Thursday, July 31, 2014

Lenape seesaw

Yes, we built an amazingly complex and indestructible mod seesaw just outside the dining hall. It's been an attraction for the younger kids as they are waiting for a meal or hanging around just after a meal. But yesterday I found Lenape having fun on it. Incredible!

a day inside this miracle

This blog has for several years been driven, entry by entry, by photos and videos. Sometimes what I write, in words, is not much more than a caption. And yes, pictures tell great stories and sometimes all you need, if you are a longtime FV'er but are not here now, is a photo or video to remind you of the scene you once loved and now miss terribly and crave.

And, yes, sometimes the photos do send me into narrative about this or that day, or this or that amazing achievement by a child, or this or that remarkable natural fact about this Valley. I'm not trying to undersell the entries here that pictorially depict Frost Valley doing its miraculous thing for children and their variously hard-pressed families. (Oh, how many families are hard-pressed in one way or another!)

Well, I forgot to bring my camera to last night's activities and to breakfast this morning, and so found myself thinking about how the past 12 hours or so might be narrated without images.

The narration adds up to a tour of the inside of a social miracle.

This morning, just as Camp Wawayanda started the walk to breakfast (7:50 AM or so), it began to pour. A real storm - and, what with the cool temperatures we've been experiencing (the low last night was in the upper 40s and it was barely 60 when I re-entered the main part of camp at 7 AM), it was the perfect recipe for a quiet and maybe even somber breakfast. But mellow and together are the words that came to mind, and soggy and probably mostly happy-tired people, campers and counselors, shared the eggs, sausage and home fries, got their yogurt and cereal, the counselors their tea and coffee, and sat with each other talking in low tones about the day ahead - whether the rain would subside, whether the Scavenger Hunt scheduled for second period for Outpost would actually come off, whether Geronimo for all of MAC could be moved under the big tent. I sat at the directors' table and they were going about their remarkable business of trying to understand what every single camper had experienced the day before, mostly, of course, knowing the problems small and great (mostly small, though). They perceive all this, at least initially, through the cabin-by-cabin daily reports. The forms are filled out by every counselor (well, one report per cabin) every single day.

The daily reports really moved me this morning. I used the term "heart-breaking" to Sam Martinelli, who was glancing at them with me. Not heart-breaking as in terribly sad. Heart-breaking as in gratified: overwhelmingly, I felt respect for the remarkably detail and quotidian quality of the feelings report having been felt, the degree to which each activity was fun or not fun by each camper, etc. Each child "rates" the day before: on a scale of 1 to 5. Most were 4 or 5 (it had been a beautiful and good day), but several were a 2 or even 1. There was always an explanatory note for these low ratings: the child misses grandpa, who's been ill; another child had been stung by an unintended slight from another child; another was disappointed that her favorite game had to end early; another lost a towel. What moved me more was how each counselor - remember, they themselves are young people, most of them campers themselves not many years earlier - wrote out their plan to offer the right dose of TLC, described exactly how things could get better, precisely what steps could be taken to help. "I want my campers to learn to listen better to each other," wrote one counselor. One boy, in Outpost, is the son and nephew of Frost Valley campers/staff who did memorable things here for a whole generation in the 70s and 80s, and he's been feeeling a little low, a feeling not helped by a bruised knee and a thumb that got bent back a few days ago and was still a little sore. I made a point of chatting with him toward the end of breakfast, and, with his counselors, will spoke enthusiastically about the day head: second period was going to be that Scavenger Hunt. He brightened, and when I told him that his dad and his aunts had had slow and low days here, even here in this heaven, he realized - and described this in words to me! - that even the most campy of camp people have a down day, and the thing to do is push through it and see what new adventure awaits. Camp is especially good for a child who tends to feel like that. It's not only for those who rate the previous day a "5" (the vast majority) or: "15" or "INFINITY" or "GOOGLEPLEX" or "so great I don't know a number" (all quotes from this morning's reports). And: "The kids in the cabin are really getting along well now. It's so great!" And: "I don't know where all this unity came from but yesterday was the turning point." And: "Camp is really good for M. at this moment in her life, and she talked about all that at Devo."

