Tajar Folly, Boys and Time!

Parents and Friends,

Tajar Folly greeted us this morning as we all came down to breakfast.  The Tajar had been up to no good and taken everything from teacups to boats and put them in the oddest places.  I suppose he had too much fun at his birthday celebration last night.  I didn’t have time and space to tell you about the Tajar Ball last night, but it’s always a lot of fun.  Everyone comes to the Ball in costume and we have dinner and then the whole camp assembles on the soccer field and surrounding area for games and fun plus lots of food.  There’s everything from the penny drop, face painting, boat races, tin can knockdown, strongman bell ring, soccer shootout, fortune telling, toilet toss, minute challenges, frisbee toss, guess the M&M’s, and a dunking booth which gets a lot of action and more.  A lot of staff were “dunked” including yours truly.  It’s as you might guess, a large tank filled with water with a plexi-glass front.  You’re in the water before you can say much or harass the throwers.  It’s fun for the children as well as the adults.

It was a late night last night and everyone was a little bleary eyed this morning but not so much that we couldn’t get our bikers back out again to Dupont.  The group that went out today was a bit more advanced than yesterday’s group and challenged themselves on some different trails.  One of my favorites is called Ridge Line which is mostly a rolling downhill that twists and turns through a beautiful pine and deciduous forest.  Combine that with Hilltop, Locust and Isaac Heath and you’ve got a great trip.  All came home super pumped and excited about their time in the saddle.  Actually there’s not that much saddle time if you riding in the attack position which we teach early on to the campers.

Living in ACC country, basketball is king (even though the ACC is not what it used to be).  There was some audacious basketball going down at camp this morning.  We’ve got some great little athletes who get into some sort of game each day.  I was watching a soccer game the other afternoon and we have some amazing little soccer players of very young ages.  Most larger towns and cities have travel teams and the caliber of soccer has never been higher.  Lacrosse is another game that I love to watch and we have a few kids who like to toss it around while at camp.  While our focus is not so much on team sports, I love to see campers really get into a good game of soccer, basketball, ultimate or even touch football.  All of these are easy to play at camp and we also entertain fat bat baseball, kickball, volleyball and nukem.

I went down to the farm this afternoon and spent some time there checking in on our animals and campers taking care of animals.  Mama goat was being milked by many campers, and the baby chicks were getting a lot of attention.  The campers took it a step backwards and also gathered future chicks in the form of eggs.  They picked about 38 pounds of green peppers and squash and fed the baby calves which aren’t so much babies these days.  Normally you would wean a calf in about 6 to 8 weeks but these have been on GV bottles for quite some time.  It’s good ole fashioned nurturing by the campers.  Our cows are the luckiest cows on the planet.

We do our best to promote what you’re doing at home at meal times with stressing good manners at the table.  I’ve got these two young boys at my table and it goes without saying that I really love them because they are all boy.  We had French Toast for breakfast this morning and we were starting to run out at the table and it was near the end of the meal.  They both had been putting away their fare share and more, so I asked if anyone wanted the last piece.  One hand shot up just a bit faster than the other so I gave the last piece to one lad and the other looked very disappointed.  Their names will remain anonymous.  The one who got the last piece volunteered to go get more and I said great and was getting ready to hand him the platter to get a refill.  The young man who didn’t get the last piece was eying his friend’s lone piece of French Toast lying on his plate and his buddy saw him eying the “last piece”.  For insurance purposes, he stabbed it with his fork, looked at his friend and said, “just in case there’s no more up there and you might be tempted to eat mine”, he licked the length of the “last piece” to assure it was still there when he got back.  I almost died from laughter but held it back saying it probably wasn’t necessary to lick the toast in order to keep it safe from marauding friends.  It’s a guy thing and is played over and over in so many ways in our male world.   There was in fact more French Toast so everyone was happy in the end.

In our child’s world this kind of “stuff” keeps us going.  Here’s another piece that came across my desk this morning.  Love the thought in this and yes it’s busy here and sometimes there’s not enough time in the day.  Stay tuned!

Time is precious at camp!

Time is precious at camp!

A Busy Day Means Happy Campers!

Dear Parents and Friends,

It’s been a busy day here and a very fun one.  We celebrated the Tajar’s birthday a bit earlier because we’ve been trying to keep tabs on the weather this summer and it seemed that most of our Tajar celebrations have been rained on.  We decided this morning to reschedule and it’s so easy at camp because we work in such a spontaneous atmosphere.  We’re constantly arranging and rearranging based on weather.  It’s been one of those summers but we’ve weathered it (no pun intended).  Believe it or not today was the first day that we’ve allowed a group of tubers to go on the French Broad since mid June.  The river only yesterday receded to a level that I thought was safe.  We scheduled a trip today and had about 10 campers sign up for it.  I went along in a canoe to check it out for myself to see if we were ready for the river and the river was ready for us.  Everyone had a wonderful time and by the end of the trip all the campers were hanging on to my boat.  We were singing and laughing most of the way down.  The run is only a couple of miles long and just about three miles driving time.  When we get to the Gwynn Valley takeout, we walk our tubes and gear back to camp.  We got back just before Tajar Ball dinner which consisted of burgers and dogs with all the trimmings plus watermelon.  At the Ball there was ice cream, GV popcorn, and snow cones.  There’s no lack of food around here.

