirt and shorts no hat and headed out. Along with Dr. Rick Kaskel (another trustee and long-time dialysis doctor and a guy with a replaced hip!) and Bud Cox, who got persuaded to do this hike right there over breakfast, a few minutes before departure. Good ol' Bud. Of course having Bud with us meant that we had
access to a ton of knowledge of Big Indian Mountain and Doubletop and Pigeon itself. So, yes, we spent most of the time going up Pigeon Brook hiking and climbing up in the creek itself. You see, there's a Frost Valley-made trail high alongside Pigeon on the right or east side almost as far as FV property goes. Bud and I recalled for Rick the fact that Frost Valley summer camp overnight hikes went to any of four beautiful Pigeon Brook campsites in the old days. These were named Pigeon 1, Pigeon 2, Pigeon 3, and Pigeon 4. Bud thinks that Pigeons 2 and 4 had lean-to's. I think 1, 2 and 4 did. Anyway, those lean-tos are gone and I strongly urge us to build some new ones. No one - and I mean no one - in camp takes campers hiking up Pigeon. It's a shame. You can say you climbed up part of Doubletop if you do. And of course it's an excellent challenge for the older campers. So I say: less High Falls and less Banks Hill and more Pigeon Brook! The old campsites' clearings are still more or less there and with one day's volunteer work they can be re-made and look welcoming even to novice campers. In some of the photos below you can get a sense of the changes made to Pigeon by the hurricane a year ago. Here for instance is a boulder that got tossed downstream and wedged under a larger bolder while everything under the large bolder got swept away. Now the larger one is being precariously held up by the smaller.
Banks are eroded everywhere, which means that any chance of forging a trail or path along either side of the stream becomes less likely. And everything is soft or crumbly underfoot.

And there are many more little waterfalls and flume-like spots.

Here, below, Bud shows where the waterline was at the height of the storm's violent run-off. This we figured by looking hard at damage, water marks, and erosion. Amazing, eh? When the water was really this high, the entire Pigeon Brook valley was filled with fast-moving water. No wonder the pressure below was so great - on the Biscuit Creek falls in camp, on the bank keeping Pigeon Lodge up out of the stream, on the spot where Biscuit (which Pigeon's water in it) slammed against the southside bank of the Neversink behind the horsebarn.

In the pouring rain, fairly well exhausted from the scrambling ascent on hand and foot in the middle of the brook, climbing over many fallen trees and slipping on tilty rocks that had only been in place for 11 months, we reached the Pigeon Brook fork. Here two feeder streams converge to form Pigeon proper. One goes up and east toward Big Indian Mountain. The other goes up and west toward Doubletop. We went on the northwest fork for a little, then clambered up the steep slope and took a compass bearing west to try to find the deerpath that comes due south down from the top of Doubletop. We didn't get that far and in the pouring rain abandoned the plan to continue to the top of the mountain - and headed at a bearing of 255 degrees. Bushwacked, of course, keeping the Pigeon Valley to our left and staying on a 2500 feet contour for quite a while. Eventually we descended on the same contour and at 2200 feet cross the Frost Valley property line and headed due south into camp. We read the perimeter trail and walked by into camp just to the east of Friendship House and Wolff Lodge. (I add these details in part so others can repeat the trip with some relatively specific instructions.) Dear FV-loving reader of this blog: get thee up Pigeon Brook. What are you doing with your life that you can't spare a day and do this? It's good for the soul: rough hard work, and it fills a longing that camp people have felt every since Wawayanda moved here in 1958, but a somewhat lost art. Go there and be real.