Last night I told three stories to three groups, starting at 9:30. A long good night. The stars were out and it was really cold. I spoke with each group at dinner and urged them to build big campfires out in the open so we could see the stars as I told the story. The stories almost always go well. But sometimes my tongue gets a little tied, or I fail to remember some detail of these ridiculously elaborate stories. And to make things more challenging for the old guy, last night I was to tell three different stories in succession, each of them complex in their own right and, taken together, a true tangle of complexity. Surely I would mix one up with the other in the middle of the telling. But the settings were perfect, the kids so ready to be told a tale, the stars so bright, the sound of the rivers and streams around us providing such an ambient swoosh/rushy sound - I was on my game, and all three tellings were perfect and the campers responded with gratifying snapping and oooohs/aaaahhhs, and thank-yous at the end. First Forest, on the hill that used to be Outpost, a great fire-ring (the best for seeing stars, actually): "The Doubletop Plane Crash Mystery." Then, starting at 10:15, Lenape, in the first-ring just outside of Hird Lodge: "Sawmill, 1958." Then, starting at 11, most of the CITs, gathered around the fire-ring on the Castle lawn just to the west of the old Castle tennis court: "The Lights over the Lake."

At midnight I visited a CQ fire. Another fire. Low quiet talk among friends about.....the children. That just never stops, even during the one or two hours off. Remarkable. Good young people. As I wandered up the hill, ready for sleep, I encountered one of the camp directors. We had a 10-minute talk about the difficult nuances of his day. He sought some larger context and in the end we stopped talking and found ourselves just looking up. That night sky, bracketing the Valley and its sleepy people, provided the largest context anyone could ever need. The big picture, not metaphorically.

Earlier that evening, as I had walked away from the story at Forest, a 10-year-old Forester came running after me to ask one more question about Doubletop Mountain. After I explained a little further, he said: "So when we're here we live on Doubletop?" Yes, in a way - we live on a slope of a ridge of the mountain. "So it's our mountain." Yes, you could say that. "I want to climb to the top of Doubletop." Some day you will, I'm sure. Come back every summer. "I want to." Why do you want to get up there? "Because it's really hard."

Because it's really hard. The girl who needs camp right now and says so at devo. Camp is hard but it's good and it's a "5." The boy who's bruised and feeling down, and accepts the invocation of his Frost Valley family as a reminder that he will inevitably push through. Camp is hard for L. but it's very good. And to today, I'll bet, L. will give a "5." Or maybe even....INFINITY.

Everyone needs this. Including yours truly.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

another trustee visits

Bob Lomauro, dad of two FV lifers (Lauren and Nick), is a fairly new member of FV's board of trustees. He visited yesterday and part of today. During lunchtime Wawayanda hoopla, we wandered into the center of the dining hall, and then Bob got a ringside seat. David Seddon joined him, perhaps to shield him from the loud nonsense that was about to occur. But Bob's a camp guy through and through, and nothing could surprise him.

the graceful new counselor

Grace came up through the villages - from her start as a tiny red-headed little squirt in Pokey up through her deeply felt Windsong summer and last summer's stint as a CIT. And now she's a Junior Counselor in Mini-Mac, for the second half of the summer (sessions 3 and 4). Tonight during dinner I noticed that she was spending the entire time comforting one of her campers outside where it was quiet and he could better handle all the stimulation stirring up his worries. When I began my meal she was out there with him. When I ended my meal with a cup of (somewhat weak - ah, well) dining hall coffee, I noticed that she was still there. I love the patience that these young staff just know they should have or try to have after all their years of being on the receiving end of it. I'm proud of Grace, whom I've known since that first Pokey summer, for staying with it and now discovering the beauty and tribulation of being a good reliable counselor. Here's to Grace!