This morning I was able to go out with our Main Camp mountain bikers as they rode herd on the Dupont State Forest trails.  We had a couple of boys from Echo and Chipmunk Hut and the rest of the campers both male and female came from the Brookside age group.  Hopefully I got some good GoPro video today.  We began at Fawn Lake and took on Airstrip Trail, Shelter Rock Trail, Barn Trail –spent some time at Bridal Veil Falls- where the Hunger Games and Last of the Mohicans were filmed.  The river there was pumping and everyone enjoyed eating a snack before we pedaled on.  From there  it was Conservation Road, Pitch Pine Trail and back to Buck Forest.  I rode back to the van and met them on the other side of the park just after the falls visit.  Dupont is such a beautiful place and it has so much to offer.  We use it a good bit and actually bike there for 4 days during the Mountainside adventure.  Our RS and MS paddlers stay nearby at Holmes State Forest which backs up to Dupont.  There are over a hundred miles of trails there and many beautiful waterfalls.  It would be a good spot to stop by as you drop off or pick up some year.   The campers did a great job navigating all the hills, rocks and roots.  Cass who runs our program has a protocol for going down trails and each rider lets the one behind him or her know what’s coming up on the trail.  They ride about 7 to 10 seconds apart and after several rides at camp you kind of know where you are in the line.  There is always a counselor in the front and one in the back and sometimes one in the middle.  This makes for a much safer and enjoyable experience for the camper and the staff.

While I was out of camp for most of the day there were many things going on in program.  The weavers took their work off the looms and were tying knots and getting ready to wrap up their projects.  Campers were glazing pots in anticipation of what color or shade of color the glaze might turn out.  The felters completed their projects and some were hanging just outside the dining room to show off.  With the sun beating down all day long, the farm was a great place to be.  I would say that our farm animals are the luckiest on earth because of all the attention they get.  The baby goats love to hop up on the backs of campers and campers love it as well.  Those campers that took diving with Matt held a contest today and it went very well.  12 campers showed up to strut their stuff learned from the diving class.  Matt is really good and makes just jumping off the dock look spectacular.  Of course in children’s eyes counselors are pretty spectacular all the time.  We really emphasize to our staff how important their role is in the lives of children.  They are like sponges, sometimes hanging on every word.  Hiring good staff is the heart of what we do.  We can have the best facility or I can be the best director but my staff makes it all happen.  Many of our staff are old campers and those that aren’t are equally valued.  We need a fresh look at the program each summer and enjoy bringing in new staff to help rev up our program with a fresh eye and creative ways to teach and provide for your childrenCamp creates great memories and is an important part of children’s lives.  We thank you for sending us your children and the chance to broaden their lives with the simple joys of childhood here at Gwynn Valley.  Stay tuned!

So Much to Do and So Many Chances!

Dear Parents and Friends,

Another rain free day at GV produced a bevy of fun today.  As Discovery ended on Sat., we now have double sign-ups, one in the morning and one in the afternoon.  So, each day campers can sign up for 4 activities of their choice and hopefully in activities they wanted to do but couldn’t last week.  As Matt, our program director, said at breakfast this morning, it’s double the fun today.

Outdoor Living Skills started their day by brewing up some Hemlock Tea for their after breakfast drink.  Now don’t be concerned, this is not the poison hemlock that Socrates drank (that does grow in a higher elevation), it’s the Hemlock Tree.  The very ends of branch have tender shoots this time of year that taste very lemony and with a little honey it makes a fine tea.  Many of our hemlocks are under siege from a predator called the wooly adelgid, so it was a good time to teach the campers about the plight of these trees.  OLS should have teamed up with the folks at The Mill because they were churning out Johnny Cakes.  The two would have complimented one another.   Campers at the Mill were grinding a lot of corn today which first of consisted of taking the corn off the cob.  Cindy, the Miller, has a variety of tools to help with this.  My favorite is a hand crank device that takes the kernels off and then shoots the empty cob into another bin.  In the 1800’s, that was automation.  Campers also used hand shellers which are fun and provide a good workout for your forearms and hands.  There’s also a number of ways to grind the corn after you shell it.  Our Mill is the easiest way, but many of the campers prefer to turn one of the old mill grinders or use the stone grinder that you turn by hand.  You can’t imagine how many things you can make from a simple corncob.  The options are limitless.

From farm to art and there is a connection.  We grow gourds on our farm and after they are picked in the fall they lay out in the attic of our barn and dry out.  They’re good for making all kinds of things which the children were doing today.  It’s fun to paint them and color them in an assortment of ways.  Just around the Mill is where a lot of activities are located including our pottery shop and Yanderside.  The potters were learning to throw on the wheel when I went by this afternoon.  This is something I’ve never been able to accomplish and it looks so easy.  I somehow manage to stick a finger through the pot I’m trying to turn.  I should just stick to pinch pots.  Not far away in another arts area campers were tye dying T shirts.  GV does some serious tye dye and you’ll see evidence of this when your camper comes home.