Friday, July 27, 2012

session done

Session done. Great stuff. Quieter here now, this late-ish afternoon. Tomorrow I'll hike up Pigeon Brook, all the way to its source (most of the way to the top of Doubletop). For now a look at the afternoon sun on some creek-side ferns is good enough for me.

from Darfur to Adventure Village

The Lomaurro family - who have given us Lauren (a great VC of Lakota a few years back) and now Nick (this summer's Newark Partnership Coordinator) - met two families in recent months. One family consisted of a mom and a daughter Malaz who are political refugees from the Darfur region of Sudan; Malaz's mom is active in the effort to bring the Sudanese regime to justice for the crime of genocide. The other family, Gigi (mom) and Jeanne (daughter), are from Egypt, also in the U.S. under special political circumstances. These two families live in a shelter near where the Lomaurros' live. Well, of course Lisa Lomaurro got the idea that the girls, Malaz and Jeanne, would enjoy two weeks at camp. She called Jerry Huncosky and arrangements were very hastily arranged, including financial assistance. The girls just finished two weeks in Adventure Village and loved it. We chatted with them on their way out a few hours ago and I snapped this not-very-good picture: from right to left, Gigi, Jeanne, Lisa, Malaz, and Jerry. If someone asks me why we do what we do here, I'm just going to tell them about Lisa's generosity, Jerry's flexibility, the two moms' courage, and Malaz and Jeanne's two weeks of wilderness, tent-camping, and fun.

Natasha's daugther Natasha

Natasha Brown, who was a camper in the mid-80s (I hope I'm recalling this correctly), found her way to the Frost Valley alumni reunion a few years ago. It was fabulous seeing her. She reconnected with the camp and swore that she would send her daughter some day. Well, a camper also named Natasha came up to me and said hello and said her mom wanted her to pass along her greetings. And then I realized: this is Natasha Brown's daughter, coming to camp from Newark, just as Natasha had promised she would. What a delightful kid! This generation-after-generation stuff has really got me going.

from the Castle porch: storm brewing

Last night there were threats of a major thunderstorm - and warnings of hail and even tornados - but the Big One never materialized. I was at the Castle at 6:30 PM for a special dinner we'd arranged with a few camper parents who were picking up their kids the next day (today). I walked out to the newly renovated large porch of the Castle and shot this video of the threatening sky over Wildcat Mountain. Take a look at the new deck. It's very excited. It had been around 10 years since the Castle porch was safe at all. Now not only is it safe; it provides a spectacular view whether the day is sunny or cloudy.

stars in the sky

A few days ago I mentioned that Katie Kelly, Tacoma VC in the mid-1990s, had shared with the current Tacoma staff some of her old weekly program schedules and was teaching them a song Tacoma used to sing a lot. It's "Stars in the Sky" and - guess what? - the Tacoma staff sang it as Hird's closing campfire last night! Unfortunately, Katie was sitting in a hospital waiting room at the time, having driven a camper to see a doctor. So she missed this reprise. I was quick enough to catch the second half of the song, and here it is.

Eric Blum provides some context:

Just watched the video of "Stars in the Sky" by Tacoma Village at closing campfire and I just thought I would give you a little history of this song. Of course this is my memory and it may be a little foggy but this is how I remember the arrival of this song at Frost Valley. "Stars in the Sky" was first sung at the second closing campfire in the summer of 1986. It was brought to the Valley by Rob Sherman and Dave Bieler (both Forest staff) that year, it was Dave's and mine first summer. We were sitting around the CQ fire one night and Dave and Rob were discussing this song that they had learned while in the Mitzvah Corp, they both thought that it would be perfect for the Forest staff to perform this at closing campfire, our VC Frank Degraw agreed, so the entire Forest staff sang this song for the closing campfire. This song became a staple of Wawayanda closing campfires throughout the mid to late 80's. "Stars in the Sky" almost replaced "Four Strong Winds". It was generally sung in 3 part harmony by Dave Bieler, Susie Sunshine and Rob SHerman with Rob playing the guitar. It's good to see this song once again being sung. Thanks KT for bringing it back.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Olympics - closing ceremonies

