A Little Sun and a Little Shower!

Dear Parents and Friends,

Just as we let out for campfire it began to sprinkle and now about thirty minutes later it’s raining on those tin roofs and children are hearing the waterfall of rain that is like the sandman times two.  Living here as we all do each summer has so many touches with nature and sounds.  Last week several deer just decided they would parade around camp for several days.  One doe has two fawns that are accompanying her on the family rounds.  One of my favorite human touches of camp is waiting on the front porch of the dining room each morning to watch the Hillsiders come down from their cabins and run down the path to their gathering area right at the steps of the porch.  I think the younger you are the faster you run.  We once had a Playhouse counselor who wore a tutu every morning to breakfast and she and her co-counselor and all the girls would scream to the top of their lungs as they ran past the Mill and toward us as we watched their arrival to the steps.  I promise to have some video of this asap over the  next few days.

On my daily rounds this morning I got to Yanderside just after they had made some beautiful scarves.  This is an amazing craft skill the children pick up and they come out with some very nice creations.  Pottery is right next door and they were making whistles out of clay and forming them into all kinds of shapes and animals.  From there it was just across the path to the Mill where staff were milling, grinding and taking our campers back in history to the time of the 1890’s when the Mill was started. Life was very different back then, yet we have retained a feel for the work that the average person had to do just to take the corn he or she had grown and turn it into food for his family and feed for the animals.  It really provides a greater appreciation of where our food comes from and hopefully a greater appreciation of how hard many farmers work.  This morning’s breakfast of grits and scrabbled eggs came partially from the Mill.

From there I visited soccer where they were working on drills and also our mountain bikers who were working with a strong and enthusiastic group of bikers that took on all challenges on our little course in the middle of camp.  There are 3 miles of single track trails on our property but the crew have to learn the basics and foundations before we head out to those.  Climbers were climbing at the climbing wall and learning their knots.  Part of learning to tie a knot is learning to tie a neat knot.  A neatly tied knot is a safer knot and stronger knot.  All the bends and curves are even and there is equal stress on all parts.  We have a saying about knots at camp; “A not neat knot is a knot not needed”.  I get some puzzled looks from campers and that statement, as I did this morning helping our staff teach the figure 8 follow thru to a group of campers.

This is our second day of camp and what little homesickness we’ve had has dwindled.  Children soon realize that our environment can be just as nurturing as maybe home with more siblings (cabin mates) involved.  Camp is such a great place for children to stretch themselves and take this experience and grow.  Psychologist Michael Thompson wrote an entire book about the importance of child-parent separation. Homesick and Happy: How Time Away from Parents Can Help a Child Grow urges helicopter parents to land their hovercraft and set their kids on a path to success.   Thompson intended to write a book about all sorts of away-from-home experiences, but he zeroed in on the “magic of camp” after deciding that it’s where most kids first battle homesickness only to emerge triumphantly independent.  ”We’re so intertwined with our parents psychologically, if you want to know who you are, it’s helpful to get away from them” says Thompson.

Most camps like us post lots of photos of campers each day.  Some camps even allow campers to accept emails and respond back home on one of the many camp computers.  Not on my watch thank you.  I don’t put up our pics to allay your fears and anxiety but to let you know what your child is experiencing.  I think we have a good thing going on here and feel confident that we can provide some aspects of short term away from home experiences that parents and school can’t provide.  We’re also not interested in providing your child’s journey through photos.  We want you to capture his or her thoughts when they arrive home and have them describe their experiences to you as they interpret them and not through your interpretation of photos you see of them.  This is part of what we call the Simple Joys of Childhood.

What we see at camp is that for the average homesick camper, it takes two or three days to get over it and start realizing the fun you can have.  We’ve got one camper in our older folks program who has struggled since day one with homesickness and we’ve worked with the parents and camper to get to this point of making it.  I’m so proud of this camper on so many levels after witnessing an absolute breakdown on the phone with mom and dad.  I was thinking at the time, no way, homeward bound.  But.. here we are after working with the camper (and the parents being very strong on the home front), the camper is as happy as a clam and I’m sure will be so much stronger for the experience.

