Monday, August 24, 2015

Mumford and Oeschle

John Mumford (with guitar) and Lee Oeschle, in 1974.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Sven, Dave, Mark

Sven Grotrian, Dave King, Mark Kramer.

the Hirdstock band at check-out

We got to know the members of the band of campers that played at Hirdstock. Great kids! Here they are, along with two of the boys' Thunderbird counselors - just before they left with the drummer's dad Nick (who rented a van for the whole gang). For photos of them performing at Hirdstock, go here.

Hird Lodge in the early 1970s

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Bud Cox in 1974

Carl Hess & his maintenance crew

Click on the image for a larger view. This is the summer camp maintenance crew during the mid-1970s. Top row, left to right: Bill Van Zandt, Carl Hess, Morris Slater, John Kremer, Norm Gurfinkel; bottom row, left to right: Mike Schiffer, Mike McBride, John Schiffer, Doug Kerr.

Morris Slater (he of the constant pipe and hat - whose talk you could barely understand but it was always a story of some kind) had once worked for Julius Forstmann! He lived in Claryville and his job at camp was mainly to mow the fields.

Here's what John Kremer has to say after seeing this photo:

That has got to be close to the first full summer I spent working at FV, which would put it about 1974 or 75. Next to Mike Schiffer is Mike McBride  - he hailed from the Kingston area as I recall. My first summer on staff was spent as Bill Van Zandt's "helper", and Norm and I bunked in one of the dorm rooms in the top of  Hayden.  Bill was an incredible man, hard as nails on the outside, but with a heart of gold.  I learned so much from him that summer. With Marie's recent passing, I've spent a lot of time thinking about my experiences working for Carl.  It was truly a rite of passage of me, growing up and learning to work with that "crew".  I recall that the true mark of being "part of that crew" was being invited to Marie's and Carl's house for dinner, which was timed to coincide with one of their trips back to southern Jersey so fresh sweet corn and the best tomatoes ever were alway featured.  Carl grilled a great steak which complimented them perfectly. Morris Slater was truly a character and he did indeed work for the Forstmann's as a young man. He did have great stories, and while most of the details are forgotten, i know one of them centered around Mrs. Forstmann and her shoes.    I'm not totally  sure if I  have this right, but I believe that he told me he was actually born in what was the old Haunted House, located on the Wildcat side of the Neversink at that south end of property as you entered FV from Claryville. The vision of him riding on the old red Farm All tractor, with his corn-cob pipe clinched tightly in his teeth, will be with me forever. 

Friday, August 21, 2015

final summer 2015 thoughts

Last morning of camp. Streams full of new water, running down the mountain from yesterday's rain. They're loud, those streams.

I'm packed already (got up at 5:45 AM). Yes, we had a rainy final night, which is a shame since if the weather is good that is usually a night in which each village staff gathers around the CQ fire to talk as a team one final time. I don't imagine that happened much last night in villages without a common indoor space. The closing campfires were pushed indoors too, which meant dealing with the various acoustical and other drags of the spaces. But nonetheless these two campfires - one for Wawayanda and one for Hird (there were others: Tokyo's, Adventure Village's, CITs'...) - were full of tremendous good feeling, loads of end-of-summer sentiment.

I saw a memo circulating yesterday among the leadership team, titled "The Last 24 Hours." It was full of instructions and details. But its title gave a sense of the general feeling.

This was a very good summer for Frost Valley. It ranks up there (per your faithful long-lasting reporter) with just a few others in sitting on the spectrum toward the SPECTACULAR. Very nearly flawless.

Annie B., a camper in Adventure Village, was talking with me about her experience here this summer. She's an Advill lifer. I asked her if she's coming back next summer, and she said, "Yes." I asked her if she was coming back to be in Adventure Village next summer, and she lit up and said, "Absolutely."  In an era of teen responses akin to "Whatever," I like the sound of absolutely. Annie B. is sure of something in her life. (See Annie, center bottom, in the photo above.)

