Wednesday, May 1, 2019/written by Ken Robbins/Go Back
When I stroll through camp at different times of year, whether camp is in full swing and echoing with sounds of adventure and play or in the quiet of winter, I marvel at the history in every tree, cabin, and unique feature. While so many aspects of life feel recent and temporary, everything at Kabeyun breathes permanence, as if it has been here forever and I am only the latest visitor, preceded and to be followed by those with their own stories.
Some years ago, as we worked through the annual fall ritual of shuttering camp for the winter, an elderly man drove in and parked by the old gas pump. I approached him and introduced myself as he slowly climbed from his car. As his gaze panned the shoreline he said, “It’s probably been sixty years since I’ve been here, and it looks the same. The trees are bigger.” We meandered through camp together that afternoon, finding various landmarks and swapping stories of camp past and present. There was no mistaking his joy at returning to find the site of so many of his memories intact.
At times, I wonder what moments in a summer will burn their way into that region of our brains that saves certain memories for a lifetime. Do we realize in the moment that, years from now, the details will remain so vivid that it will seem as though it happened only yesterday?
Of camp’s many activities – sailing, hiking, waterskiing, fishing, archery, pottery, to name a few – perhaps the most intriguing is a creation of Bill French’s, which he aptly calls Kabeyun History. Some days, he guides campers through different parts of camp, pointing out a building that was moved, a seemingly random clearing in the woods that was once a badminton court, or a relic of camp’s old plumbing system unearthed from its hiding place amongst the leaves. At other times, he delves into the archive and allows campers to pore over treasured photographs, each one accompanied by a story only Bill could tell. I’ve listened in once or twice, hovering on the periphery, and thought about how his tales are an implicit reminder that one day, moments from our present will become the stuff of legend to be shared with another generation.
This core aspect of what happens at Kabeyun is, I find, hardest to articulate. We create the space and the framework for campers, counselors, parents, families, and friends to experience moments that shape who they will become, the choices they will make, and the path their lives will take. That we can return to the scene of our formative memories and have the opportunity to relive them is a gift, an anchor in a world that, at times, looks and feels unrecognizable from one generation to the next.
When the staff gathers in June to prepare for the season ahead, I remind them that while teaching campers and keeping them safe is a critical component of their job, they also have an essential mission: to find every possible opportunity to make each and every camper’s summer special. Help them to have a moment, to have lots of moments, that will mark this summer in the story of their childhood – “That was the summer I got my mate!” “That was the summer we climbed Mt. Katahdin!” “That was the summer our counselors woke us in the middle of the night to watch the meteor shower on the dock!”
I ask them to do that not only for their campers, but for themselves and for each other – “That was the summer I taught Johnny to dive!” “That was the summer I took the Chipmunks on a cabin trip to Franconia Falls!” “That was the summer we put a Volkswagen on the crib!”
And I remind them that we do this not just for those fortunate enough to spend their summer at camp, but for the parents who entrust their sons to Kabeyun – “That was the summer he made me a mug in pottery!” “That was the summer he sent us a letter written on birch bark!” “That was the year he came home and volunteered to wash the dishes!”
This sense of permanence and purpose at Kabeyun was made possible by the foresight of the people who were instrumental in camp’s establishment and evolution – giants of our past with the names Porter, Latham, Old, Mills, Flanagan, Webster, Ricker, French, Metzger, Dock, and others. Their vision, work, and devotion gave us this place we can return to and relive moments that define who we were and who we became. In the summer ahead, camp’s 96th, we will fill that space with new transformative moments – moments of challenge, of accomplishment, and of joy that become a part of us and part of camp forever.
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