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Karen's Camp Journal, Summer 2010

By Karen Culpepper, Camp Treetops Director

Welcome to Treetops and to my online journal. The photo albums and journal entries posted here throughout the summer session, will, I hope, convey a detailed picture of the goings-on of daily life at Treetops—and why this place has meant so much to my family and to so many others. For additional information, you won't want to miss the Farm Blog, a great collection of photos and updates from Kat Tholen, our farm educator, our Camp news stories, or the Treetops Photo Gallery, where you can see albums of Junior and Senior Camp from the past several summers.

I hope you enjoy your virtual visit to Treetops—and that you'll come back again often. 
Click here to sign up for email notification of new journal postings. Just send us a message with your email address.    

Weekly Photo Albums 

Summer 2010

 Peggy Pan     Farm Fest     Week 6     Work Program      Week 5 

Week 4
      ArtWalk      Week 3      Visitor Days       Weeks 1&2

Journal Stories & Photos

Paper to Paper, Super to Super
January 11, 2011


Our traditions are so important to us at Treetops. From barn chores to Idiot Trips, mumblety-peg to square dances, they are what hold our community together, across successive generations and geographic distance. Few things get me more excited than when a great new idea comes along that meshes perfectly with Treetops’ practices and philosophy. And so it was this summer with a new work job we called Paper to Paper.

The aim is simple—to make new sheets of writing paper from the discarded scraps collected in recycling bins—and the process is easy enough to complete in the span of a work job. We started by shredding or ripping the paper, then mixing it in a blender with water to make a liquidy pulp. Then we scooped the pulp onto wooden framed screens and after the water drained, turned it onto a stiff, felt-like sheet. We used the cider press to squeeze out the remaining water. After drying on a clothesline, the finished paper is beautiful—heavy and colorful, with every flecked sheet different.

And campers loved it. After finishing their own work jobs, they would eagerly head for the craft shop to help with the papermaking—which also provided another opportunity to teach and model sound environmental stewardship. Like our composting practices, it takes the concept of recycling one step further, showing in a fun, hands-on way the importance of re-use that is a mainstay of sustainable living. Too, the new paper is not a personal item owned or kept or taken home by the individuals who made it. Rather, we used the new paper as stationery, available for everyone for writing letters home and thus becoming a valued community resource.

The papermaking work job reminds me of another Treetops custom that celebrates continuity. For the past 20 years or so, we’ve had the Supers (our oldest campers) write letters of advice to their future counterparts as a way to cultivate leadership, as well as a sense of connection and tradition. Early in the summer, on a special overnight trip, the Supers open and read the letters their predecessors wrote to them, five years earlier. Then during the last week of Camp, they record their own words of wisdom for future Supers five years down the road.

The letters are heartwarming and affirming, because they show in campers’ own words just how much Treetops means to them. They are filled with expressions of affection for their friends, counselors, and Camp. They also show the extent to which our campers make Treetops’ values their own: they write of contributing to community, of childhood innocence, of pushing past one’s comfort level, of the natural beauty around them.

The passion and sincerity of a 14 year old are captured well in the following:

"I have spent the greatest summers of my life here with my closest of friends. The bonds I’ve formed with my fellow Supers are closer than with almost anyone else… Camp Treetops is one of the few places these days where you can get away from the outside world and focus on what really matters: friendship, feelings, helping others, innocent fun, working together and living in a community…

Let Treetops be everything to you that is has been to me. When you come here, let everything go, and know that this is where you can be yourself. This is a place where you’re not judged, and when you go back home, keep a piece of Treetops with you forever."

This year, our Supers wrote their letters on the colorful sheets of recycled paper— a wonderful new version of a prized Treetops tradition.

This article first appeared in the Fall 2010/Winter 2011 issue of Organic Roots.

Peggy Pan
September 3, 2010

One of my favorite Treetops’ traditions, the annual staff play, takes place on the last night of Camp. This year’s version was Peggy Pan, based loosely on the better-known story of Peter and more recent movie, Hook. 