There were two shifts of climbers that went up to the Rock today to climb.  This “Rock” is on our property and located almost on top.  There’s three climbs located on the rock that we put up very early in our tenure here at camp.  The longest is a face crack climb that you’ll see pictures of as you view the pics of the day.  If you know anything about climbing ratings, it’s rated about 5.9 or 5.10.  It’s not an easy climb and we had several campers make it to the top today.  It’s nice to have this on our property.  It’s a nice hike and it feels like you could be out in the middle of Pisgah but you’re only a 10 or 15 minute walk  from camp center.

There are a couple trips out of camp tomorrow as paddlers and bikers hit the water and trails at Dupont and the French Broad.  The more advanced Main Camp climbers went to Looking Glass today and climbed at the Nose area.  Great views and super scenery!  Speaking of out of camp, I visited Cabin Sunrise tonight on their campout.  They were camping at Indian Cave which is right next the roaring Carson Creek that runs through the center of camp.  It’s a super campout place and you feel like you’re in the middle of nowhere.  When I got there the boys were having roasted hotdogs over and open fire.  A simple meal, but just being out there and chilling with your buds is far more important that the cuisine.  Almost every boy had a stick in their hand when I got there and it was being used for different things.  Hey, it’s a guy thing and I get it, because we all like to mess around with sticks and poke the fire.  Their dessert was Apples and Oranges and I showed them how you can enhance a small flame by squeezing the orange peel skin.  I think it’s the ascorbic acid that burns, but don’t quote me on that.  It’s pretty neat and you can do with a match.  Just squeeze the peel right next to the match and watch what happens.  Being on a campout and having that unstructured freeplay with your buds is the best.  Our lives are very structured and organized even at camp. It’s nice to just have a good time around the fire with your friends.  These guys get along great and it was fun being with them and their staff.

After their campfire, I went to the Farm Campfire for Main Camp which was in the Lodge.  There was story telling, dancing, music, the story of The Billy Goats Gruff (with real goats and a vicious troll pig), songs by cabins, and the best carrot cake you’re ever tasted and made while we watch.  This part of the show was pure humor and fun.  As I’ve said in the past, it’s a full day here and it’s about that time!  Stay tuned!

Special Day at GV!

Dear Parents & Friends,

Another splendid day at GV and time is flying.  It’s hard to believe that everyone arrived just last Sunday.  It was Special Day here at camp as is every Sunday while a session is going on.  Today’s theme was Medieval Times and the Dining Room was under siege this morning by a fierce Dragon.  We were all set up to go through Knight training in the morning to pursue the dreaded beast.  Every station required skill and concentration and was just plain fun.  We had water activities as well as land activities.  The day was meant to be a challenge and it was.  We filled the afternoon with sign-ups centered on our theme of the day.  Besides having great weather we also partook of some great GV food.  Pancakes (including some made with pumpkin) for breakfast; chicken and all the trimmings for lunch; and baked ziti with fresh garlic bread, green beans and salad from the garden with fruit for dinner.  We need a lot of fuel to keep this crew running and hats off to the folks in our kitchen who crank it out every day.

For those parents who have a Riversider here they were in camp today and getting packed up for their next adventure which will be paddling.  I worked with them on the lake early this afternoon before they begin their foray into WNC whitewater.  They will head to the Lower Green tomorrow and will move on to other rivers after that.  Mountainside was participating in another afternoon of sign-ups and played Border Patrol in the morning.  Mountainside chose their adventures today and Josiah, their head counselor has come up with a really fun way for them to learn what adventure they will be on.  Ask your mountainsider about this.  I don’t know all the details but may share them later.  Starting tomorrow,  they will begin their training days in the adventure they have decided on.

It’s been a busy first week with a great deal of action.  We were able to capture a little sleep-in this morning to catch up when the wake up bell went off at 8:30 instead of 8:00.  Tomorrow it’s back on schedule and we’ll have sign-ups in both the morning and the afternoon.   There’s not much down time around here and our camp days go way too fast but we love them all the same.  We just finished our Vespers service in the Lodge and everyone is waiting for the Sandman to visit along with the Serenade Singers to come around.  Vespers is a time when we talk about things that have meaning for us.  We heard counselors and campers perform and of course I always throw in my two cents.  I talked about Buzz Lightyear and his philosophy:

High Self-Worth – a lengthy part of the first movie is Woody trying to convince Buzz that he is not the “real” Buzz Lightyear, but a child toy.  I love a positive attitude.  Buzz has a great can-do attitude and belief in himself.  Focus on what you can do and do it great!  God believes in you and loves you as much as the next person.

Limitless Thinking – “To infinity and beyond!” Now here is a guy who is not bound by what others think. In fact, not only is he going to the end (infinity) he is going beyond. This positive attitude toward whatever challenges he may face is contagious. What is it that might be in the way of your limitless thinking? If you aren’t a Buzz thinker yet, be sure to find one and hope that it is contagious.

