Category Archives: Pine Island alumni

Campfire: Pine Island’s Musical Tradition Highlighted on Hit Album

The following article is featured in the current edition of The Pine Needle. Please visit our website to download your copy of CAMPFIRE: The Album. Your purchase supports the Lovett Scholarship Fund. Thanks!

As long as campers and counselors have been sitting around the campfire down in the cove they have been singing songs. It would be fascinating to be able to hear a recording of the songs they were singing around 1910 and to trace the evolution of campfire songs at Pine Island over the years. No doubt some of the songs sung years ago would sound dated, some in pretty uncomfortable ways, but the mere fact that boys, men, and women have been singing songs together virtually every night of every one of Pine Island’s 118 summers is remarkable. 

During the past 30 years or so, in addition to the traditional campfire songs such as “The Titanic,” “Mountain Dew,” and “Charlie and the MTA,” a new tradition has taken root in which campers and staff rewrite the lyrics to popular songs to make them specific to Pine Island. This hybrid form of songwriting fits well into the PIC schedule, in which creative energy tends to suddenly erupt without a great deal of time to produce or practice. Since the late 1980s, in addition to singing traditional and currently popular songs, Pine Islanders have written Pine Island-related lyrics to well over 30 songs. Ten of them, plus two traditional songs, make up an album now for sale with all proceeds going to the Sidney Lovett Memorial Scholarship Fund. 

Making CAMPFIRE: The Album happened as the result of a number of stars aligning plus a lot of hard work. Toby Bregar, from Bainbridge Island near Seattle, was a new camper during the summer of 2017. His tent counselor, Noah Brodsky, discovered that Toby played guitar and eventually convinced him to perform at campfire. Toby was great! For the rest of the summer Toby frequently borrowed director Ben Swan’s old Gibson acoustic and played a number of times, including at the Final Campfire on the last day of camp. Turns out this was the first time Toby’s parents had ever seen him perform. They were delighted and moved, and this led to a conversation in which Ben learned that Johnny Bregar is a record producer and professional musician who runs Brick- yard Studio on Bainbridge Island. Not long after Toby and his family returned home from Pine Island, they recorded “My Sweet Pine Island,” a Matt Clarke/ Ben Swan rewrite of the Ryan Adams song “Sweet Carolina” that has been featured as the last song of the summer for about 15 years. 

The Henchmen recording backing vocals at PIC parent Johnny Bregar’s studio on Bainbridge Island, WA

Hearing this professionally recorded and mixed version of a song Ben had only heard in various forms on the sandy stage in Pine Island’s campfire circle prompted him to ask Johnny if it might be possible to record more campfire songs and make an album. Johnny’s response was quick and simple: “Come on out. We’ll do it. It will be fun.” Ben began what turned out to be a two-year effort to pull some PIC musicians together for a weekend all the way out in Washington state. At a couple of points it seemed too ambitious to attempt, but with Johnny’s encouragement and some financial help for air fare for some of the younger musicians, it all came together on a weekend in October when five Pine Islanders flew to Seattle and took the short ferry ride to Bainbridge Island where they were welcomed and fed by the Bregar/Ahearne family. Ben arrived Thursday afternoon to help arrange the weekend, Pope Ward arrived Friday afternoon along with Mark Pierce, Robert Brent arrived Friday night, and poor Sam Chester ran into a few delays on his journey all the way from Middlebury College and finally caught the last ferry in the wee hours of Saturday morning. 

Sam Chester, banjo player extraordinaire, in the studio

Both Ben and Pope recorded songs Friday, but it was after the “varsity” musicians Mark and Sam arrived that production both sped up and became more complex. Over the course of the weekend, thanks to Johnny’s incredible experience, technical ability, and musical talent, the group recorded a dozen songs, ate a lot of good food, and had a ton of fun. Pine Islanders Nicky Isles, Ted and Will Siebert, and Charlie Krause visited the studio, and Nicky laid down a verse of “Mountain Dew” and was a member of the Henchmen, who performed the backing vocals on several songs. Two songs were recorded elsewhere. Edwin McCain, former counselor, current camp parent, and successful singer- songwriter, generously agreed to record “I’m a Camper at PIC” at his studio in Greenville, SC, and Corinne Alsop, Natalie Burr and Mark Pierce recorded “We’re Women at PIC” at Columbia University in New York. 

Thanks to Johnny’s generous donation of hundreds of hours of work, Tom Yoder’s assistance with air fare, and John Alsop’s gift of the cover art, all proceeds from the sale of the album will go directly to the Lovett Fund. Our hope is that CAMPFIRE: The Album will both raise significant funds for scholarships and inspire the next generation of writers and rewriters to keep the musical tradition at Pine Island strong and growing. You can order an album download or a CD at the PIC website:, where you’ll also find all the lyrics and detailed background about the production and songs. 

Mark Pierce’s smiling face – On the Cover of the Pine Needle.

