Gather 'round the (Virtual) Campfire:

Stories from Camp Read's Past

Greg Pitonza

August 29, 2020

Snorkeling and Staff Hunts in 2021: Things to do in the meantime

I woke up this morning and thought to myself, today would be the beginning of Week Five at camp.  As the summer has progressed, thinking about what would be on the camp schedule has been nearly a daily occurrence. In the mornings, I have often remembered some of the daily wakeup call music that has been played in recent years in the staff area, and at least once “heard” in my mind the morning bugle calls played by the troop I spent several summers with between my years on camp staff.  Having spent seventeen other summers on staff since 1982, and most recently, the last five years as Director of what is now the fourth camp on the reservation (STEM Ranch), the camp oriented summer calendar has become an ingrained part of my time orientation.  I would guess many of you have had similar thoughts and memories based on the magic of time at Camp Read.

Even before the State of New York decided not to allow resident summer camps to open this year, it was rightly decided Camp Read could not open this year.  Doing this has kept us safe from the spread of COVID at camp, but the camp experience has been greatly missed.  2019 celebrated 100 years for Camp Read, but I understand camp was forced to close during WWII.  Since then, camp has held over seventy years of continuous service with varied season lengths.  My understanding is that camp consisted of 4 two-week sessions many years ago.  I recall during the 1980’s there were years when a seventh week of camp was open for a variety of specialty camps (featured in Boy’s Life during that era), and a few years ago, camp was forced to close at the end of Week Five due to the Norovirus. Despite other changes, difficulties and losses that have occurred at camp, each time our summer home has reopened with a fresh perspective and commitment to maintain its many traditions.  When the Buckskin Dining Hall completely burned, countless people responded by getting the former Tomahawk Dining Hall operational to keep camp open and the following year a more efficient and tremendous new building became part of the camp identity.  There was a year when CIT’s were sent home early to save money (believe it or not), but now the program is bigger, has a dedicated director and camp site, and provides a more comprehensive and well-rounded training experience.  Long time staff have moved on leaving memories of people who gave 110% and had great influence on all at camp.  Many of them have continued to support camp, and new leading characters have stepped up.  Other changes that may have been “losses” to those before them, but replacements and improvements have made camp better.  Do any of you remember the old camp switchboard at Central Office?  Having spent a full week 24/7 in the office to answer outside calls and connect phones in camp, the new communication systems are more reliable with greater utility.  Trees that were once landmarks have regrown, or become improved spaces for a better program.  Next year, camp will reopen and the campless summer will be part of camp history.

During the past thirty-eight days and now, feelings about camp are a range of emotions like those when you can’t go home.  This year, we have experienced a reverse of homesickness.  I’d call it camp sickness, but camp is home.  As I have coped with this void in my life, I have often thought of the people I’d likely be in contact with during the summer.  They include – other staff, scouts, leaders, adult volunteers, and a variety of friends from past years at camp. The availability of cell phones and different online forums has given some relief by contact with others having similar thoughts, recollections and reactions.  It doesn’t replace camp, but offers a dose of meaningful contact and positive connection with what we know our “normal” lives should be.

As long as all of us wear our masks, maintain social distance, stay clean, and take care of ourselves, in ten months camp will open again in whatever form the normal/normal takes.  “Normal” is not always associated with camp compared to life off the reservation, so feel free to substitute it with the word “usual” or “typical”, although many of our memories are based on the “unusual” (you know what and who you are).  Maybe next year would better be defined as a return to the usual unusual?  Either way, it will again be a powerful and magical experience for those who are fortunate to spend another visit, or season at camp.  My box of camp t-shirts and other items is in a trunk ready to go forty-six weeks from now.

In the meantime, there are many things you can do to get through this awkward set of emotions at other places we might call home.  While my wife has gotten used to having the house to herself during the summers, I’ve been fortunate to have been allowed to stay in the house, but a cot from camp under canvas would oddly offer a sense of comfort.  At the same time, I haven’t been compelled to find one and spend a night with the crinkly noises and sound of sliding on a plastic mat, the sag of the net of wire links holding it up, and the pinch/bite of a cot spring.  Skipping the experience of “sleeping” on a cot, there are some other ways to make it through the rest of the summer.

Here is a list of activities and experiences to have a sense of camp.  Some may seem “artificial”, but remember camp is typically seen as the “real” world anyways.

  • Continue phone and electronic communications with others about camp and the wide array of related topics.

  • Set up and participate in a Google Meet, Zoom or other online gathering format (be sure to wear appropriate clothes and check the setting of your online image – there are some funny pics online of people who haven’t).

  • Read “Bears, Bible and a Boy – Memories of the Adirondacks” by Jesse David Roberts about his life on the current camp property. Copies of the book are rare, but it is online at pilgrimcamp.net. Go to https://www.pilgrimcamp.net/chapters-1-2.html to get started.