Falling With Style – when Buzz is first introduced in the first movie he gets into an argument with Woody over whether or not he can fly. Of course with Buzz’s high self worth and limitless thinking the thought that he can’t fly never enters his mind. He attempts and after many acrobatic flips, jumps and gliding he lands perfectly letting everyone around him know that he can fly. Woody tells him that this wasn’t flying, but merely falling with style. I don’t know if you can fly or not in your present place in life, but I do know the next best thing is falling with style! The only way to know if you can fly or fall with style is to take risk, to get out there and make attempts at something. God wants you to fly and will pick you up when you try and fail.  Ask God for the confidence to try new things and take risks that help you to grow in faith with him.  Falling with God at your wing means falling in style.

As we’ve said in the past, camp is that place where you can try and fail and fall with style.  Stay Tuned!

Last Day of Discovery – A Lot of Activity!

Dear Parents and Friends,

It is amazing how you can plan, but it seems there’s always something that changes your plans.  The weather has been that factor all summer as we’ve experienced lots of rain.  Today’s prediction was rain by 2:00 this afternoon.  It rained a good bit throughout the night while we were sleeping and we even cancelled a climbing trip because of the rain that never came today.  (Don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining!)  Paddlers did get to go out today and visited the upper French Broad where the North, Middle and East Fork all come together to make the French Broad.  It is one of the few rivers in our area that flows north into the Tennessee, Ohio and then into the Mississippi.  Let’s see, that water we were on today should make it to New Orleans ……. One of these days I’m going to figure that out. We were talking about that on the way to the river today.  The Main Camp kayakers got their first taste of moving water today.  With record rainfall everything is moving pretty quickly.  We had several boats go over learning to lean the proper way when crossing current but as taught, everyone did a good job of wet exiting which is essential.  We don’t bother teaching rolling unless the paddler is very advanced.  Eventually everyone has to wet exit, so it’s a skill that we all need to learn.  The group did some ferrying and peel-outs in some pretty fast current and transitioning from the calm lake water was quite different.

This morning I stopped by Shady Grove to check out the progress the “felters” were making as they rolled their felt with their feet and compressed the fibers together and blended the colors.  It’s an interesting process.  Just down the road at Yanderside, the artists were making marbled scarves which were very nice.  I watch as they formed the colors in a long wooden vat and then laid the material in the vat to absorb the colors.  Yet another interesting process!  Today was the end of Discovery Week, so there was a flurry of activity in all areas of camp.  The Mill was fishing, cooking grinding and just having fun.  I sampled a Johnny Cake or two while there and they were delicious.  I didn’t add extra butter or jam but I’ll bet that made it even better.  The camper grinding corn had several different grinders at their disposal.  Old timey hand cranked were the most popular, but my favorite is the stone you turn with your hands and frankly you would have to see it.

Archery had a full compliment of folks this morning as well.  I was passing by and also watching Mountainside at the Archery Range throwing tomahawks, yes tomahawks.  It’s something one of our staff brought to camp several years ago and it’s very popular.  We have two sizes and it’s not that easy to stick them in a slice of a tree that act as targets.  This tree is long dead and has been cut and placed on a post that is movable.  It’s a lot of fun and it might be the only chance a young person might ever have the chance to handle such a thing, much less throw it at a target.   Main Camp got in on some tomahawk throwing this afternoon.  Something else showed up in our pics that you might have seen is “tea in the tree”.  Our arborist climbers sampled tea as they were climbing trees today.  Don’t ask me how they got it up there.  I just heard about it and didn’t witness it live.

GV Rescue went to a 20 yard long section of our own Carson Creek today to practice their rescues in moving water by throwing ropes to “victims”.  This is a good skill to learn if you’re ever faced with a situation where one has to rescue a person who is in distress in water.  I think they enjoyed just playing in the swift moving current.  Everyone had PFD’s on and it was quite enjoyable.  Mountainside girls were nearby working on some initiatives and one in particular while I was there is called the A Frame.  It’s a giant A made of treated wood and is held up by 10 ropes about 20 ft. long.  The idea is to the A up on its two legs and make it walk.  You can ask a Mountainsider how that’s possible.  Everyone loves stunts and games and our Tension Traverse over the lake is no exception.  It’s very difficult but doable.  Not many campers make it all the way across but many try it.  My theory is not everything can be accomplished at camp and it’s ok to fail as long as we try again.  We had several kayakers turn over more than once today and that shows grit and resilience for the future.  These are great things that camp can teach.  Camp is the simple joys of childhood first and foremost but with so many other things thrown in.  Stay tuned!

One of Those Perfect Days!

Dear Parents and Friends,

Another great day at GV and it actually doesn’t take much to pull that off.  You start with great campers and thank you very much for providing those.  Then you place them with great staff  – a key ingredient.  You throw in a little sunshine, excellent food and the right amount of program for everyone and voila.  It’s been one of those perfect days here and I’m enjoying this session with these campers very much.  I have a terrific table this session with lots of talkers that chat about all kinds of subjects and of course much discussion about what’s going on at camp and what they are doing in their activities and cabins.