Hiking Alone Around Vermont

Carson Peck spent six summers as a camper at Pine Island. In the summer of 2016 he took part in our Expedition Camp program, a leadership training program that teaches boys how to plan for (and successfully complete) extended hiking and canoe trips.  The following summer, Carson embarked on his own adventure on Vermont’s Long Trail.  He shared his story with us in the latest edition of The Pine Needle:

I was lying awake on the cold wooden floor of the cabin when I heard my watch alarm go off. It was 3:00 in the morning, and I was camping at the base of Jay Peak, Vermont, only 12 miles south of the Canadian border. I sat up in my sleeping bag and the piercing cold of the night air immediately struck my body. Groggily, I began to search my surroundings for the gear I had left out the night before. This process was a familiar one; at that point in my trip, I was comfortable repacking my hiking pack in the pitch dark. As I laced my boots and stepped out into the vacant night, a soft “good luck” from my shelter-mate inside the cabin brought a grin to my face. I set off with my headlamp at 3:14 am to conquer the final 3,858 vertical feet of my trip, 1.2 miles up the trail.

That wakeup happened on the last day of my 19-day solo hiking trip this past summer. To me, the Vermont Long Trail is a monster; stretching 276 miles from Williamstown, Massachusetts to the U.S.-Canada Border traversing all of the tallest peaks in the state of Vermont. I was a “thru-hiker”: someone who completes an entire trail in a single stretch or season. Never before had I planned such a long or challenging trip, let alone attempt one. Organizing and executing my own solo adventure was thrilling to me, and as I walked up the steep, rocky southern slope of Jay Peak in the dark, I thought about when I had done this same sunrise hike with the Expedition Camp almost exactly a year ago.

Taking on the steep incline at 3:00 in the morning, I realized how much I truly owed to six years at Pine Island. Had I not conquered Mt. Bigelow as an 11-year-old, summited Mount Washington for the first time, or taken on the White Mountains of New Hampshire with some of my closest friends on a number of different PIC trips, I would not have found the strength or the confidence to haul my pack up the rocks that morning. I had learned to appreciate watery oatmeal, cold mornings, and wet feet, and I embraced the refreshing solitude that Vermont offered.

Above all, this past summer it was passion that drove me to walk for longer than I ever had before – a fierce passion combined with a love for the outdoors. All of this I attribute to Pine Island: six weeks for six summers on that island gave me the profound zeal I maintain for hiking. And as I stared into the soft golden horizon beyond Jay Peak that morning, shivering in my wool socks, I caught myself remembering about heading back to Great Pond, napping deeply in the back of a rented van packed with slumbering Pine Islanders.

Gracious Living at 6,288 Feet – continued

The following is the continuation of an historic trip report by Montague G. Ball, Jr.  In case you missed it, the beginning of the story can be found here.

…To begin with, the temperature dropped steadily. On a bright, sunny August morning the temperature at the parking lot had been a comfortable 78 degrees. Two hours later, at the foot of Tuckerman’s, Dave Carman’s pocket thermometer registered 55. Secondly, Jeff Kilbreth (who had suffered from car sickness en route) was again feeling ill. Note his less-than-perky expression at far right. Thirdly, out of the tree line I began to grasp the extent to which I had badly underestimated the size of Mount Washington. It is enormous! And fourthly, after taking the group picture, I took time to read the sign on which John Timken was leaning. It warned: “Stop! The weather ahead can be the worst in North America. Many have died on this mountain—even in the summer. Turn back now if weather is inclement.”

1965.  From left to right: Howard Ferguson, Coly Hoyt, John Timkin, John Goodhue, Jeff Kilbreth, and Dave Carmen on their way up Mt. Washington

1965. From left to right: Howard Ferguson, Coly Hoyt, John Timkin, John Goodhue, Jeff Kilbreth, and Dave Carmen on their way up Mt. Washington

Well, no one was in favor of turning back—and, besides, the weather wasn’t inclement—yet. But in another hour fog rolled in; the wind rose; temperature dropped another ten degrees. I forget how long it took us to climb Tuckerman’s, but it seemed forever. Worse, we couldn’t see but a few feet ahead of us, met nobody coming down the mountain who could give us bearings, and by this time Dave Carman was carrying Jeff’s pack as well as his own. Although the trail was well marked, I was scared to death that we would get lost—and I was exhausted as darkness began to set in. Darkness? At five o’clock on an August afternoon? Not possible, I thought. Meanwhile, we were passing crosses— marking exactly where people had died in the ascent. And then it started to drizzle…

At that point a miracle occurred. The fog cleared for a moment, and dead ahead of us stood the Mount Washington Summit House. Built of granite and opened in 1915, this hotel had for half a century survived the highest winds (231 m.p.h) and lowest temperatures (minus 59) ever recorded in North America. It beckoned; we nearly fell through the door. Sitting on benches at the far end of the lobby, no one had the strength to speak, much less move. But as heat surged around us, I knew that I was going to find a way to stay—at which point, my vision focused squarely on the front desk manager. When I was able to get my legs under me, I staggered over to reception and inquired whether any rooms were available. His answer: “Are you kidding? Look at the weather! Nobody in his right mind comes up here in this stuff. Sure, lots of rooms. How many do you need?”