Children need independence and need to feel that they can do something hard on their own.  It’s easier sometimes when another adult mentor besides the parent is the wind in their sails to encourage them on to success.  We’re sailing right along here at GV and hope you reap some stories written on the wind when your child returns home.  Stay tuned!

Opening Day E Session!

Dear Parents & Friends,

It was a splendid day in the Valley.  Thank you for dropping off your children and I hope that all of you made it safely to your home or other destination.  We just finished dinner which was of course a child friendly meal of Macaroni and Cheese (super cheesy) salad, fresh peaches, and a giant cookie for each cabin.  I was able to sit next to Cabin Echo as they had their first full meal in the dining room.  It’s always an experience to see them in action.  They will have breakfast together again tomorrow morning and then we’ll all divide up and sit at different tables for the duration of E Session.  The boys at the table were excited that the cookie was served on a giant pizza pan.  That’s a pretty darn big cookie remarked one young man.  After several helpings of the mac and cheese, I think several of them struggled to finish their cookie portion.  It’s hard to not finish when it’s chocolate chip and tastes delicious.

Our afternoon was full and activities started just after lunch which was from 12 – 1.  We all went to the Lodge to learn about Discovery activities, which the children signed up for today and then afternoon activities began as soon as everyone got back to their cabin to change.  Everyone had a swim assessment this afternoon to determine their swim level.  The Farm, Mill, Sports, Arts & Crafts, Pottery, Climbing, and Horses were among the afternoon activities that got things rolling here for the first day.  Sign-ups included the following: Farm/Mill, Horses, Archery, Canoeing, Climbing (3 different kinds), Gourd-eous Gourds, Martial Arts, Weaving, Fine Arts, GV Rescue, Web of Life, Marbling, Fine Arts Puppets, Fine Arts Behind the Scenes, Candles, Creative Writing, Felt Making, Mountain Biking, Pottery, Outdoor Living Skills, Soccer, Aqua Games and Jackson Kayaks.  The campers will find out what activities they got out of their many choices.  The will have a chance to take 4 of the above choices in the morning every other day (2 each day) and then we’ll have sign-ups in the afternoon which will be different every day all week long.  They can participate in 2 one hour activities or 1 two hour activity.

Tonight we held our first campfire of E Session and just finished the cabin introductory skits.  Each cabin puts on a skit and introduces the cabin to the whole camp.  About half of the cabins provided their skit tonight and the others are on tap for tomorrow.  They were excellent tonight.  All kinds of music and fun activities acted out and sung right on our own stage.  Everyone is back in their cabin tonight and will soon be off to sleep.  We have a tradition at Gwynn Valley, where a group of staff circulate first on Hillside then on the Brook and sing to each cabin to let them know it’s time for bed.  They’re called the Serenader’s.   Speaking of campfires, some of our cabins have campfire rings near their cabins so I expect that many of those groups will have campfires just for their cabin or maybe team up with another group.  It’s a busy 8 days and so much to do and so little time to do it in.   For those of you that have children for the 3 weeks of Mountainside and Riverside they’ve begun to prepare for their adventures and will be leaving on Tues. morning bright and early.  I hope to join at least one Mountainside group for a day this week.  It will either be the bikers or paddlers, maybe both.  I’ll keep you posted.

Thank you for sharing your children with us this summer.  We have an excellent staff and I’m excited to have them work with your children.  Our college-age students and young adults possess a completely different kind of skills than do parents, and they put it to good use encouraging children to become independent while at camp.  Their job description includes the following: encouraging them to set tables, make beds, keep track of their clothes, take showers, take turns and, more important, take risks and accept challenges that would melt parents into a puddle of anxious empathy. These young adults often teach complex, challenging skills:  horseback riding, rock climbing, whitewater kayaking, building a fire, handling a bow and arrow, using a knife, and survival techniques. They also teach character and community, resilience, caring and sacrifice. And they do it all in an environment free of electronics; hallelujah!

Why is it that these children pay such close attention to counselors who are actually just a few years older than they are? How can these counselors, so young and relatively inexperienced with children (though they have far more training than in the past), get campers to do things without a struggle that are often an occasion for tears and tantrums at home?