Another great way to get to the core of camp life is to attend an open house in a cabin.  All the leaders in camp are invited by each cabin every session to join them for an open house discussion.  This is done with two camp leaders and just the campers.  Their staff are not there and the purpose is  to see how things are going in the cabin as well as in program, how their counselors are doing, and are they gelling as a group.  Life begins in the cabin and works outward and staff really make it happen in this situation.  A well run cabin is usually a happy cabin.  The same is true in program where staff are organized and creative.  So…. in essence the open house is a forum for looking a little deeper into the overall life of a cabin unit and the boys or girls in that group.  I along with another member of our team, sat down with Sunrise today and spend about a half an hour talking with them about what they are doing, what they are looking forward to, what they are enjoying and what they might like to change about GV.  Of course, with that last part of the question, I tend to get drink machines, thicker mattresses, video games, and the like.  It also helps me to get to know the campers better.  In this case I also talk about what they plan to do next year, since all of them will be eligible for Mountainside and that can lead into some good discussions.  It’s a great exercise and one that we’ve been utilizing for a long time.

There are a lot of checks and balances in our camp life.  We do a lot of looking at weather on an hourly basis.  As I write I have the local weather up on my other screen to see what’s going since we’re experiencing a rain shower.  I’ve got a couple of cabins out tonight and I constantly look at weather when this is the case.  I also look each day at river levels.  Since the end of our B session, we have not been able to tube down the French Broad because the water level has been too high.  The same has been true with our creek hikes.  Our own Carson Creek has been up quite a bit this summer and we’ve haven’t had a true creek hike in many weeks as we’ve had in the past.  Our creek hikes have been shorter and located on flatter sections of our waterway.  We have several trips going out of camp over the next several days and we make determinations about skill levels, ability to listen and follow directions before we send them out on these trips.  We have two going out tomorrow – climbing and kayaking.  Campers must pass a battery of skills and also feel confident in their own skin to take on these challenges.  We do our best to make the trip enjoyable for all and hopefully get folks to stretch themselves as they learn in a new environment.

Web of Life had a creek they wanted to explore today and in order to get to it you have to go down a very steep embankment.  I was available to set up little lowering system that allowed the campers to safely be lowered down this 130 foot steep slope and it was quite an adventure.  The hillside is covered in rhododendron which provides a lot of handholds but there had to be a backup system and that made it possible.  Each camper was tied in and lowered down into the creek bed where once assembled, they hiked out via the creek.  While waiting on everyone to get down there was ample time to explore the creek and look for critters.  This kind of experience builds confidence and stretches ones comfort zone for going into deep dark forests, getting dirty, being in an unfamiliar place, using your body and mind to navigate down a slippery slope and not being able to see the bottom.   Everyone had a blast and it was just another way to get to a place in camp that’s rarely explored.  We all walked out downstream and it took about 15 minutes to get back to “civilization” and camp proper.

Children need to feel accomplishment and feel a sense of control even when they’re nervous or a bit reticent about something.  As we all know there is much written and said about conquering our fears and putting ourselves on the line.  At camp we create perceived risk  which is not actual risk.  To these campers this was perceived as being risky but in actuality it was quite safe and controlled.  Using this paradigm, you can move mountains with these campers and use these experiences as stepping stones for experiences they will encounter later in life whether it’s applying for a job or learning to say no.  Many of the 16 campers that did this over the two activity periods expressed  nervousness,  but none back downed or said they didn’t want to do it.  All had a great time exploring our “alternate” way down to the creek and all its mystery.

Life is full here and opportunities for learning about what’s around us and what’s in us abounds.  We like use the following phrase; playing outside and growing inside.  Stay tuned!

Campouts Galore & Twilight Play

Dear Gwynn Valley Families & Friends,

Today started with a misty mountain morning here at Gwynn Valley! The fog sat beautifully on top of the lake and the mountains surrounding our valley, making for a scenic morning as campers left their cabins and lined up for breakfast. Most of the mist burned off as we ate our very southern breakfast of biscuits, gravy & grits, which left us with plenty of sunshine during morning activities. On Main Camp this morning we had our second B-day of Discoveries. This second day really allows for campers to progress and build on the skills they were introduced to on the first B-day (Tuesday). The kayakers who learned to wet exit last time moved on to paddling skills today; climbers who focused on tying in and basic movement last time were able to put their skills to use in the hemlock trees; GV Rescue learned new and more complicated water rescue techniques, building on the material covered last lesson; archers tried out new kinds of bows and shooting techniques….etc. etc. Camp is such a great place for kids to try new activities and learn new skills that they may not have the chance to do at home. It’s incredible to see how much they can retain and how quickly they can build on their skills in these discovery progressions. When I spent some time with the climbers at the hemlocks this morning most of them remembered how to tie the figure eight follow through knot with little prompting. Being able to tie in quickly allowed them to maximize the climb-time. Over the next week there will lots of opportunities for campers to show off the skills they are building now such as the musical performance (totally created by the discovery campers) next Wednesday, lots off camp trip opportunities for those who want to further their adventure activity skills (climbing, biking, paddling…), and all sorts of opportunities to wear, display and admire finished craft products.