photos by Dan Weir

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

dialysis program

Judy Eichinger (Eva Gottscho's daughter) and husband Bob visited again today, and chose wisely. Beautiful day, lots going on (Olympics) and they had an opportunity to meet for an hour with Dr. Rick Kaskel, who of course is on FV's Board of Trustees and who is our lead contact at Montefiore Hospital, which hosts our dialysis/kidney unit. The meeting is important. The triangular relationship among Frost Valley and Montefiore and the Gottscho Kidney Foundation needs to work very well if we want to continue being able to sponsor this remarkable program offering summer camp experiences to children with renal disease. We're in a time of transition: Eva of course passed away a few years ago; Maureen, who led/coordinated the project from the nursing standpoint here at camp for many summers, now feels it's time to transition out of that lead role; Frost Valley people feel we need someone designated by FV to coordinate it. Everyone's in agreement so the future of this program, begun in 1975, is bright. Above you see Judy, at lunch, meeting with the campers who are here this session in connection with the Gottscho kidney unit.

the Wawayanda Mile - more Olympics

The Wawayanda Mile is the oldest continuing event in the Frost Valley Olympics. Here's the start of one of the heats of this perennially favorite event. The course runs in front of Margetts Lodge, in front of the laundry, turns left on the dining hall road on the eastern edge of Big Tree Field, turns at the Turrell Way rock, continues to the Ad Office/Welcome Center, cuts in front of the Olympic Circle, in front of Smith and then Hayden, and turns left for the last few feet to the area in front of the front doors to Margetts. You'll hear a reference to "the green team." This is not an Olympic team; these are still countries represented by international counselors we have here. No, it's an age designation. Blue, for instance, is for the oldest campers on all teams. So when "blue" campers can compete in an event, the participants are all roughly the same age and size. So this was the green group's running of the Mile. The Wawayanda Mile, by the way, is about 1/3rd of a mile.

Castle chefs and service staff, early 1960s

Jim Wilkes sent me this photograph of the Castle chefs and service staff - taken during a summer in the early 1960s or possibly 1959.

Dave King writes: This picture is of the Boy's camp kitchen staff of 1962 and '63. In front left is Fritz and Vilja Kohtz. The chief cook, Albert Fey, and his wife are center and right. They lived in the 2 back rooms at Pigeon Lodge, second floor. We [Dave and Shirley King] and Kathy [then a baby] were in the front room and closet over the stairwell. The male staff members are familiar, but I can't remember the names. Back left, is the incredible Calvin Brown who also worked in the kitchen. It should be noted that Shirley, along with Sal Senatore, and a Mrs. King from Pennsylvania and her sister cooked at the Castle from 1958 through 1968.

Olympic day

still tired, often sunburned - but happy being at camp

Kathy Steinwedel (we will remember her as Kathy King, elder child of Dave & Shirley King) tells us that she's now working at a day camp in Maryland - and that all three of her children are at the camp. It puts me in mind of the feel of the King family here in the 1960s and early 70s. Dave and Shirley doing their work and Kathy and David Jr. at first tagging along and then moving into their own places as campers and staff. Anyway, here's Kathy's update:
I am working at McDonogh, a day camp in Baltimore. I run a cooking program where I use what I have learned from "Incredible Edlible" at Frost Valley. In each session cookbook, I enclose a dedication page where I give Frost Valley credit for starting the program. McDonogh isn't Frost Valley, but I have each of the kids involved in something. Dave, now 16, works with the "Outdoor Games" program. Megan, at 15, is my Assistant in the Cooking program. Dylan, my 12 year old, is a camper in Senior Camp. At the end of the day we are tired, often sunburned, but we love it. I guess summer camp never really leaves the blood.....
And here is the text of the dedication:
Incredible Edible… Incredible Edible at McDonogh is based on a program started in the 1980s at Frost Valley YMCA in the Catskill Mountains of New York. The philosophy behind Incredible Edible is that if children learn to make healthy food choices early, they will be healthy eaters throughout their lives. In the program we started examining foods for sodium content, sugars, calories, etc. You might find your children examining labels, looking at nutrition facts, etc. as a result of the program. I encourage you to try some of these Incredible Edible recipes at home with your children. Feel free to modify them to suit the needs of your own healthy eaters! -- Miss Kathy and Megan

