Category Archives: off season

Blue-Gray Gnatcatcher

May 18 was a somber day, despite the bright sunshine and spring flowers in full bloom.  We spent the day letting the PIC community know that camp would not open in 2020.  Knowing that we had made the right decision definitely did not make it any easier, and I felt sad, nostalgic, and profoundly mournful all day. 

I spent much of the day at the desk in my office on the second floor of our house, which offers a perfect vantage point for observing spring migrants feeding in the maple trees in the back yard and a spinney of birches in the side yard.  Every year I see an amazing number of warbler species – up to 16 in a season – without ever leaving the house.  Although May 18 was a bad day for Pine Island, it was a great day for spring birding.  In addition to the usual cardinals, chickadees, nuthatches, cedar waxwings, and downy woodpeckers, I saw yellow, parula, black and white, Wilson’s, and magnolia warblers, redstarts, and chimney swifts. 

But there was another bird flitting energetically among the birches, definitely not one of the usual suspects.  After watching it closely through my binoculars for a few minutes and consulting my Peterson’s guide, I determined that it was a blue-gray gnatcatcher, a bird I had never before seen here in Brunswick, Maine and had seen only once before in my life many years ago at Whitehead.  Watching its tireless activity and cheery aspect was a bright spot in an otherwise bleak day.  Could this delightful little bird be an emissary from King Kababa, sent from Mt. Philip to remind me that Pine Island had been in tough places before and would find its way out of this one too?  Blue and Gray, resourceful, optimistic, energetic, hard-working, cheerful – a sign from the King if ever there was one.

Photo: Jesse Gordon/Audubon Photography Awards

Whoa, King Kababa!

With high hopes for a wonderful reunion back on Great Pond in 2021,

Emily Swan

Password: “Take Pine Island With You”

Every day at camp between tent cleanup and morning activities, campers and counselors gather together in Honk Hall on well-worn wooden folding chairs to hear a story. The role of storyteller falls to a different counselor each day and their task is simple: tell about a moment when you faced a dilemma or a tough situation, when you found humor in an unexpected place, when you stepped outside your comfort zone, when you failed or made a mistake. At the end of the story, the password of the day is declared, a simple statement to remind everyone about the lesson.  Today, Director Sumner Ford offers this Password:

This winter I had the pleasure of traveling to Seattle to meet with prospective campers, current campers, and alumni. During my trip I reconnected with Woody Hoyt, who was one of my favorite counselors from my days as a camper. Woody was my tent counselor in Tent 11 and also led me and seven others on PIC’s renowned Senior White Mountains trip that same year. As we gathered in our host John Pollard’s kitchen, Woody and I looked through his photos from that trip, old 3×5 prints taken with his disposable camera. Looking at those photos, I quickly connected with my 13-year-old self and went back to a place where I faced one of the biggest challenges of my camper career. 

The steep, imposing cliffs of Mt. Webster lived in infamy in the Pine Island community and I wasn’t sure that I had what it took to make it up the mountain. Three days of hiking did little to alleviate my fears. The morning that we set out from Ethan Pond, my fellow campers sensed my concern. Those who were feeling stronger selflessly volunteered to carry some of my group gear. Our goal was communal — to reach the top of Mt. Webster — but each of us would need to succeed as individuals to achieve our goal. Mt. Webster was only attainable if we looked after each other. As we ascended the near-vertical face of the mountain, we boosted one another with words of encouragement. It wasn’t easy, but we made it – together.

Pine Island offers many ways for campers to conquer challenges and achieve their goals. Many campers focus on sailing and paddling and every one of them has a story of strong winds and tired arms. Others spend hours in Honk Hall on a Saturday, memorizing lines and donating all of their day to entertain their friends during the night’s Saturday Night Show. Whatever path you carved for yourself at Pine Island, it was paved with selflessness and a strong sense of community. Now, more than ever, we all follow that path.