I met Annie B.'s parents last night. We invited a few campers' parents to dinner at the Castle. Totally informal gathering. Mostly for parents who have been sending their children to camp here for many years. Two parents of CITs among them. I talked with Mike, one of two dads who have three children - the eldest of whom, Sally, is in Susky here for the first time at camp. She's a somewhat shy girl but full of inner pizzazz, and really articulate and fun to talk to. By the end of the session she was wearing a bandana, was cracking wise, was palling around with the ecstatic screamers and the hoopla agitators. Mike and I, over dinner, talked about parenting, and about children of same-sex marriages, and how the child of two dads or two moms learns how to talk with other children about all that. About the difference that really isn't ultimately different. Mike has already discovered that Frost Valley is implicitly a progressive place, a little utopia where these kinds of conversations are simply not fraught. I'm 100% sure that Sally found it possible to talk about her life and her family, for example at devotions, with an ease and sense of acceptance that will make her well prepared to deal with snarky versions of questions about her origins, about the complex and expensive arrangements her dads had to make to bring her into the world a decade ago.

Toward the end of an all-directors meeting in the office yesterday, I stopped in to say that it was "an honor and a privilege" to work with them. Their responses were gratifying but that's not the point of telling this. The point is that it is simply and plainly an honor. I'm honored. Never thought I'd still have something to contribute after more than half a century.

The rainy night dawned as a bright blue-sky and much cooler morning. I'll take it. The weather might hold and we'll have those memorable tearful huggy-kissy reunions of children and their adult protectors who didn't have to do much protecting for the last two or four or six or eight weeks. We were their kids' protectors - and then some. What else did we provide? An utterly safe place, yet a safe place in which children can take risks. A place where the stars can be counted into the thousands. A place where you could learn to walk a dark winding path through the woods at night without a flashlight. Where it was the very job of an adult to sit right down and listen to a child if she had something urgent or feelingful to say, or needed help.

There's a boy (we know him from two previous summers) who is what we used to call a "space cadet." He's very bright and really loves camp, but he likes to be or seem confused about what's going on - e.g. where are we going next period? where did I leave my water bottle? When we play Geronimo he likes to end up in the middle, unable to find a seat. Recently he broke his eyeglasses; the side piece broke off. I am ready to wager that either he permitted the glasses to fall or be sat upon, or that he didn't mind when it happened. And he hasn't particularly sought a remedy, more or less avoiding follow-up each time many of us guided him toward a way of having them repaired. And it occurred to me yesterday that maybe he's a child who needs others to know that he needs something, that he's always feeling a little dis-repaired. We used to call this attention-getting behavior, but I think that's too easy and reductive. I think I'd call his behavior a way of getting discussions started. He likes to stop and have a conversation, especially with an adult. I make no assumptions about his family life or his specific needs. I just observe that this is what this child wants to do and be at camp, and - to say the obvious - it's simply okay. It's okay not to play dodge ball but to be standing on the side having a wide-ranging not-quite-coherent conversation, the excuse for such having been that something needs a little or a lot of fixing or clarifying.

There are as many kinds of children here as there are children. We have learned to adapt and to be generous in specific rather than abstract ways. The only abstraction is the meta-abstraction: that such an approach is tolerance.

I used to like to work with Forest village because I could program them as a unified mass of rambunctious ready-to-play boys. Now I like to work with Forest because they are a little too young to be very self-conscious about their individual quirks but the quirks are very very apparent nonetheless. Each child in Forest has a different need. That's obvious, yes? But maybe not.

We've gotten very very good about this kind of tolerance. Very very very good. I can't think of another organization that does tolerance and accepting - as means of achieving diversity and inclusiveness in all their senses - more successfully. I'm honored to be associated with such a place. Honored is the word.

I leave this afternoon and will go back to work at my university, where I will once again commit to try to implement some things I learned at camp. Damn. You'd think I was some 13 year old boy, learning a skill of friend-making or lanyard-making or table-setting or rowboat-paddling at summer camp, ready to try out my new honed skills back home. I want to listen to my students and advisees better. I want to encourage my instructional and administrative staff to do what they do best, and not necessarily what I do best. I want to be fair-minded. I want to tolerate every single different and distinct learning style. It doesn't matter what or how much a student learns. What matters is how they learn and whether their experience of learning leads them, on their own, to the next such experience.