Peggy Pan is a high-powered corporate executive who attended Treetops as a child but has long since forgotten its enduring values. Peggy’s children have been kidnapped by the sinister Hook, who has carried out a hostile take-over of Treetops. Under his villainous reign, everyone is grumpy, nothing is fun. The garden cart has broken down; the waterfront bad guys have stolen the buddy patches; the craft shop counselors wield knitting needles as weapons. In short, Treetops is no longer Treetops.

In her desperate search, Peggy shows up at Camp, not knowing where else to look. Tinkertuck,  Peggy’s guardian fairy, must help her rescue Treetops by helping her reclaim her own memories of Camp. After a series of humorous mishaps, Tinker Tucker leads Peggy to the Treehouse, where she is able to think her happy thought—which she realizes at long last is Treetops.  The long nightmare is over, and Peggy flies off triumphantly from the Treehouse, her children saved from the kidnappers and Treetops freed from Hook’s sinister grip.

Every year, the theme of the play is the same—some variation of Treetops being infiltrated, threatened, or besieged but rescued at the end. And every year, it strikes me as a near-miracle that the staff somehow pulls together, despite their exhaustion and the end-of-summer busyness, to pull off one final performance. They always manage to find inspiration in the moment, ad libbing their lines and belting out newly penned lyrics to that summer’s favorite songs. And every year, our campers delight in the cleverness and joy of the show.

To me, the staff play is one last piece of Treetops magic, a fitting send-off from our counselors to the campers they’ve come to love.

Click here or on the link above for a slide show of this year's staff play.


Farm Fest
August 16, 2010

Camp Treetops’ annual Farm Fest took place last Thursday with the flower garden in full splendor and just the slightest hint of fall in the air. The parade of horses—their manes and tails adorned with flowers and braids—kicked off a busy afternoon. Campers rotated through half a dozen stations offering farm related activities. They wrote farm poetry, painted faces, churned butter, and created flower garlands and crowns. They made lip balm, cut up garden veggies for fresh salsa, and decorated tiles for the roof of the garden shed. Everyone gathered together again for a snack of zucchini muffins, sun tea, chips and freshly made salsa, and a sharing of poems and debut of a new farm song. The many blessings of the farm and gardens were on full display.

Check out the slide show, the photo collage, and samples of the farm poetry (below).

It's what we don't see
When we're finished eating.
Kept in a shack
That doesn't need cleaning.

We bring down the food
In a large wheel barrow.
We chop chicken bones
And see the bone marrow.

Butterflies flutter by, stopping on a leaf of lettuce.
A group of children pick rhubarb, shivering in the cold air.
LIfe bursts forth from the ground in slow motion, an endless cyle.


The Masterpiece
Blue sky.
Green grass.
Apple tree.
So traditional. So boring.
A flick of paint. Then another. Then another.
Suddenly, our painting is a sea of splatter.
Hands dripping with paint, the trumpet rings out.

An Oath to the Barn
I will never scream
I will never run
I will never yell
I will always be polite
Never frighten horses, care.


Hunger Banquet and Fund Lunch
August 10, 2010

On their way into lunch one day last week, Senior campers drew a slip of paper from a jar. The note indicated membership in one of three groups: the high, middle, or low income levels of the global population. The affluent group, only about 15 people, sat together at one table set with fresh flowers and table linens. They were served by waiters a fancy meal of meat pies, fresh bread, and salad. The middle class sat at unadorned tables and ate rice and beans. The lowest income group, by far the most numerous, sat crowded together on the floor and had plain rice.

Hunger is about power, a staff presenter explained. More than one billion people suffer from chronic hunger, and that’s not due to a lack of food. Rather, unequal access to education and resources is what leaves the world’s poor hungry each and every day.

For the second consecutive summer, this Oxfam Hunger Banquet succeeded in raising awareness of global hunger and poverty among our campers. Later that afternoon, a 12-year-old who was in the impoverished group noted that the hunger she felt would go away by suppertime; the world’s poor, she realized, had no such recourse, instead going hungry all day, every day. She definitely felt a greater appreciation for all that she had.