While Main Camp was moving through their discovery progressions this morning, Mountainside embarked on another day of “Mini-Adventures”. In the three week sessions, Mountainsiders spend a full day trying out each of the four adventure options: rock climbing, mountain biking, paddling and pioneering. Climbers spent the morning at the climbing tower learning how to belay and then headed up to “The Rock” to test out their new skills on a real rock here on property. Bikers made use of our camp trails and skills course. They spent the morning learning about the basics of gears, shifting, body positions, and movement on the bike and then tried out some of the more challenging single track camp trails later on in the day. Paddlers headed off camp to Lake Julia in Dupont State Forest. This lake is larger than our camp pond and it gives the group plenty of space to practice strokes and master the art of straight-line-paddling. Pioneers also left camp today to do some hiking at John Rock in Pisgah National Forest. While hiking, they also talked about how to plan ahead and prepare for wilderness trips including allowing campers to help decide what supplies to bring along that day. Campers reported back that the hike was steep but it was totally worth it for the view at the top! By tomorrow afternoon all Mountainsiders will have tried out each of the four adventure options and will submit their preferences for the four day adventure. Campers will be placed on Sunday and training days will begin next week in preparation for the big adventure during the last week of camp. The adventure is really the pinnacle experience on Mountainside and everyone looks forward to finding out what activity they will be doing and who will be in their group.

The afternoon came and went with a flurry of sign-up activities and a quick rain storm during the second hour of activities leading up to dinner. Fortunately, the weather cleared up around 6:00 PM and all 12 cabins were able to leave for their campouts without a hitch! Cabins Mountain View, Echo, Playhouse, Raccoon Ridge, Aching Legs, Blue Ridge, Chestnut Hollow, Possum Manor, Rosebay and Sunrise will be making use of our campout shelters tonight. Everyone left with plenty of dry wood and some amazing fire starters made by OLS earlier this week (lent balls from the dryer covered in wax) so everyone was able to get a fire started and get dinner going without too much trouble. You may not know this about our staff, but each of our cabin counselors is also a professional chef well versed in the art of cooking hot dogs, pizzas, quesadillas, veggie stir fry and of course SMORES on an open flame. The cookout / campout experience is a time-honored tradition here at Gwynn Valley. Every camper goes on a campout at least once each session, and though some are a bit anxious about sleeping outside in the time leading up to the trip, campers often come back with amazing stories and a great sense of accomplishment. When I was a cabin counselor, I always found that this was the solidifying moment for the cabin — it is the experience that really brings the group together as a whole.

For those Main Camp cabins left in camp tonight, we had Twilight Play as our evening program. Twilight Play is really an extended version of after supper activities, but instead of playing outside for half an hour we let campers continue playing for much longer after dinner. We offer about 12 – 15 activities; camper favorites this evening included a scavenger hunt on horse back, sunset archery, candle making, swinging from the climbing tower on the high ropes course (an activity normally reserved for Mountainside and Riverside campers!), kayaking on the lake, and a very serious (but ultimately non-competitive) cannon ball splash contest. Mountainside was split between cabin cookouts & their own little twilight play down at the farm where they harvested potatoes and played with baby animals. Riverside is enjoying the last night of their climbing trip in Foster Falls, TN. We can’t wait to have them back on camp tomorrow to hear all about their adventures over the last four days and to enjoy their company for a few days before they head out paddling next week.

It seems that twilight is long gone and even the lightening bugs are tucking in for the evening so I suppose I will too… Good night Gwynn Valley community!

Hot Wonderful Day With a Few Scattered Birthdays!

Dear Parents & Friends,

Wow!  It’s been such an exciting day around camp.  Sometimes at the table you’ll ask campers what they did that day and they’ll have trouble remembering because there’s so much going on.  If they can’t remember, I’ll just ask, “well did you have a good day”, and the answer is yes!  Today was no exception with all activities running strong.  We had a brief shower just after rest hour today but otherwise a hot sunny day here at camp.  I spent some of my morning at the farm where campers  gathered eggs, listened to the heartbeat of baby chicks, bottle fed the young calves, visited and hung out with our baby piglets, and pulled fresh carrots out of the ground.  We’ve had a lot rain this summer so our carrots are not as big as usual but they are tasty.  I’m sure we’ll see some on the table tonight at dinner.  Did you know that female chicks are called pullets until they’re about a year old and that’s when they start to lay eggs.  And… did you know that while a chicken’s egg may seem solid, it actually contains about 8,000 pores large enough for the exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide.  Our farm is amazing and you learn so much while you’re down there.  It was hot at the farm this morning but everyone really enjoyed our time with the animals and the farm crew.  There was even time to soak your hot feet in the creek before we left.

This afternoon I went out with our WEB of Life crew to find the elusive Salamander, the Pisgah Giant.  This is a little known species lives just on the GV property and they are very rare.  We hiked up past Pioneer 2 (one of our campout shelters) and dove into the underbrush and then found Tajar Creek which flows into the Hillside Creek.  This area is also called Shelter Rock.  When you take a lot of children into a creek you have to hike upstream if you expect to see anything.  Any critter who has a brain will flee at the slightest pounding of 20 feet stomping up a creek bed.  It takes a keen eye to spot the Pisgah Giant but amazingly we did.  It also takes about two seconds for them to figure out they better find a better hiding spot and just as I was about the make the grab it slithered off under a wet embankment.  I felt around but it was long gone.  It was a baby of the Giant but nonetheless generated minor hysteria amongst the group.  They were ready to lift every rock in the creek bed to find another specimen. We were running out of time so we bushwacked back to the trail and ran back to make changeover and dinner.