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Geronimo - in action

session 3 faces

leadership meeting views

Two views at the recent weekly "leaderhip meeting" (formerly known as the "VC meeting" or "Program meeting"). First, the line of radios holding their spots as their owners are scrambling around the room helping VCs reserve spaces and activities and vehicle sign-outs and whatnot. Second: we have two visitors from Camp Hazen who wanted to understand how we coordinate all of our programs. They came to the weekly meeting and, wow, was that a wise move: if you want to see how a large yet not-centralized camp pulls off such a detailed and specifically good program, come to this meeting. Here they are, chatting about the procedure with several directors.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Blum Center plans now available!

The plans and drawings and specifications for the construction of the new Blum Center have arrived from the architects and Jerry Huncosky is now making them available for everyone to see. This is going to a wonderful building for staff to use to take a break, watch a movie or live soccer match, grill some burgers or kabobs, and relax - exactly what the late Eric Blum hope would be available to every staff member whom he knew worked hard and for innumerable hours.

The building will stand exactly where Smith Lodge currently stands. Below you see an overhead or plan view, and also a grade or side view. Click on the image to enlarge.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

stars of the 00's return

Chris Harper, Erica Lin, Seth Kallin and Chrissy Mohle visited Frost Valley today, and I had a chance to walk around through the villages with them and witness various surprise reunions with their former campers and CITs who are now counselors and VCs. And I was reminded once again that generations here go very fast. These young people feel really "old."

From left to right: Chris Harper, Erica Lin, Seth Kallin, Chrissy Mohle.

The gang of oldsters visits cabin 43, where Chrissy was reunited with the current Lakota VC who was her camper with Chrissy was the Sacky VC.

Friday, July 25, 2014

what CITs look like after an activity with Pokey-Totem

The other day I passed by two CITs on the way back to their lodge. At first I thought they'd been painted - maybe as the result of a rock-painting activity in the creek. But, no. On further inspection I realize that they were covered in chocolate syrup. It seems that the CITs did an activity with Pokey-Totem that involved the latter making the former into ice cream sundaes! These two didn't get the worst of it, it seems - or they'd already wiped off the whipped cream and sprinkles.

Checking out from session 2

Today we enjoyed a marvelous check-out for session 2. The weather was perfect. The session had gone so well that parents, as they reunited with their children, were full of amazement and joy and gratitude. The gratitude made asking them to help us raise funds to help bring children to camp whose families can't afford it very easy indeed. So many parents contributed. Among them Holly Hilton who is pictured below with daughter Linnea (Holly's son Andrew is a counselor in Forest). Although I hate the way I look in selfies (feels like I'm in a fishbowl) I relented because Lucy Lerman, a talented and funny and speedy* and charming Sacky camper, persuaded me. The third and last of today's photos is a rarity - Bud, who doesn't like standing for portraits, consented to pose with the Lakota and Sacky VCs, the two best-friend Hannahs.

* Lucy is one of the fastest Geronimo players I have ever seen.

The Tilles/Nathanson/Shapiro nexus

Peter Tilles was visiting today, picking up Olivia (a JC) and accompanied by Amanda. Amanda was a Pokey-Totem counselor last summer and has been at FV many summers. Dad Peter of course was also a camper and staffer going back to the 1970s - and his brother Danny was a camper in the late 60s and a CIT in '71. Amanda is working at Children's Hospital in Philadelphia this summer, but upon dropping off sister Olivia earlier this summer was smitten by the FV bug and now plans to come back for 4th session to work in Pokey-Totem.

There has always been a close connection between the Tilles family and the Nathanson family - and a little later the Shapiro family as well. So here in this photo you have the older generation of Tilles along with one younger-generation Nathanson (Sam) and one younger-generation Shapiro (Braxton Bohn). Braxton is Sandy's son. Braxton's uncle Danny was also a 1971 CIT (with me). And Peter Tilles' older brother (also Danny) was also a 1971 CIT. Sam's father Kenny was part of the mix and his uncle Mark ("Snake") lived with all of us in Hayden Lodge during the summer of 1971. So the connections circulate around and the whole thing somehow still coheres, 43 years later.