The last password every Pine Islander hears before departing for home is “Take Pine Island with You.” In this stressful and uncertain time, I hope your memories of camp will buoy your spirits and serve as a lasting reminder that selflessness and a concern for others are the foundation of every great community. Today, more than any other day, take Pine Island with you.

Akka Lakka!

For Pete’s Sake – PIC Alumnus Builds Us A Sixth Pine Island Skiff

In the 1990’s boatbuilder and designer David Stimson collaborated with director Ben Swan to create the perfect rowboat to serve the venerable Pine Island rowing program and named it the Pine Island Skiff.  Very generous donors funded the construction of four of the skiffs and they were named John, Paul, George, and Ringo.  Just a few years ago, PIC acquired another Skiff and named it Stu, after Stuart Sutcliffe, often called “the Fifth Beatle.” 

Recently, PIC alumnus and super-volunteer Rob Whitehouse, a retired engineer living in Brunswick, ME, brought it to Ben’s attention that the Skiffs were aging and, in spite of the meticulous care given them each fall during the Sloan Critchfield Memorial Boat Maintenance Weekend, might need to be replaced.  Unfortunately, we never had a set of plans made and the pieces needed to construct one of the boats had been lost.  Rob undertook the (to most people) mysterious and math-laden process of taking the lines off one of the Skiffs so that we could build another Skiff and make reproducible plans for future builders to use. 

Rob Whitehouse with the plans he created using Ringo’s lines

Many, many, hours later Rob produced not only plans, but the digital files needed to have a CNC (Computer Numerical Control) machine cut all the pieces needed to build a Skiff.  The next step was for Rob to build a Skiff in his well-appointed shop at his house in Brunswick. Rob’s time (over eight weeks work!) was all volunteered, and the results are really beautiful, a sixth Pine Island Skiff for the boys and staff of Pine Island Camp, and complete plans, including thumb drives from which one could build a Skiff of one’s own.  Several very generous alumni responded to an appeal from Ben and covered the considerable cost of materials and CNC cutting for Pete.  

Rob with Pete under construction

So, what to call her?  Pete, of course…Pete Best has also been called the Fifth Beatle.   He is a drummer who was replaced by Ringo Starr. Rob will launch Pete sometime this spring and the newest Pine Island Skiff will join the fleet this summer.  No doubt the gleaming and brand new Pete will be a favorite among the rowers this summer.

Thank you, Rob, and all the generous donors who paid for the project!      

Pete complete!

So Groovy! Recorded Music Without Electricity Returns to Honk Hall

At Pine Island Camp we are always learning new ways to live happily without using electricity.  One thing we miss sometimes is listening to recorded music.  Up until a few years ago campers were able to listen to 78 rpm jazz records played on a Victrola record player.  However, inevitably rough use over the years disabled the ancient machine, and we were ready to accept its demise.  Then Emily Swan took to the internet and discovered Victrola Repair Services (!) is located a short drive from Sumner Ford’s home in Richmond, VT.  Sumner transported the machine to St. Johnsbury and on a recent trip to Vermont Ben Swan picked up the fully repaired and restored Victrola.  

Chatting with the proprietor of VRS in his house filled with Victrolas in various states of repair and restoration, Ben learned that Pine Island’s particular machine was built in 1913 when PIC was just 11 years old.  The Victrola is now in the Swans’ living room in Brunswick, ME, awaiting transport to the island.  Several years ago a friend of the camp left his extensive and pristine collection of 78 rpm records to us.  It is such a fine collection that we didn’t want to leave all the records in Honk Hall.  Alumnus and jazz aficionado John Bunker agreed to keep the collection safe at his house in Palermo, ME.  We kept a few classics for the boys to listen to, and should they, just by chance, get broken, John will replenish the stock. Also, of course, it is not hard to find 78s on line.  

2020 Pine Islanders will be able to enjoy some great music any time up in Honk Hall.  Just crank it up!  Hint: if you want to turn up the volume, open the doors at the front of the Victrola.