Dinner tonight was chicken pot pie, fresh salad from our garden, fruit and bread.  I have Eloise sitting at my table who had a 9th birthday today and we celebrated all day at the table.  She got a cake tonight for dinner and shared it with her cabin.  It’s fun having your birthday at camp, because so many people help you celebrate.  Everyone in the dining room sings our special birthday song to the person and it’s tailored to the birthday person only.  It was brought to camp many years ago by a story teller named Richard Chase who wrote The Jack Tales and The Grandfather Tales.  There were a total of three birthdays at camp today.  Amazing!!

After supper activities is a time when children can pursue any activity that is offered and usually there are at least 15.  I went to watch and participate in hula hooping and learned it’s a fine performance art these days.  We have some staff who are very good at it and can do some amazing tricks.  There was also “Thunderball”, Nuke Em, Frisbee, Games on the Green, Stories on the Porch, Songs with Debbie, and a host of others.  It’s a loosely unstructured freeplay time when there is supervision but it’s not too programed.  Children can run at will, play tag and enjoy just being a child.  Some prefer games and a little competition to round out their day and others just want to exhale and do something to relax and enjoy the company of friends and counselors.  It’s one of my favorite times of the day other than early morning.  I love to watch the Hilltop cabins come running across the Green in the morning for a GV breakfast.

Tonight we had Tajar Tales in the Lodge, read by Rick Brown who actually wrote the book over 25 years ago.  This is the addendum to the original stories and much better.  He does a great job of reading these tales that he wrote and perfectly places the inflections at the proper time of the story.   We dismissed Hillside campers and the Brook stayed on for Mountain Dancing with Jess and Debbie.  Sasha, a Russian Folk Dance, Going to Kentucky and the BlueBird Song were performed by all the Brookside campers.  A full day indeed and we will all sleep well!  Goodnight and stay tuned!


UK Day at GV!!!!!

Dear Parents and Friends,

It’s UK day here at camp.  Every Tuesday we celebrate a country or several countries as part of our international focus at GV.  We started off the morning before breakfast by meeting the royal family who all showed up and stood before us we came into the dining room.  The Queen greeted all the campers from Hillside on the way in.  She’s getting ready to be a grandmother again for the latest arrival to the family and wanted to mingle with the younger campers.  There was a sign on the door to the dining room that reminded all staff and campers to “Keep Calm and Be Polite”.  I suppose we should be on our manners with the Queen visiting.  Just after Breakfast we were entertained to an archery match between Robin Hood and the Sheriff of Nottingham. Of course we all know who comes out on top.

But, on to better things about program.  I stopped by Shady Grove this morning to watch the felting process.  They take raw wool and turn it into pouches and other artistic creations.  Really interesting mix of colors and texture.  Just around the corner was pottery making their first coil and slab pieces which is foundation work for later expressions of artistry.  Next door the lads and lasses were working on marbling, which is very interesting splash art on a small scale.  It’s small and very controlled and you can create some great stationary and fun paper products by marbling.

On the waterfront a new group was getting used to the kayaks and being comfortable upside down in the water.  Wet exits come first and then they progress to the spray skirts which prevent you from falling out of the boat when you turn over, so you have to be ready to find and pull the tab on your skirt in order to wet exit.  This is a prerequisite for paddling even on the lake and certainly on the river.  It takes a while but most folks get it.  After that then we start working on strokes which are much different from the canoe.  Kayaking is easier starting off but gets a little harder as you progress.  It’s easier to paddle in a straight line vs being in a canoe even with a partner.  Having two blades simplifies and confounds at the same time.  The kayak in the right hands is very maneuverable and can run circles around most canoes.

On the high adventure scene the climbers were scaling the tower again this morning and learning their knots and commands along the way.  There’s a lot communication that goes on between the climber and belayer (who holds you safely).  It’s definitely a team effort and a skill that’s good for working with other people and maybe someone you don’t know.  Our tower is nice for all levels and teaches the basics right up to overhanging challenging wall climbs.  It’s only one of four kinds of climbing at camp, which we can talk about at a later date.

The bikers were getting their mountain legs today on the Green learning to use their gears and attack position as they rode up and down to try and attain the top of the Green hill.  It’s harder than it looks but it prepares you for positioning over the bike as well as understanding cadence and gearing.  We have three trails here at camp, a new beginner loop just completed over the winter, a Hunt Farm loop where we host an off season race each year for youngsters and the Main Camp Loop which is fun but more difficult.  We’ve also added a small skills course near the climbing wall that weaves its way around many obstacles and bridges.

Just before lunch today the Loch Ness Monster appeared on our Lake but James Bond went off the Zip Line and put asunder Nessie.  Never a dull moment at camp.  Riverside left today for their climbing adventure and will return on Friday.  Mountainside continues their mini-adventures and are here in camp all day tomorrow.