Del Giannotti

He's a CIT (as mentioned in previous posts this summer) and today is from Wales but for the current week his "in cabin" assignment is Forest, and he's loving that. Last night he gave a devotion! Let's face it - everyone associated with FV who loves the Giannottis (there are many of us) is just plain proud that another Giannotti talent is let loose on this valley.

a long story about a night of a million stars

Last night. One of the most beautiful nights I can ever recall here. Ever. Ever. It got very cool and very clear, and the stars were completely brilliant and there were millions of them, and there was a breeze, and when I did a devotion for a Tacoma cabin, them and I sitting around the campfire in the middle of the village, we could hear - when we went silent - the sound of the wind in the leaves of the beech trees above us and actually the sound of the river well down the valley below us. It was that clear and that silent. This was at 11:30 PM or so (yes, devotions for Tacoma can go late).

The evening had started with a special combo Challenge Night (a first, in my memory): Outpost and Pac. They worked and played really well together. I assembled a terrific roster of guest judges and that added to the creative flavor of the evening. In one of the two photos below you can see all of them, from left to right: Shawn Blagmon, Katie Kelly, Matt Buzcek, Doug Kallin, Peter Owen, and Sandy Shapiro Bohn.

I have to say something about Katie Kelly here, because I don't think I've mentioned her yet in my posts. She was a camper in Susky in 1985, my last summer as director. She grew up through the ranks and became a VC of Tacoma and then for several summers an assistant Hird director, and later she worked full-time for Frost Valley as our alumni

affairs coordinator, but now, this summer, she's back, here and there. She spent a good part of session 1 with us and found a way to be back for a week this session too. She's such a good presence. This time she brought with her a stack of mint-condition Tacoma weekly schedules from the mid-1990s. And modestly asked Lesley, the Tacoma VC for 2012, if she might want to look them over. And did she! She also taught them an old Tacoma song that they'll sing together at Closing Campfire.

After Challenge Night Matt and I chatted about his time here (1996-2005, I think) and the changes and not-changes. And then we went over to the Wellness Center to find Dan Weir. I was astonished and in a weird way delighted by how busy the Wellness Center was. It was already around 10:15 PM. The game "French Revolution" or "French Rev," played at night in the dark, will cause a sprained ankle or wrist, and there were a few of those. Another little guy had twisted a knee. My favorite medical thingy of the
evening was the bite suffered by a counselor possibly from a "yellow-sac spider" (so the EMT on duty speculated - he'd done some research). This thing was amazing. On its own the dime-sized fluid-filled spot on her ankle has burst and she was being cleaned and bandaged and she and we were happily ready to put the spider encounter behind her. The EMT was fascinated and on his iPad showed me photos of it earlier in the day. Some people react strongly to the bite of this particular spider and that's why there had been so much attention paid to it through the day. But this spider-bitten person was going to be completely fine, and quickly. [Today, the next day, Dr. Rick Kaskel was checking in with some kind of federal toxic spider center in Arizona to see if this incidence is something we need to report.]

Vince O'Donnell, a talented Pac counselor who had led his village at Challenge Night in the absence of his VC (VC night out), had been so ill during the evening program that he kept taking breaks. When we got to the Wellness Center later, there was Vince, waiting to talk to one of the six or seven medical staff there about what might be done to get him ready for Olympics the next morning. (Five minutes before I sat down to write this entry, the next morning, I saw Vince, a head coach of South Africa, out there in the sunny field, banging a drum and leading a brilliant S.A. cheer that required tremendous feats of dancing and drumming. I asked him how he felt, and he looked at me with a funny ironic smile and shouted not to me but to the blue sky above: "I feel GREEEEEAAATTT!" Ah, camp.)

