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Wednesday, February 8, 2023

Camp Comstock - 1960 - Pioneer-Primitive Unit

  We left off yesterday with me crying all night at my fate of being left behind in the unit for less serious campers. At least that's what they were in my mind. Buccaneers, along with most of the other units, went to the lodge for 3 meals a day served on plates (with a few unit cookouts). They used the camp latrines. They did not sleep on the ground. Their actvities were more mundane, like afternoon crafts.

Monday morning, I was informed that one of the campers assigned to Pioneer-Primitive did not want to live such a rustic life, and wanted to switch to Buccaneer. I would be headed for Pioneer (the name was generally shortened). You probably don't have to guess at my reaction.

Meet the counselors: Bambi (eating pancakes- from a mess kit while sitting on the ground)
camper eating pancakes

And Windy: my favorite that year. She was more serious about campcraft kinds of things.
college girl in pajamas

Yes, I stayed at camp for two sessions- 4 weeks. Yes, we built that unit from nothing except a clearing and small pavilion. We did a ton of stuff. I have pictures of some of it. Practically the first thing (except pitching the tents, which was already done for the session where I was switched, so I missed that activity at that time) was to build a fire ring. That was tricky in this part of New York, because shale is not acceptable for fire-ring rocks. It will explode when it gets hot, so we had to find small glacial erratics in the woods which were usually some rounded metamorphic things. Eventually, we found enough, but maybe not all the first day. You can see them in one of the pictures below.

We also dug our own latrine. At first, it was just a hole with a lashed seat and a small bucket of lime. But eventually, we wove a partial screen of wattles for privacy.

We learned to lash, and to lash well. This is our unit tool rack.
lashed tool rack

We cooked ALL our own meals on an open fire, and rotated through various chores. Each day a team of two girls carried our food supplies from the lodge in Adirondack pack baskets. (I think this was done on the way back from swimming or boating lessons, rather than a separate trip.) It was about three-tenths of a mile from the unit to the lodge, so not extraordinarily far, but farther away than any other unit.

One of the most memorable activities, because it turned out to be one of great hilarity, was to roast whole chickens over the fire. This girl, Nancy, had a natural gift for comedy. As we were fixing the chicken on the spits (no, we did not kill, pluck and draw them, but they must at least have had packaging and the giblets inside to remove). Anyway, Nancy thought they looked like little headless people. She put napkin diapers on them and did improv dialogue with them. This was so far out of my realm of experience (and I think most of us felt the same way) that we were just a puddle of giggling girls. She named the four chickens George, Henry, Irving and Dennis. (You can see one of the pack baskets behind her.)
plucked chicken in a diaper

Despited bestowing them with names, we cooked them anyway. What an experience! This was real campfire cookery, not just mixing cans of soup with some hamburger. We had dug and lined the fire pit, built the spit and supports, fixed the chickens, built the fire and then had to tend it for hours to keep turning those birdies!
chickens roasting on an open fire

Finally, we were old enough to learn canoeing instead of rowboating. This included more than learning the various strokes, but tipping over on purpose. paddling a swamped canoe (they were canvas, so they would float), rescuing someone in the water without tipping, and races. I didn't want to overwhelm you with pictures, but one of the really fun whole-camp events was watching the counselors in a jousting competition. One counselor paddled while another stood on the gunwhales with a paddle, trying to knock a competitor off her canoe. Probably way too dangerous by today's standards, but we allowed more risk in our lives back then.
tipped canoe

One of the best events of each session was the final campfire. All the campers convened in one location for a huge ceremonial fire (think large but controlled- not really a bonfire). There was some sort of program (each unit provided some part) and lots of singing. It usually lasted until after dark and included some kind of lighting ceremony, such as the launching of small boats with a candle or something. They always ended with three songs. The first was either "Linger," "Flicker," "Remember," or "Each Campfire Lights Anew." This was followed by "Anna Botsford Comstock," (you can follow the category link below to read more about her if you want) and the end was "Taps." Remembering these still can make me tear up.
campfire group

If camp had been special to me before, this year it became the one place in the world where I could be myself and not only not be put down, but admired for knowing camp skills and not minding being dirty. I thrived. One of the lines of "Flicker" is "Love is for those who find it, I've found mine right here..." I had finally found where I belonged.

Stay tuned for part 3 of the 1960 camp story.

In other news: I did a little bit on every single one of my current projects today. Yeah, me! This includes reading what I think will be the last book that counts as research toward Vacation from Dead Mule Swamp. It is SO written in teen-speak that it gives me a headache, but it's more pertinent than the last two, so hooray.

See Buccaneer Unit
Camp Comstock


The Oceanside Animals said...

Chaplin: "A chicken named Dennis?! Oh no! It wasn't our Dennis, was it? He got turned into a chicken once by aliens!"
Charlee: "Of course it wasn't our Dennis, Chaplin. Was he a chicken when we met him? No. He got turned back into a dog through the efforts of our heroic kitty sister, Trouble."
Lulu: "I haven't ever heard of Trouble the Kitty being especially heroic ..."
Charlee: "That's because you get all your information from dog-centered propaganda sources."

Ellie said...

Hour post brings back so many memories of my years as a GS camp counselor -- the pack baskets, lining the pit with rocks and cooking food in it, lashing stuff to make a table, singing all those camp songs -- it was an amazing way to spend the summer. But I have never roasted a whole chicken or dug my own latrine. Thanks!

Ann said...

What a wonderful experience

Lin said...

Wow, Joan. Just WOW. what a great experience! I would have loved that camp too...and sad to be in the Buccaneers as well. I love this whole story--how you earned the money for camp and all the way to finding your true self out there in the rustic forest. It sounds absolutely wonderful!

I remember when I was a Girl Scout and we'd go to camp. Oh, how I wanted to make bonfires and learn how to survive in the wild...and it was so LAME! Our leaders would take us on a hike to find treasures to make centerpieces for the tables. Ugh. I hated it. And when Emma was in Girl Scouts, the requirements to earn badges were even more pathetic! I pulled her out quickly--it was more of a mean girls club than any learning of skills or loving the outdoors. What has happened to Scouting??

Anyway...loved this, Shark. Thanks for sharing.

Sharkbytes said...

Charlee- I can guarantee this was long before your Dennis was born!

Ellie- It was the perfect summer for me

Ann- yuppers

Lin- Scouts changed. They have come back a bit toward outdoor lore, but it's sure not like it was. I couldn't talk myself into staying involved as an adult.