It’s a full day here and tonight at our campfire the Brits outdid themselves.  Campers from all parts of camp participated in lots of skits and music.  There was the British Wax Museum, British TV shows that are the equivalent to our Dancing With the Stars and American Idol and there was a wonderful medley of Elton John’s tunes sung by our camper choir.  The kids and adults really put a lot of practice into tonight’s performance.  It seems that rock concerts started in England and with that in mind our small venue was the perfect setting for an English group called “One Direction” to stop by and do a short concert to end the evening.   It was brilliant as they say in the motherland.  Everyone had a blast and at the end balloons came down from the ceiling.  Of course we always calm things down before bedtime and our British staff sang Old Lang Syne to end our evening.  It’s only the beginning of the week and it didn’t rain a drop today.  We’re having Fun with a capital F.  Stay tuned!

Mostly Sun with a Shower or Two!

Dear Parents & Friends,

A beautiful day here at camp set the tone for our first day of programming.  We had a shower or two this afternoon but they seemed to come when it didn’t matter.  I spent the morning going to many activities and watching staff begin their day and begin their program with instructions and getting the campers familiar with the lay of the land in program.  I spoke with one or two parents yesterday about learning styles and how some children learn by doing or watching and some learn through auditory or reading directions.  It was interesting to check in on different activities and watch as our staff got the program ball running with their different teaching styles.  I started at the waterfront where staff were teaching their GV Rescue activity.  They were learning to toss a throw line in the water.  Coiling the rope is key because it should play out in a fashion that provides maximum distance to reach your targeted person.  The campers were doing a good job with their tosses but coiling the rope was a challenge.  From there I went to our Kayakers who were learning to wet exit for the first time.  The instructor is right there standing in 4 feet of water and the first couple of times when the camper flips the boat over they right the boat for the camper to provide that sense of confidence that they are right there.  Next is flipping over and banging three times on the boat and pulling your spray skirt and then popping out on the surface.  Wearing a PFD helps as its buoyancy brings you right up.  Some are beating on the side of the boat even before they are upside down.  Trust and faith in oneself doesn’t come easy when you’re upside down underwater.  99% of the time there is a breakthrough and an awakening to yes, I will be ok, just relax and find that strap and pull it.  It’s a process to observe and see the growth.

Also at the waterfront Matt B. is teaching diving off the dock.  Don’t worry, our dock is only inches off the water and Matt is 5 meter diver and he’s well aware of water depths and teaching campers foundation skills.  His teaching curriculum is teaching campers how to control their bodies when entering the water.  They begin by starting on a tumbling mat on dry land and then progressing to the lake and learning to roll dive from a kneeling / squatting position.  Should be fun to observe over the next several days.

Camp is very physical and we’re doing lots of physical things from riding a bike to crossing a wire suspended over water.  That’s called the Tension Traverse and it’s a new fun and challenging part of our waterfront.  Every child in camp should try this because it will build character and get you to do something that you normally don’t do, you use a lot of balance, many different muscles, and it really helps you to focus.  Everyone who tries it starts off smiling and laughing about it and then it happens; the smile goes away and the game face comes out as you start to focus on trying to move your feet across a tight wire by only holding on to a rope.  I’ve seen this in climbing, paddling, mountain biking and yes, even in arts and crafts.  One of my other visits to program this morning was the Pottery Shop and Yanderside, another arts area.  One camper had his tongue out while trying to score the clay and join it to the mated piece that he had just cut.  Such concentration is really neat to see in children.   And the best thing about camp is that if you don’t score your pottery just right, or don’t make it across the Tension Traverse, or get to the top of the wall, you’ll get another try and can build on what you’ve just done.

I joined mountain biking groups this afternoon and watched as campers rode multispeed bikes as well as coaster free brakes for the first time.  Children adapt very easily and I think at camp they tend to build on their successes and learn from their failures quite easily.  One camper in the second hour activity looked at me like I was crazy when I explained some simple aspects of gearing and spinning at a constant rate.  It’s a complex world out there and we need to understand about all those gears we personally have can be used in our life.  When to peddle faster, when to slow down and when to try and be consistent and keep a constant speed are all part of using our personal gears.  I had fun riding with the campers today and seeing them gain some skills like riding in the attack position and learning to ride in an ever decreasing sized circle.   By the end of an hour we were able to ride some of the single track here at camp.  I think we left them hungry for more.  I know I wanted to ride some more but unfortunately we had to move on to the next activity.  I completed my rounds this morning by taking a short hike with Web of Life on a journey to Indian Cave and going by our climbing wall.  That part of our land is an attention grabber and is a great jumping off spot to share some natural history as well as human history.  Jamie and other instructors were doing a great job instructing Mountainsider’s on knot tying and all the multiple ways we can learn to tie knots.  And you know what they say about knots, “a not neat knot is a knot not needed”.  So, my advice is to keep those knots neat and keep those gears lubed and know when and where to use them.

We continued our cabin skits tonight at campfire and by now all campers are snuggled in after their first full day of Gwynn Valley.  We hope it was a good one and there’s more, much more to come.  Stay tuned!