It was so busy that Tammey McCloud, our amazing Wellness Center director, came in just to keep the traffic moving along. What amazed me was that no one was complaining about the quality of attention they were receiving and - this really makes me happy - the medical people completely accepted the presence and talky help of various staff including directors and one bearded trustee and one very happy-to-be-back former Director of Camping. At one point I sat with Aidyn Gold as he was treated for a sprained wrist (which was eventually splinted and off he went into the night back to the cabin). Aidyn was a little upset about his injury and I reminded him of all the times his father, Adam, then a young camper, was injured and how much he complained at such moments. Aidyn thought that was great and smiled a big smile at participating in the family tradition.

I looked at my watch and, as much as I was enjoying this extra evening program being played by a village-sized gathering of slightly injured and ill people, I realized it was time to walk up to Tacoma for the devotion. I joined them at the fire-ring. Claire and Shannon were the counselors (I've known them both - and Shannon is in fact the daughter of my neighbors at home in Philadelphia) and the kids were really ready for a sentimental story. And I surely did give them that. I told them about the most important summer of my life - Lenape, 1968. I won't tell that story here, but suffice to say: it really did change me. I met someone that summer who made me realize I should take none of this - these stars, this breeze, the sound of this river heard far off in the silent dark night - for granted. And then the counselors and girls spoke and we held hands (really! - twice!) and said goodnight and promised we'd all really try to experience this fully.

Then Matt and I began walking around. It was 11:45 PM. We walked and talked along the paths between and among the villages under the stars. Matt, who had lived here year-round for several years, talked about the brilliance of the stars as if seeing them for the first time - in awe. I was in awe of his being in awe. We joined the Outpost CQ fire. They were going to grill some burgers on a make-shift grill (an aluminum pan that had carried some chocolate brownies) but we left before it was time to eat. Then we went back to Tacoma, and by now the same fire that had lit my emotional conversation with that Tacoma cabin was now fueling the conversation and late-night snack of the Tacoma staff. They were grilling flat pita-like rounds of bread and melting spicy jack cheese on them. They offered Matt and me one of these grilled-cheesy confections each, and though I wasn't hungry I had one and loved it. The bread was crunchy and one could taste the taste of firewood and hot stone. As I munched, I took in the conversation and I overheard them talking about how much fun it was learning about old Tacoma from Katie Kelly and much they were getting from seeing her old weekly schedules. Naturally they wanted to know more about the previous generations and Matt and I were happy to oblige. At a few minutes after 1 am I drove home slowly and kept looking out and up through my front windshield. All the stars were up there, leading me in a certain direction.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

wellness center thrives (& not for bad reasons)

I stop by the Wellness Center pretty much every day. I like it there. Of course there's always some slightly wounded child to whom I can offer a smile and a hopeful note, a little TLC for those with scrapes and bumps. The place has a good feel. The waiting room is typically full of a few kids waiting for a little medical attention and a lot of kids and counselors keeping them company.

From left to right above: cough and sniffles; two tiny spider bites on hand; keeping them company.

On the coach, three Tacoma people, but after talking with them I'm still not sure who needs help. They were happy enough to wait in that nice spot - reading, working on a lanyard, and supervising. Another counselor tells a girl it's going to be all right. In the Joy White Nurse's Station (behind the counter) is Deb Creedon-Cunningham, RN on call and one of the best (so good with the kids). At the end of the hallway, you see a guy brought here for a few days by Rick Kaskel, who is here for a week helping with the dialysis unit. The guy in the black hat: a student in Einstein's MD-PhD program, getting far away from theory and experiencing the bites-and-bruises everyday of a child's life running around the rocky hills and creeks all day.