In his masterwork, “Childhood and Society,” Erik Erikson reminds us that not all learning comes from “systematic instruction.” In preliterate societies and in non-literate pursuits, he points out, “much is learned from adults who become teachers by dint of gift and inclination rather than by appointment and perhaps the greatest amount is learned from older children.” 

Children love to learn, and sometimes they learn more from older children, and, at a camp that means older campers, S.I.T.’s (staff  in training) and camp counselors. They want to live with them, emulate them, absorb them. In our age-segregated society, camp is the only place in America where an 11-year-old can get the sustained attention of a 19-year-old. In return for the attention of these “older children,” campers will make sacrifices. They will follow all kinds of rules and adhere to all kinds of rituals that they would likely fight at home.

We hear this all the time from parents after children return home.  “He is so grown-up,” they observe. “He is so responsible!” “She cleans up after himself.” A mother, amazed at her child’s growth in only a couple of weeks, remarks, “She tries so many new foods!”

There’s just no contest between parents and counselors. The college students are vastly better looking than we are; they are truly cool and they have dazzling skills. When children need a summer filled with growth and change (not to mention fun and adventure), summer camp should be on the agenda.  So…. thank you for putting us on your agenda and we’re looking forward to a great E session with these children.  Stay tuned!

PS    Our upload for photos is going really slowly tonight so bear with us.

Pillowcase Day, Packing, and Prep for Adventures!

Dear Parents & Friends,

It’s been a great day at camp with our last morning of sign-ups and our end of session pillowcase day at the pool.  Pillowcase day is actually in the afternoon and while our staff are making sure that luggage is in its proper place our waterfront staff are attending to your children at the pool.  It’s a fun afternoon of swimming with your pillowcase and filling it with air to float on.  It’s actually an old survival trick and works with certain kinds of clothing.  In our case it’s for pure out and out FUN.  Tubing trips went out this morning as it was yet another very warm day here at camp.  We just ended our day with Friendship campfire and had many campers and staff share songs, music and laughter.  We also showed some photo highlights from the session that were really terrific.  Kimmi, our photographer for the session, put together a great slide show for the campers and staff.  Everyone loves to see themselves and their friends in the pictures.  It makes for a good way to remember all the great times we had this session.  Anne and I presented GV blankets to those campers who have been with us for 4 years and plaques to those who have been here for 5 years.  We also honored our long standing campers and staff upward of 5 years up to 30 +.  Some of our younger staff have already been here 10+ years starting out in Echo and Playhouse, our youngest cabins.

Talent abounds at Friendship Campfire

I was out on the river a good portion of the day with Mountainside and they were paddling their first day on moving water.  This was their first trip trying out swift current and it certainly different from what they are used to.  The group learned a lot about communicating with their partner and trying to figure out angles as it relates to how the current pushes your boat around.  Speed, boat angle and boat lean are the 3 most important elements to get when first starting out.  Leaning the wrong way can be the millisecond difference between swimming and staying upright.  Several boats went over but it’s an easy place to rescue so all a part of the learning experience.  The rest of the MS groups went biking, hiking and climbing today.  This was their final full day of training in preparation for next week.  All of Mountainside will be getting ready to head out next Tues.  for their adventures.

Pillowcase Day in full swing, slide and swim!

It’s been a pleasure to work with your children and I say this on behalf of my staff.  We’ve have a great group of campers here this session and all the campers have been so nice.  I’ve had two wonderful groups of campers at my table and tonight was our last meal together.  Tomorrow morning we’ll eat in our cabin groups.  I’ve always said that camp is mostly about building relationships with other people and thinking more about the group than oneself.  We appreciate you all turning your children over to us for two weeks and wish we could keep them a little longer.