The Hunger Banquet took place on a Monday, the day of the week reserved for Fund Lunch in both Junior and Senior Camp. Every Monday throughout the summer, campers eat a lunch of crackers and soup made from leftovers and veggies from the garden. The savings that result from the pared down meal are set aside and later donated to the charity or non-profit of campers’ choosing. Organizations advocating for environmental protection, children and families, animal rights, and scholarships are perennial favorites. An important and longstanding Treetops tradition, Fund Lunch builds awareness of those less fortunate and instills in campers the value of giving back.


Work Opportunities 
August 5, 2010

Back in 1951, legendary Treetops director Helen Haskell spoke of the importance of work in a child’s life:

Even small camp children can do many jobs. They can make their beds, sweep a cabin floor, hang up their clothes… They can learn where the drinking water comes from and what happens to garbage. As children increasingly understand what makes their place go, and see themselves part of its functioning, they develop pride and self-confidence.

This is even more important now than it was 60 years ago. In today’s society much is done for children, but rare are the occasions for doing important work. At Treetops, by contrast, everyone participates in the work program, because we see work as an opportunity.  It provides the chance to learn something new, to get to know someone better, to feel satisfaction and pride in completing a task with care and contributing to the benefit of many. And as with the campers who so enjoyed their composting job that they begged for an additional week, sometimes work is just plain fun.
At Treetops, work takes many forms. We have barn chores and garden  harvest every morning, work jobs every afternoon,  community work mornings for both Senior and Junior Camp every week. We do for ourselves as many as possible of the tasks that make any community work. Children sort laundry, feed pigs, and make sure bathrooms are stocked with toilet paper and fresh flowers are on every table. They rake the beach, stack firewood, and help out in the kitchens. Some tasks may be more popular than others, but we stress with children that no job is less important than another. All our work opportunities help campers gain responsibility, independence, and just as importantly, a sense of belonging to something larger than themselves.

See the slide show of the Work Program here or via the link above.


Treetops on Public Radio
August 2, 2010

Readers of this journal might have noticed a photograph in the Week 3 slide show of a young woman, equipped with microphone, interviewing a camper. The reporter, Sarah Harris, is a student at Middlebury College and intern this summer with North Country Public Radio. She came to do a story on Treetops on the recommendation of her friend and former camper Sophie McKibben. Sarah's piece aired on NCPR this morning, and we couldn't have asked for better coverage. Sarah reported on the unusually tight community at Treetops, one built through close living, shared work and plenty of adventure, discovery, and fun. 

Click here to listen to the audio story.  Click here to listen at the NCPR website.

July 28, 2010

At the northern edge of the red pine forest, a path runs through the woods, roughly parallel to the road alongside the sugar house. This summer, the previously ordinary trail has been transformed into a creation of amazing beauty and creativity. In a casual conversation early in the summer, Senior Camp program director Kristin Moore turned to arts counselor Ali Marchildon and said something like: “Hey, Ali, you should make an outdoor art gallery.”

A few short weeks later, dappled light filters through trees to reveal an “ArtWalk” crowded with samples of campers’ crafts. Clay pots and bobblehead dolls, Adirondack baskets and miniature treehouses sit perched on tree stumps and among beds of pine needles. Weavings, ceramic leaf pressings, necklaces, life-sized paper cutouts and more hang from branches along either side of the path. Two eight-foot archways made from twig fencing mark the entrances at either end. Campers edged the sides of the walk with stones they collected and placed carefully in a curving line. They volunteer to help take in fiber pieces before the rains and arrange new pieces for display as they are made.

The genius of the ArtWalk is its union of art and nature, where the display becomes part of the work. Vases hold fresh wildflowers; light plays off rainwater collected in a speckled bowl; the fine thread of a spiderweb is strung between a ceramic medallion and nearby tree trunk; green groundcover foliage frames a collection of many colored pots. The wonder of the ArtWalk is that it’s never the same: changing weather and light, the addition of new crafts and rearranging of others make a stroll through the ArtWalk a different experience every time. Yet the marvel of the place, the delight in discovery, remains the same.

And the inventiveness of our staff never ceases to amaze me.

Click here or above for a slide show of the ArtWalk.


Farm to Fork 
July 23, 2010

This week, our oldest campers experienced what many Camp alums tell me is the most memorable, even transformative, event in their time at Treetops: our annual chicken harvest.