Debbie Reich

Debbie Reich was a counselor at Frost Valley in 1975 and 1976 (in Sacky both summers, we think). She and husband Josh Goldberg have followed their daughter Elizabeth ("Lizzie") up through the villages as a camper, and this summer Lizzie was a Lakota JC and did really well. She left for home today after two sessions of work, and Debbie and Josh visited overnight. Here's a photo of them with Jerry Huncosky taken this morning at the dining hall.

Rock me, Wawa

Last night we sang a rewritten version of Dylan's "Wagon Wheel." Sandy Shapiro Bohn also got this on video - and it's HERE on Facebook. I'll try to get Sandy to send me a copy of the file and, if so, I'll post it.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

what Tacoma says on the last day of the session

After my breakfast with Susky, I rode my bike down the hill, did some work, and then back up to check in with some of the Hird VCs at the second breakfast. I got myself a cup of dining hall java (ohhhh, it's the taste of coffee but not strong enough for my taste) and found myself sitting with Tacoma's Bodman 2. Wonderful kids! If you click HERE, you can listen to them talk about their session - with liveliness and heart and a sureness that belies their years.

listen to the voices of Susky cabin 49

I sat at breakfast with the campers and counselors of Susquehanna Village cabin 49. Today is the last full day of session 2 and I asked them to reflect on their cabinmates and their activities. LISTEN and enjoy. They are a wonderful bunch!

Wednesday, July 23, 2014


From left to right: Shelle Edge, Jerry Huncosky, Dan Weir and Sandra Shapiro Bohn.

Olympics redux

A few more Olympics photos and that will be all for '14. These were taken by Sandy Shapiro Bohn.

Argentina's coaches - they won the Spirit award.

France mania!

Here are all the coaches.

Turrell Way

This recognition monument stands at the intersection of the road from the main camp entrance to the Welcome Center (Admin office) and the road that runs along the eastern edge of the Big Tree Field up to the dining hall. The latter road is named "Turrell Way." We got support from the Turrell Foundation to build and pave these roads, and of course we've been supported by Turrell many times. By the way, we all say "Turrell" with the accent on the second syllable (so that it rhymes with the police chief in The Wire - Burrell), but apparently that's incorrect. The name is pronounced so that it rhymes with "furl."


Wawayanda campers in one of the platform tents in 1909.

A team

Every morning at 9, the A team (activities counselors - what we used to call program staff or "program area staff") meets for 30 minutes for a continuing training session. They talk about new programs. They get updates from the different specialty areas. They learn new games. Today the CITs presented a proposal for a whole integated set of wellness activities.


There wasn't a theme - quite - for Susky at Challenge Night, yet some of the staff dressed as (sort of) superheroes. Anyway, Cabin 49 of Susky and Hyde-Watson 4 together formed the winning team. Below is a photo of part of the cabin 49 group.

Olympics, behind the scenes

Once again at the end of Olympics we presented, among other awards, the "Bud Cox enTHUUUUUsiasm" award, and here is the plaque.

Olympics is a time when counselors and even JCs are "promoted" to run the teams and represent the countries. For the VCs (who are on the host country) it's a somewhat easier day, and here, below, are a bunch of the VCs enjoying the scene.

Dan Weir took these photos and here, below, is one of his classic wide-angle shots - this one of the Closing Ceremonies.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

trustee's happy grandchild at the Farm

Sarah Dickson is back - now at the Farm. I had a chance to talk with her last night before a whacky loud and wonderful farm-style Challenge Night. Here she is with her Yurt #2 friends. Sarah's mom was a camper and counselor here, and her grandmother is Cathy McFarland Harvey, a long-time member of the Frost Valley Board of Trustees. In the photo of all the girls in Yurt #2, note their counselor, at right: she is Micah Jo Davoren, whose mom is a best friend of Jody Ketcham and whose Westfield NJ family grew up with all the Ketchams. So this yurt has a double connection to the long Frost Valley legacy.

Olympic Day lunch (wave your flag)

they made the 2014 Olympics possible

Activities Director and Assistant Director - Lindsay and Liz - pose in front of the Czech banner. The Czech Republic was our host country for the now-concluded 2014 Olympics. These two were mainly responsible for the behind-the-scenes planning, Liz in particular. Kudos and congrats to them!