  • Read chapters from “For Joys We’ll Ne’er Forget: Curtis S. Read the Camp, the Reservation, the Complete History 1920-2009” (it is also identified as ISBN-10: 1441538259, or ISBN-13: 978-144538253). In addition to adding to your perspective of camp, you may also take some time to think about your role in the book (or other electronic forum) of camp history starting in 2010.  

  • Go to the Camp Read Association website and read some of the earlier editions of this newsletter.  The topics include a variety of historical and legendary accounts, current association news (such as reunions and camp staff gatherings), updates on Association projects at camp, and an earlier newsletter included an article about a floating Mazda on Waubeeka Lake).

  • Check out an updated view of camp from the webcam on the barn at the New Farmhouse (now STEM Ranch).  See https://www.wpcbsa.org/read/camp-read-webcam/

 

During the few years I was away from camp, I did coursework and internships for “Expressive Arts Therapy”.  (Relevant note - While Art Therapy relies on an interpretation by someone else, Expressive Arts Therapy is based on the experience you have expressing your thoughts).  Here are some ways you can experience camp in your own way.  The process can provide powerful ways to get in touch, vent, contemplate, self-medicate, etc. in a productive and meaningful way.  You might even consider sharing them in future newsletters (or donating artworks for the auction at the 2024 Reunion).

  • Create a video from past pics and clips (try it with comical narration, background music you associate with camp, or interject text of meaningful quotes).

  • Write, type or record a story about camp. See CampRead.org/stories  for past experiences, fictional events, how camp changed your life, or any point of reference connected to your time at camp.  Here are some prompts you could use to get started – During the summer of …, Everything was going well until …, The best part of camp is …, It was a good thing it didn’t …, The staff member who changed my life …

  • Create an infomercial about camp, a program area, etc.  Or, a presidential campaign commercial endorsing Probee or the Buckskin Bear.

  • Make a list of things like – the ultimate camp staff dream team, reasons camp is better than my favorite theme park, the most likely staff member to …

  • Sketch a comic book of camp superheroes, their superpowers, adventures, and varied tales.  You might have flying picnic tables, a reincarnated camp vehicle, an alpine slide from Summit (Camp Tomahawk) to Brant Lake, Buck the ultimate camp director, a wormhole through the Waubeeka Caves to another world or time, the STEM Ranch Robotic Rodeo, a time traveling Trek canoe, supercharged camp van or bus, talking trees or camp wildlife, or many things that might be considered “normal” at camp.

  • Draw or paint a picture based on your most iconic image of camp.  To make this easier, draw a grid over the image and another on your workspace to make it easier to create based on consistent proportions and placement of outlines.

  • Make a string marionette camp mascot with scraps of wood, clay or other objects to create the feet, body, hands and head.  Each one can be tied to a t-shaped paddle made from two sticks or rulers.  Between the suspended items, fabric can be stapled or glued to the suspended parts forming legs and arms.  Then other things can be added to enhance the character of your marionette.  When completed it can be hung up as a reminder of camp, used in a video, brought to camp for debut at a campfire, or passed along to someone who may appreciate a “piece” of the camp.

  • For those of you who are more electronically/application literate, a story can be written or animation made in collaboration with others from camp.  This might be done as a live event, or through a series of additions when passed from one person to the next.

  • If music is a comfortable medium, time can be used to rehearse for future events with other people from camp, or maybe create a new song based on your own lyrics.

  • Another productive use of time could be the production of something to be used at camp.  Consider a device/object for use in a campsite or program area, make a model or display to be used as a visual aide for merit badge instruction, and other objects to be used at camp in the future. While the item may not be as expressive, the process, time spent and contribution can be a rewarding use of your time.

 

The resources and ideas above may help make the summer social distance from family and life at camp less difficult.  Find a way to “experience” a part of camp that is most comfortable and enjoyable for yourself.  My usual excuse for using time to get in touch with activities like those listed above is “it is cheaper than therapy”.  Writing this article has been one of my ways to stay balanced and get a piece of camp.  My hope is you may have identified with some part of this, to make your time away from “home” at camp a little easier.

During 2021, the masks at camp will be used for snorkeling and lifesaving, and social distance will be time for yourself or running from scouts during a staff hunt.  See you then.

For generations, summer after summer, scouts have been making memories at Camp Read. In 2020, the pandemic may have forced regular activities to pause, but campers from years gone by are sharing their stories here in an effort to fill in the gap. Read on to get your fix of Camp Read hijinks until we can safely fill a parade ground once more!

 

Have a story of your own? Please submit to webmaster@campread.org!

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© 2020 by the Camp Read Association.

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