Clay sculpture on the Green (aka – Slip and Swim)

Tomorrow when you arrive your children from Session D will be waiting for you in the cabins.  At 10:30 there will be a cabin friendship circle where all can join in.  We do these each night and check in with campers to find out how their day has been.  It allows staff to see how the children are doing since they only see them at morning wake-up, bedtime and just before and after meals.  A lot happens in our day here at camp and it’s a good way to learn about the children’s experiences.  After the friendship circle there is our program in the Lodge for parents, friends and campers.  You can stay and enjoy a wonderful GV lunch at noon if you like.  Thank you again and have a safe trip.   Stay tuned!

The Tajar’s Birthday and Trips Out!

Dear Parents and Friends,

Today we awoke to a foggy and mysterious morning and it fit perfectly since it was the Tajar’s birthday.  If you don’t know who the Tajar is, well just let me tell you a few choice facts about him.  First of all let me help you parents with pronunciation of the Tajar’s name.  The Ta sounds like ta in tack.  The jar sounds like jur and put them together with more emphasis on the first syllable, you have Ta-jar.  He would appreciate you knowing that.  All the children can help when they arrive home which is coming up fast.  The Tajar is something like and the key word here is something, like, a badger, jaguar and tiger.  If you see him once you forget that you saw him.  If you see him twice you forget that you forgot and if you see him a third time, he becomes your friend.  Anyway, back to the Tajar’s Birthday, which was today.  In actuality he celebrates his birthday every session.  He’s old but as spry and limber as a counselor.  Like any other day that’s his birthday we go right on with program and it was another splendiferous day here at camp.  His folly includes putting things where they don’t belong, like kayaks on the path to the Mill, innertubes hanging from the trees, spoons and cups in odd places, dining tables moved outside and balloons hanging from string in the dining room.  The campers get a kick out of it and it’s fun to watch their reaction.  The Tajar Ball is always a hoot and everyone comes dressed in masquerade.  There were astronauts, princesses, monsters, dragons, kung fu fighters, aliens, unicorns, fairies, golfers, ball players, runners, brooms, turtles and much more.  Let you imagination go wild.  After the cookout we held a carnival on the soccer field with all kinds of booths, food, hayrides and games.  Kids love it and staff have a pretty good time as well.

It was a weather perfect day here after the fog burned off around 10.  Main Camp kayakers went to the Green today and had a great time.  Almost everyone turned over which means they were learning a lot. We also had bikers out today at Dupont State Forest and Climbers were out at Looking Glass.  Last but not least the Web of Life folks went up in Pisgah to explore a portion of the Davidson River and found some good swimming holes.  All four Main Camp groups had fun exploring various terrain and using human power to walk, bike, climb and paddle in those areas.

I spent the morning going around to different activities including riding, pottery, the mill, two of our arts activities, sports, and of course the farm.  Later in the day the farm picked the first watermelons of the season as seen in the picture.  We’ve been harvesting our cantaloupes but these are the first water melons.  Corn was also picked and is a GV staple this time of year along with fresh tomatoes.  Yesterday provided the right amount of rain for the crops that are thriving right now.  We had a little too much rain earlier in the summer which left us a little shy in the potato realm.  When the ground stays too moist the potatoes don’t do as well.  Other crops have done well this summer.

Watermelons for the picking

This afternoon Mountainside had signups and will leave to go on their second training day tomorrow.  I took a group on a creek hike today and several of them wanted to go because they hadn’t creek hiked in a while.  Our Carson Creek is spectacular to hike and it makes you feel like you’re very remote while out there.  We had a great group and everyone got thoroughly wet and water logged from hiking in the creek.

Update on Riverside:  They paddling the Tuck today and will be on the Nantahala tomorrow and hopefully on Section 9 of the French Broad on Friday.  I only wish I was with them.

On a different note this marks the 151st year of organized camping in the US.  And with over 60 percent of parents reporting that their child continues to participate in activities learned at camp, we are planting the seeds that grow into a lifetime of service to communities.  Community gardens are a good example of one of those services that is thriving right now.  We started one at our church utilizing some land behind the church right downtown that is never used.  Camps are teaching great lessons and values that build on the same values you as parents are trying to instill.  I’m proud to partner with all of you to make the best possible young person that we can. Gwynn Valley is dedicated to that mission and we hope that you will reap some of the benefits when your child returns home.  Stay tuned!