I whimpered, “Will you take a check?” I didn’t care what it would cost. “Sure,” he replied. Then he noticed Dave Carman and the five boys and added, “But here’s a better deal. For half the price, I can put you guys in our bunk room. Uppers and lowers, but you still get sheets, blankets, towels, and hot showers. You’ll have the place to yourselves; nobody else has made a reservation. Dinner and breakfast included.” Following the longest hot showers in Summit House history, we gorged on an enormous hamburger steak dinner, checked the weather station (37 degrees, 78 m.p.h. winds), then called home (collect) from the highest pay phone in eastern North America. By nine o’clock we were all fast asleep—snug, warm, and dry, but the wind howling outside. So, we awoke in the morning with the strangest feeling—that something was wrong, there wasn’t a sound! A gorgeous, absolutely still day—a great start to the week ahead in which we walked from Mount Washington to Crawford Notch in perfect weather, not a drop of rain.

And Tim Holbrook? Returning to camp, I got exactly what I expected— Tim, at the top of his voice: “Ball, what’s this I hear? You lead a Pine Island trip to the top of Mount Washington—and check in to a hotel!” And then, with a big laugh, “I like a man who lands on his feet.” Well, that was a generous perspective to offer a counselor who had been woefully unprepared and ill equipped (except for his checkbook). As director for twenty years I sent many trips to the White Mountains, and I made sure all were better prepared than mine was. Even so, it was great fun—including the crawl out of Tuckerman’s (if only in retrospect). And gracious living at 6,288 feet? Absolutely a goal achieved!

Montague G. Ball was a counselor for many years and Director from 1978- 1989.

Pine Needle preview

In classic Needle style, Monte Ball writes about his first excursion to the Presidential Range – the 1965 Senior Whites trip.  You can read the full article in the upcoming edition of the Needle, scheduled to be released in early February.  The following is a preview.

Gracious Living at 6,288 Feet—an Historic trip report by Montague G. Ball, Jr.

Although never a camper on the scale of a Kasper, a Nagler, or a Swan, I remember taking some great trips at Pine Island—including Mount Bigelow with Jack Lord, Old Speck with Peter Houck and Bill Rummel, and several war canoe cruises down the Kennebec with Ken Howe, Al Hipp, Tommy Sat- terfield, and Cammie Arrington. But my most memorable excursion was the 1965 Senior Whites, which was my introduction to the Presidential Range of New Hampshire’s White Mountains.

That summer I was technically in the Navy, having completed a two-year tour as a deck officer on a cargo ship homeported in Norfolk, Virginia. Vietnam was heating up; the armed forces were trying desperately to hold on to their Reservists. In my case, the Navy offered a wide choice of billets if I would agree to extend my commitment two more years. I signed—but on the condition that I be granted a two-month leave of absence before reporting to my new duty station. Those two months were mid-June to mid-August, during which time I was assigned without pay to the Naval Reserve Training Center in Augusta—where occasionally I had to make an appearance.

What I had engineered, of course, was Another Great Summer at PIC— most of which I spent flopping around in a sailboat and taking life very easy. However, as the summer began to wind down, an agent of change intruded on my comfortable lifestyle. He was the director, Tim Holbrook—a fire-eating workaholic who never had enough to do, and usually did it all himself. We followed in his train—in awe. Anyway, as the previous director, Chip Handy, had expanded Pine Island’s canoeing program into the Allagash, Tim was determined that our hiking trips would extend to New Hampshire’s White Mountains. To my astonishment, he announced that I would lead Pine Island’s first ascent of Mount Washington—with the very able assistance of David Carman, who had done a lot of climbing in the Presidentials. Signed up for the trip were (left to right in the photo) Howard Ferguson, Coley Hoyt, John Timken, John Goodhue, and Jeff Kilbreth.

From left to right: Howard Ferguson, Coly Hoyt, John Timkin, John Goodhue, Jeff Kilbreth, and Dave Carmen on their way up Mt. Washington.

From left to right: Howard Ferguson, Coly Hoyt, John Timkin, John Goodhue, Jeff Kilbreth, and Dave Carmen on their way up Mt. Washington.

“You’re perfect for the job, Ball,” Tim assured. “And, besides, you need some exercise.” Me, perfect? As to exercise, I had no idea what lay around the corner…

Ever the efficiency expert, Tim took charge of the logistics. And aware of my disinclination to move fast in the morning, he shifted our trip to the First Cabin the night before departure. “No breakfast for you, Ball—unless you get on the road! And then you can choose: McDonald’s or Dunkin’ Donuts.” Both options were rare treats and eagerly anticipated, all part of Tim’s plan to get us an early start. But Route 2 to Pinkham Notch was slow going, and even with breakfast on the fly, it took us much longer than anticipated to reach New Hampshire’s White Mountains. As I recall, it was just noon when we finished a quick lunch and began the climb to Tuckerman Ravine. And that is when things began to fall apart…

Stay tuned for the rest of the story!

Akka Lakka!