This goal of tolerant, fair teaching and leadership is always on my mind for a month, then it's occasionally on my mind for several months more, and by January or February I've lost sight of it. And then I realize that I might need another Frost Valley summer. Why? To remind me of my humanity. If that next summer comes, 2016, and I hope it does, I'll have another good shot at seeing and feeling a cool post-rainy 50-degree final camp morning like this one. I'll take it.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Quinnipiac ("PAC") village schedules, early 1990s

These weekly village schedules — for Quinnipiac (or "PAC") village — were made by Dave Bieler who, I believe, was the PAC VC in 1992 or '93. When Dave visited here earlier in the summer (his daughter was a camper in Lakota for a session) he spent some time with the PAC staff, who were intrigued by his old stories about how the village used to be. Later he mailed these schedules, which I shared with the staff. They noted how similar are some aspects of the schedule/activities. Click on any of the schedules for a closer look.

the count-off song for cabin 32

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

2003 staff shirt in 2015

Last night at Tacoma/Lenape/Mac Boys Challenge Night one of the prizes was my 2003 staff shirt. I think of 2003 is just a few years ago, but the math tell me it was...yes...a dozen years back! I only wore the shirt a few times that summer so it is in good shape. Alex Mair, Lenape counselor, won it and here he is at lunch today, proudly donning the thing.

Alex won it because he succeeded in the "Frost Valley history and trivia" challenge. He won on the following question:

There are three named streams that come down the valley on the north side of the Neversink River and feed into the Neversink. Can you name two of them?

The three correct answers are: Biscuit Creek, High Falls Brook, and "Trickle Creek" or "Hemlock Brook." The latter is the stream that comes down the hill, splitting the villages, flows under the parking lot near cabins 21-25 and, when it's been rainy or when the snow is melting, flows through Big Tree Field.

Pigeon Brook is an incorrect answer. Pigeon flows into Biscuit, which in turn flows into the Neversink.

Windsong at the Farm

Hannah Wolf, Windsong camper, today at lunch. Windsong is spending the afternoon at the Farm, and Hannah was not only excited about that - but decided to dress for the occasion.

urge for going

This lovely tree grows from the ashes of John, Molly and Casey Ketcham.

A visit with Eric Blum this morning. I bought my bluetooth speaker and played one of my favorite end-of-summer songs, Joni Mitchell's "Urge for Going." "I've got the urge for going, but I never seem to go."

winner 2015 smiles

Two of the great smiles among the summer 2015 staff - James and Molly.

bottom of the hill near at Grahamsville

Anyone who has spent time at Frost Valley knows the T intersection at the bottom of Wyman Hill. This is the end of the road from Claryville to the turn toward Grahamsville on Route 55. This morning I drove one of the directors to Zanetti's (for car repair) and then on to breakfast in Grahamsville and while waiting for the car to be delivered to the repair folks, I stood looking up at the hill and the intersection and realized that I'd never taken time to look from this vantage. The "T" here has lots of memories associated with it, including the time when, as a Junior Counselor, I spun out my Volkswagen Beetle as I made the left turn, coming from Liberty, much too fast. Nearly hit the barn.

a classic camp moment

One of the most amusing and camp-iest moments of the summer for me. I was driving out of the main part of camp in the early evening and saw Max and Alice returning from their day off, carrying a huge several-layer cake and a large pizza pie in a pizza box. These scrumptious non-camp luxury food items could not have been more obvious to all who saw them as they walked from the staff parking lot by the barn into camp. They told me they passed by many campers and staff (whole villages on the way to view the once-per-session rodeo performed by Mustang at the barn) and they all saw what the two carried and not one person even mentioned it. Eyes wide, and staring - but no comment at all! Is it implicit respect for those on a day off? Is it (somewhat like disconnecting from the internet) that at camp we don't really want such things as layer cake and pizza, or don't want to acknowledge what we can't have?