On Monday morning, we harvested 62 birds for that evening’s harvest dinner. The long process—what’s known as “farm to fork”—actually began the night before, when farm manager Mike Tholen prepped everyone in detail. He offered several important reminders: that as a working farm, we raise animals as a source of food; that knowing where our food comes from allows us to make informed choices about our diet and lifestyle; that the taking of any creature’s life must only occur with the requisite solemnity and respect. We also provided time overnight for each camper to decide whether or not to participate. (After careful consideration, a handful opted out and spent their morning working on a different community project, one with the Adirondack Mountain Club.)

The 50 or so campers who stayed were split into several different work stations, but everyone saw at least one bird through the entire process. Progressing through all the steps, campers said later in the debriefing, was an important part of the experience. Working through tasks like plucking feathers, gutting the insides, washing and weighing allowed the initial discomfort and queasiness to diminish. Eventually it began to feel like any other community work morning.

That evening's harvest supper came almost entirely from our farm. In addition to baked chicken (marinated in our own cilantro), the menu included freshly baked bread, our own salad greens, and rhubarb crisp made with rhubarb from our garden.

Not surprisingly, a few campers are now considering becoming vegetarians; less predictable is the young man who after the up-close exposure to anatomy is expressing an interest in medical school. All the campers voiced heartfelt appreciation for the thorough and thoughtful preparation they received from Mike the night before and for the respectful way he prepared the birds for harvest. Most of all, our campers felt pride in having seen through to the end a difficult but powerful experience; they understand it will strengthen their relationships with each other and our larger Treetops community.

Throughout the long day, I felt enormous pride in them and our staff.


The Spice of Treetops Life
July 19, 2010

I hope all the family members who visited us last weekend enjoyed their time with us and their children. For a quick photo recap, please check out the Visitor Days photo album above. Among the many comments visitors made to me was the amazing variety of activities we offer. We definitely take good advantage of the wealth of outdoor opportunities that the Adirondacks affords us—whether hiking, caneoing, kayaking, sailing, camping, birdwatching, and more. Our talented, creative, and versatile staff offers an equally impressive range of music, dance, crafts of all kinds, woodworking, photography, games, nature walks, and many chances for unstructured fun and play (see Time for Wonder blog entry below). The photos here show just some of the variety in one recent morning's activity period.



Time for Wonder
July 15, 2010

One of the things I love most about Treetops is its sense of whimsy and playfulness. All around us, every day, we offer the necessary time and space to let our campers be kids.

Given this opportunity, and the slightest encouragement, our campers take the imaginative, spontaneous lead and run with it. Junior Campers recently held an elaborate wedding ceremony for the stuffed, doll-like creatures called “plurbits” that boys and girls alike sewed and decorated themselves.

The other day in Senior Camp, a waterfront work job turned into something playful and fun when a group hauled away brush and undergrowth around the storage area for life jackets. They named the newly created clearing Neptune’s Cove, then installed a throne fit for a deity that they fashioned from branches and birch logs.

In various crafts periods this summer, campers have made miniature tree houses to display in the forest and life-sized paper cut-outs like those in the Flat Stanley children's books. They've created ceramic bobble-heads. At the “quiet campfire” a few nights back, a boy of eight or nine sang a song all by himself, without accompaniment, his face raised to the darkening sky as if in homage to the stars emerging overhead.

At Treetops, we take time for wonder and we provide space for children’s unstructured play. That we do so, I believe, is one of our greatest strengths—and a unique and precious gift to a generation raised in an over-scheduled, multi-tasking, ever-wired world.


Heat Wave
July 10, 2010

We have not been exempt from the heat wave that has gripped the East Coast this week, but it has not kept us from our regular routines. The waterfront has been even more than usual a hub of Camp life, with general swims held mornings, afternoons, and evenings. All kinds of boats, canoes, and kayaks have been highly popular, and the sprinklers are watering more than just the grass and gardens! Other photos here include campers riding, enjoying the July 4th bonfire, and swinging their partners at this week's square dances.



4382 Cascade Rd   |   Lake Placid, NY 12946   |   Ph 518 523 9329   |   F 518 523 4858
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