Now back outside, I chat with a staff member who's possibly got a hairline fracture, will probably visit an orthopedist at home and come back (because she can't keep away) and get around as best she can. When you love what you're doing - be it baseball or summer camp counseling - you play with pain if you can.

dusk in Filreis Field

Dusk, last night, 8:30 PM. I walked alone across the field on my way to catch the second half of "Wawa's Got Talent" in the main room of Margetts Lodge. It had rained hard much of the day and then cleared and the sky was gorgeous, the whole feel of the place was damp and now cooler than in days. So here you see Hayden Lodge (at left) and Smith Lodge (at right); in between then the greenhouse and garden (where the Archery range used to be many years ago) and Banks Hill visible behind that.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Sacky sings Winehouse on a cloudy afternoon

Although it was one of those wash-out days - plenty of time spent waiting for thunderstorms to pass - it was also somehow one of those days when beautiful things just kept happening. I needed only to walk around the fields to find happiness, creativity and friendship. I walked along in front of Margetts Lodge and got instantly serenaded by a cabin of sisterhoodish Sacky girls singing a version of Amy Winehouse's version of "Valerie."

put your mother on the ceiling

Windsong and PAC villages this afternoon, during third period, getting super-relaxed during my activity called "Put Your Mother on the Ceiling." I must say it's no mean trick getting these teenagers this relaxed. But I love how game they were.

coaches from South Africa

The South African coaches yesterday, in the glorious sun. Today it's all swirling low clouds and thunderstorms. And so Olympics will continue on Wednesday. Improvise, improvise!

same old view from the enormous porch

The other day I found myself waiting for a program to begin - in a building I'd known for a long, long time. It was built in 1965 or '66 (which?) and was known then as "the Girls' Dining Hall" or "McClain Hall" or sometimes "Conover English Hall." The latter designation was for the downstairs of the building which at various times housed Arts & Crafts and a theater (complete with a stage). In the winter of 1982-83 it was expanded to permit us to use it (for three years) as the only dining hall (after the main dining hall burned). A few years ago it was renovated as part of the campaign to create a conference center area on that side of camp. Ricciardi Cabin was knocked down, Lakeview Lodge was built above Hirdstock Field and CIT Point, and the old dining hall became Geyer Hall, with expanded basement/first floor rooms (including a work-out room for staff), and indoor floor hockey/archery room, and several meeting/seminar rooms on the top floor. And it was renamed Geyer Hall in honor of the major donor to the project, Helen Geyer of Montclair.

A few things about the building remain exactly the same as they were when it was first built for Girls' Camp in the mid-1960s. One of these is the huge deck/porch just off the main dining room. Because the building was built on a fairly steep slope coming up off the lake, one gets a fabulous view from the porch - quite high up. The trees there are very tall, so one looks through the tall trunks of the birches and beeches growing there, and can see the lake.

During the summers of '83, '84, and '85 I spent a lot of time out there, during meals especially. It was where I held "meetings" with campers and staff. It was where the VCs and I had our morning breakfast-time meetings.

Feeling very nostalgic about all the days and evenings I spent looking out from that enormous porch, I decided to take photos of all views. Several of these will be exactly as they were 40 years ago. But off to the right, now, you see Lakeview Lodge. That view is obviously different.

A fabulous footnote comes by way of Kate Schonmeyer, whose last summer at Wawayanda/Frost Valley was 1965. And that was indeed the year the building was built. But - and I didn't know this or didn't remember it - that first summer it was NOT used as a dining hall for the girls. They continued to eat in the "boys" dining hall for one more summer (1962-65), presumably in the "back" room of that building - called (then I suppose - but certainly later) "Hemlock Lounge." Anywhere, here is Kate's rather remarkable version of the story:

It was built in '65, the last year I came to Wawayanda. We didn't use it as a dining hall, though, we still ate in the old hall with the boys. I was the girls' program director that year and it was my home, along with the waterfront director, Joyce Slater, the camp director (I think Carol DaVita) and a few other folks. We used the big room as an activity center. I remember we practiced our dances for Olympics' opening ceremonies in there. We had some sewing machines and sewed our costumes there. Since we were so far away from everyone else we could play Cousin Brucie pretty loud and no one could hear the radio unless we put it up to the loudspeaker system - which we occasionally did after reveille, to get the girls in a good mood.

rest hour with Pokey

Well, after a gorgeous day 1 of Olympics, day 2 - the main day of events and pageant - began with huge thunder-and-lightning storms. It seemed that we'd be contending with these storms all day, so we hastily swapped Monday and Wednesday. We'll continue Olympics on Wednesday, so today, per schedule, is "Wednesday." Wednesday will be Monday. So after some scrambling this morning, everyone is recovering their voices and going about a daily routine.