Dave Gansler

David Gansler (with Barbara Sunshine behind him) as a CIT. Mid-1970s. Dave later became a counselor in Lacota Village (spelled that way), a tipi village for boys and girls created and run by Leon Van Huesen. After "Van" passed away, Heather Sachs became VC, and after Heather the Lacota VC for several summers was Dave. A few years ago (search for it in this blog) Dave's son Jeremy was a counselor in Adventure Village.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015


Exciting announcement. We are building the BUD COX TRIP CENTER! See architect's sketches of the building below. This will be the place where everyone planning and departing for an overnight hike will stop to prep for the trip, consult maps, talk with the Trip Center Director and other Trip Center staff about the best trails to take, and, of course, will organize the gear and pack for the trip. It's where Adventure Trip campers will come after arriving at camp, to get oriented for their two-week Adventure Trip. It's where Adventure Village/Sequoia campers and staff will spend a lot of time, as they organize their 3- and 4-day backpacking, rockclimbing and canoe trips. It's where cabin groups leaving for day hikes will stop to check in, get maps, and get daypacks for snacks and water. It's where hikers of all kinds will be sent when they arrive at camp and want to learn about our trails.

This will be the building that will house all the services that are provided by what we used to call "Out-trip."

And we are naming this new much-needed facility in honor of the greatest and most experienced and most avid hiker and adventure tripper Frost Valley has ever known. Bud Cox. Henry A. Cox, Jr. He who began as a camper at Wawayanda in 1954. He who was the Village Chief of Lenape for a number of years. He who created and then served as the first Director of Adventure Camp. He who founded the Catskill Explorers program in 1968 and went on from there to leave an easy-to-follow trail, as it were, for his successors in making adventuring camping a continuing priority. We are naming the new Bud Cox Trip Center for Bud.

It will be located along the walking trail to Sequoia - not far from the Project Adventure walls. Please have a long look at the sketches. Click on each for a larger view.

Notice a screened-in porch that will serve as a classroom/planning room and orientation space. The building will be constructed of post-and-beam and will be have a main wide-open room for equipment and packing.

Monday, August 17, 2015

directors perform a harmonized medley of the summer's songs

the evening concert at Hirdstock

The weather cooperated and we were able to stage the evening concert at Hirdstock outside in Hirdstock Field.

Sunday, August 16, 2015


Olivia Tilles departed camp a few days early - today. This photo was taken at Hirdstock before they managed to find Olivia. Meantime, daughter Amanda (CIT Coordinator) joined them, along with Monica Robles (long-time friend and currently a nurse in our Wellness Center). Peter said he hadn't been at camp to see Hirdstock in many years. (Peter's older brother Danny was a CIT with me in '71. I've known the family for...for...forever.)

Hirdstock! - peace, love, song & camp

another Giannotti, redux

Cecilia ("CeCe") Giannotti is back in camp this session! She's in Sacky and here you see her (this morning at brunch) in her Hirdstock get-up, replete with fern stuck behind her ear. She's ready. And stands in a long line of Giannottis who have loved loved loved the all-day/evening open free concert we call Hirdstock. CeCe is the daughter of Dara and the late and much-missed-always Oran Giannotti.


Pokey-Totem finds a deer

Carl & Marie Hess are inducted into the FV Hall of Fame

Here are the program notes I wrote for the induction of Carl & Marie Hess into the Frost Valley Hall of Fame:


By 1968 Carl & Marie Hess had come of age, had met and married, had raised a child, and had developed a local reputation for stalwart good work—in the Pine Barrens of South Jersey, a region whose traditions of unpretentious striving they embodied and to which they felt deep
devotion. But that year they made a big unlikely decision—to move to and live at a camp in New York State, where, at that point, only one other family resided year round (for even the Executive Director who hired them, D. Halbe Brown, spent most of the year in New Jersey where he ran the camp's business office). The move to this unproven place, where everything needed at least a little improvement, was very much like pioneering. Carl and Marie did indeed work like pioneers. The many hundreds with whom they worked in the coming years and decades, and the tens of thousands who as weekend guests, teachers and schoolchildren, and summertime camper and counselors, were awed by their relentless effort, their integrity, and their capacity for helping others without the need ever of sermonizing about which core Frost Valley value they were demonstrating. Carl and Marie Hess proved the worth of these values every time they acted.