Mikia Eatman visits

This session I've been telling the villages, one at a time, a story called "Winky Tandler & the Maltese Bell." The last part of the story involves a then-young camper (7 years old) named Mikia Eatman. Even at 7 she spent three two-week sessions here, and after that always 8 weeks. She grew up here and became a counselor, village chief, and then assistant director. Yesterday she and her daughter Etta visited for the day - during the main day of Olympics. Crazy time to visit but they both fell right into the scene. As she and I walked around camp, campers came running up to her wanting to know about the Maltese Bell. She had a ready answer for them, which only augmented the mystery: "I'm really not at liberty to say anything about the bell, but thank you for asking!"

And Mikia's dear old camp friend Matt Buzcek happened to be visiting FV yesterday too, so they stood in the field recalling old times.

Monday, July 21, 2014


Other than two or three summers when we didn't hold Olympics at all (and that's another story - told elsewhere in this blog [search "Olympics"]), our elaborate Frost Valley Olympic Games have been held every year for nearly sixty years. By now it's been refined into one half day (Sunday afternoon and evening) and one full day (Monday all day for events, evening for ceremony). 2014 Olympics are going very well; the weather is cooperating and the teams are loud and spirited; the international counselors whose cultures and languages are represented by the teams are obviously thrilled to receive such crazy attention. The French counselor - Camille, affiliated with Windsong - is for instance a fairly shy person, but she has come completely out of her shell today - screaming her head off and proudly presenting her beloved French culture. The Armenian counselor is totally thrilled to have Armenia front and center (a rare thing in international politics, let's face it). Here are two videos. One was taken during the Opening Ceremony last night - the lighting of the torch. The other gives you a sense of two teams doing their cheers.

High Falls

The next day - Sunday - gave us absolutely perfect weather.  No hyperbole here: of all the beautiful July days here in the center of the Catskill Mountains, I cannot remember another day quite as perfect as this one. A few high clouds, puffy. Warm but not hot - maybe mid-70s. Always a breeze. I felt totally at ease walking around outside. We donned our boots and hiking shorts again and walked across the field next to High Falls Brook from the county road to the old house once called "Old John's" and now called "the Orchard House." Behind the house the wide path (jeep trail, really) goes up as the brook goes up. To the right: what was once an open field is now filled with blackberry bushes and pine trees. But the path to the left, following the brook but above it, is quite clear. We pass what used to be "Lower High Falls" campsite, no longer set up as such. Then the trail forks. Down to the falls, to the left. Up above the falls to the proper "High Falls" or "Upper High Falls" campsite, which now - hallelujah! - features a really nice lean-to. That site is perfection. Only downside is that it's not much of a hike, but otherwise - ideal. A nice open field for sleeping, a good fire-ring, and that new lean-to. We check it out and then continue up the trail. Our plan is to follow the trail above the falls, and then bushwhack just a few feet to the left (west) and scramble down to the brook above the falls. That part of the brook is gorgeous and rarely visited. There's no real trail to it. But if I admire High Falls itself, I totally adore High Falls Brook as it descends from a ridge of Doubletop Mountain. Doubletop, really? Yes, the ridge of Doubletop comes down well toward the western edge of Frost Valley's property. Indeed, most of the camp's buildings can be said to lie on the slope coming down from this ridge of the mountain.

Again the rain from the past three weeks is making High Falls Brook flowing faster and more loudly than usual at this time of the summer. By August, as I recall over the years, the brook can sometimes be not much more than a trickle.

As you walk from the trail above the falls to the brook, you cross through or over the old Forstmann deer fence. At some points the fence is still standing - nearly 7 feet tall. And other points it has fall or been trampled down.

Click on the image for a larger view and see if you can see the fence.

See the deer fence?

High Falls Brook above the falls.

This is a little feeder stream that runs into the brook above the falls. This thing is usually a trickle, but see how it flows now.

And there is our High Falls, in full flow.

Here is High Falls itself.

Here is a look at High Falls Brook above the falls.