I stopped by cabin 22 to see the girls there during Rest Hour. And here they are!

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Olympics: opening ceremonies

Olympics 2012 - pre-games Sunday afternoon round-up

first day of Olympics, 2012 - a visit to Japan

Here's an audio recording of my four-minute visit with a spirited Japan team: MP3. The head coach of Japan this year is someone named Hannah Filreis. The kid's got some leathery lungs.

By the way, the reference to Colombia refers to the host country.

- - -

Later: here is an audio recording of Japan's presentation at the Opening Ceremonies.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

finding Brad Swain at the top of Giant Ledge

A bit earlier you saw a photo I took on the way down from Giant Ledge during a recent hike there. Well, now to be more specific. It was the last holdover weekend. Beautiful sunny day, although a bit warmer than you'd like in the Valley. Got to get up to a higher altitude, maybe catch some Catskill breezes up there. So a group of us went up Giant Ledge, as I say. And whom did we find up there at the top? Brad Swain. Brad who is the son of Claudia and Peter Swain and brother of Danny. Brad who grew up here at Frost Valley during his parents' years on the staff. Brad who came back a few years ago to do a summer as a Forest counselor. It was nice to see him. In the photos below you see the classic view from the ledges. In the first, we are looking southeast. In the second, we are looking southwest, back toward Slide Mountain. At the far right you can see part of Slide. Finally: a video that gives you a sense of the remarkable view from up there. I hope this inspires many ex-FV'ers to drive up to the mountains and take the hike. It's no more than 90 minutes up and 60 minutes down.

The folks you see at the start of the video: John and Irma O'Brien, parents of two great FV people (one a camper, the other a CIT); and John is a member of Frost Valley's Board of Trustees.

your Outpost VC, unique but ever the same

Alex Draper came to us from England last summer, one in a long long long line of British folks who have made the visit and fallen in love with these rounded blue-green mountains the Yanks have not quite even now settled. Draper last summer was especially adept as a counselor in Outpost. Modest yet very funny, soft-spoken but able to get 11 and 12-year-old boys to follow him anywhere, and a wonderful musician (as we learned at Hirdstock). Well, a guy like that - this has happened so many times before - just had to find his way back to the valley. And so he did. Back again. This time, naturally, as a VC: Outpost again. He's done a fine job. Nice guy. And so game. Yesterday, Outpost joined the super-creative Peter Owen for a session and came out all goopy and fooded. I joined Alex for dinner and saw little bits of something (msrshmellow?) plugging up his ear. I had to get a photo to show you, my bloggy readers. So here, if you will, is our guy Alex Draper. Say hello to him, please!

Friday, July 20, 2012

the Vescio boys are back - no, their kids are

Last session there were four Vescio children in camp. They were cousins - two and two. Their fathers are John and Chris Vescio, both of them having been campers when I was the camp director here, and both are thrilled to be back involved with summer camp. Chris and his family were already Family Campers. Chris' goal was explicit: bring the kids to Family Camp to get them ready for the day when they would come to summer camp for two weeks. I was delighted to see them again. John is now a NY state trooper and I believe Chris is with an accounting firm. The state trooper stood there in the dining hall, telling his own children that I helped him through his horrible homesickness his first summer at camp; he was just 8. Hilarious when you think of what this guy goes through on the job now. John even remembered my specific anti-homesickness techniques. I should point out: neither his children, nor their cousins, were the least bit homesick. Call them prepared. Above you see Chris Vescio and me.