Their complete honesty, enormous sense of responsibility, great respect for others (especially
those who, no matter how different from them, were willing to work hard for the children), and intense feeling for stewardship of the beautiful property they had come to call home: these were the traits evinced by Carl and Marie, as they helped to establish a real belief at Frost Valley, shared by the entire staff, that (as John Giannotti once put it) "we weren't going to be part of any ordinary camp"—that we need only follow the way “these two people just knew instinctively how and when to apply their magical, unrelenting support" and thus could learn for ourselves how to accomplish what often in those days seemed an impossible task.

Indeed, their first decade here—until Carl's untimely death by cancer in the late 1970s—was an epoch of extraordinary, unanticipated growth. Somehow Carl and Marie kept pace, and thrived. Summer camp added 8 Sequoia tents, a large new Adventure Trip program, three new villages for teens, increased seasonal staff to more than 200, and sometimes fed nearly 900 people at a time in two dining halls. Busy conference weekends (with the addition of cross-country skiers) and the new and growing Environmental Education program brought annual totals of guests and campers served from a few thousand to 25,000 annually. Thousands of acres were added to the site. There were more fields to mow, more meals to prepare, more dishes to wash, more garbage bins to empty, more vehicles to repair, more laundry to clean, more cheeseburgers and root beer floats at Staff Lounge to serve late in to the night. Carl worked six and sometimes seven days each week as director of the camp's small maintenance crew. Marie worked in the kitchen between September and April, then both kitchen and housekeeping (with just one other person) in May and June, and then in the summers directed the perpetual cycle of camper laundry by day and the Staff Lounge in Pigeon Lodge until after 11 PM at night.

To this expansion they brought their continued commitment to the abiding values they loved: no matter the increasing numbers, every one at Frost Valley deserved their attention; if they could fix your problem, they would, no matter how far out of their way they had to go. Our inductees ever and always—be it weekday or weekend, dawn or midnight—went the extra mile, and, remarkably, this was often the literal fact: to jump a guest's car that had broken down in a blizzard halfway to Liberty; to deliver a laundered beloved teddy bear personally in the dining hall to calm the nerves of a 10-year-old camper who had never slept a night without it.

"They had a heart for mentoring young people and creating a team effort," wrote Jeff and Wendy Brown. "Hessie and Carl played a big part in my life," remembers Peggy Hope. "There was nothing they couldn't do. They were the great pioneers of Frost Valley, instrumental in creating a unique, nurturing, accepting and educational place where anyone, through effort, could experience it as home." "Marie and Carl promised to watch out for me," Kathy King Steinwedel recalls of her first summer on staff at 14, "and I always knew it. I learned that summer to work hard always. To be kind and generous. To be a little silly. To fold mounds of laundry as fast as possible!"

After losing Carl, Marie redoubled her work ethic, as if she were now and forever going to do enough good for Frost Valley for the both of them. She remained on the staff for many years, and then, after retirement, returned each summer for at least a month—still, as Rhonda McNamara put it at the time of Marie's death this past year, "the hardest working woman I have ever met and a role model to us all." Maureen Health Kosa speaks for many when she describes them as offering an example of principled adulthood: "I know that Hessie was the rock for so many of us at our home away from home. Her strength was an inspiration for me as a shaky adolescent, during a tumultuous era, who was trying to become independent and didn't know how. I hear her voice in my head, and smile."

Today we posthumously induct Carl & Marie Hess into the Frost Valley Hall of Fame, for their willingness and capacity to go the generous extra mile to help colleagues, friends and strangers alike; for their unyielding belief that no job in support of children and families was too small or too messy; for their 24/7/365 faith that Frost Valley’s vision would always be discerned in the details.