|Mike Soto and John Chinn
Esselen's 50th Reunion at Camp Pico Blanco was an incredible time for reminiscing and seeing just how far the Lodge has
come in it's 50 year history. It was like stepping back in time, 35 years or so, when I drove up the Camp Road
on Friday night, same number or hairpin turns from Botcher's Gap on down (four, we used to count them on the way in and out
every-time we visited camp). The same familiar sites driving past the Nature Lodge where so many of my youthful days
reveling in the delight of Kim Kuska's grand knowledge of all things Botanical and Biological. The same
ford over the Little Sur River leading into the main parking lot. Not much had changed.
Then upon hiking up the hill
a big, glaring change was before us, the beautiful new Hayward Lodge! The construction photos online did nothing to
show the huge scope of this grand parlor! Wow, I was in 1970 and 2007 all at once. The familiar Administration
Building to the
right, the obviously absent Staff Lodge and this big huge building standing before me. I was anxious,
almost as anxious as the first time I visited Camp in 1969. What a great place for all things Scouting, from Summer
Campers eating their daily meals without clouds of dirt rising among them, to conference facilities for visitors, to the headquarters
of a fabulous weekend of memories, some fantastic, and others bittersweet.
My first trip to Camp was in 1969, as a
Webelos Scout from Pack 30 in Salinas. The winding road was of a concern for me then. Little did I realize that
it would be the first of many sojourns down the Palo Colorado to my home away from home. I returned to Pico in the Summer
of 1971 for my first Long Term. Those memories live with me to this
day, and those of the many summers I spent in
the camp among the mighty redwoods. Those nature hikes, camping in at least 6 of the 12 campsites on different occasions,
the old beat up metal pitchers that held some fruit flavored concoction, Pico Paste, Pico Peanut Butter, powdered eggs, the
large stump in the dining area, the impressiveness of the flag raising and lowering with bugle calls, the cold, cold temperature
of the Little Sur, Matt McGuire log rolling at the waterfront, Jeff Doane holding court over the Handicraft area, Jim Bowles
ringing the sales at the Trading Post. And every counselor, guide, Director and Commissioner along the way.
in the Order of the Arrow, camp became a place where I both worked and played. From all the Ordeals we hosted to the
many weeks each summer I would spend in camp for some reason or another. Though I never served on Camp Staff,
I was never out of place in camp with any of my OA chums, even on Staff Hill or in the Staff Lodge during the years I was
a camper. And now, nearly 20 years since my last visit, it was good to be home again, where so much was just as I left
it, with very little change, even through the miles of technology and progress that has preceded this meeting.
great to see a couple of old faces; Kim Kuska, Mike Soto, Jim
Bowles, Kenny Rodgers, Steve Earley, Art Long, Kevin Jordan,
Gary Roberts (I remember from my Webelos trip to camp) and sad that others weren't able to make it, and others still who are
no longer with us. That note of bittersweetness could be summed up by the display of Jeff Doane's ceremonial costume
and OA effects. It took me back some 30 years ago when he would help us ceremonialists with our lines for the Ordeal
and Brotherhood ceremonies, working with us (read: putting up
with us) for the entire day to make certain we "got" it.
And not just the words, but the meaning as well. I was lucky enough to have Jeff as my Lodge Ceremonies Adviser all
those years in the OA. And also lucky enough to call him my friend. I miss him, and I missed him even more this weekend.
Strangely, as we pored over his writings to the Lodge Chiefs over the years, as I wandered past the "new" handicraft lodge
and peered in to the storage closet to find all the supplies neatly arranged on shelves, each box hand labeled in his hand
writing, I got
the sense that he was still with us. His presence is still strongly felt to a guy who hadn't seen
him or talked to him in over 30 years, I can only imagine what you all feel having been close to him these three decades since
I left the Lodge. As they say, "no regrets," I have but one this weekend, not staying in touch with the strange little
man that hemmed and hawwed about the Handicraft area, who's alter ego ONLY presented itself when he donned the green hexagon
and dark glasses, and who's sage advice (usually followed by some snide remark) I still carry with me to this day. Rarely
do we get an opportunity to be remembered for the unselfish service we perform 30 years after the fact, sans the building
of some monument or edifice that withstands the sands of time.
So I guess that's why he's so special to me, and to
all the others that his essence has gently molded and guided. One last note about Jeff; five summers ago, my son Jack
spent a week at Camp Pico Blanco and upon learning that the Camp Director (Jeff) had been at Pico for 40+ consecutive
years, Jack surmised that perhaps Jeff might remember me. I had never shared much about those years with Jack prior
to his attending Pico, so I was even more amused when he told me he had met
this Whammy guy at camp. Fast forward
to this weekend, Jack had a flashback of his chance meeting with Jeff five years ago. He told me that he introduced
himself to Jeff, and told him that his dad was a camper at Pico back in the 70's. Jack recounts that when he told him
my name that Jeff looked off to the side for a moment, and without much hesitation simply said, "I know him." To be
remembered all those years by a guy I looked up to as a mentor of my youth is very special. God Bless You Jeff Doane
and thank you.
Of course, this weekend really was a labor of love from all of the current Esselen Lodge members,
many of which it was great to meet for the first time. But a lot of credit needs to go to my former Lodge Adviser, Jim
Bowles. I stumbled across Jim's website about 2 years ago and instantly sent him an email. Within a couple of
hours, Jim was emailing me back and telling me about the 50th Anniversary of Esselen Lodge and a movement then afoot to hold
this reunion at Pico Blanco. I
was thrilled and this weekend proved to be no disappointment. Being an Adviser
in the Topa Topa Lodge in Ventura County Council, I made the trek to NOAC 06 in Michigan, and met up
with Jim for the first time in 30 years. Jim and I always spent a good amount of time just chatting when I was a youth.
Always a good listener with a kind suggestion or two, I appreciate the time spent picking his brain and asking a lot of questions
back then. Even after I'd left Scouting, I'd occasionally see Jim at his work. He's kept us all informed of the news
from Esselen these past couple of years, and it's like "Old Home Week" now that
we've met these couple of times.
We all owe him a debt of gratitude for his efforts in helping to make this weekend happen. Jim was the link that tied us all
together from the old days, he was the one that sought to find as many of us as he could. He succeeded in finding many
who weren't able to share this weekend with us. Hopefully, my fellow "older" brethren will find time to stay in touch
through a revamped Yahoo group for Esselen and Camp Staff alumni from the "golden days."
He had a skunk, it's name
was Seymore. When I asked Kim Kuska Friday night how long he had kept his pet skunk that he "resuced" from Pico back
in the 70s, he stated that he still has him, he had him stuffed! As I wandered through Camp on Saturday, I paused by
the Nature Lodge and over on the side, my reflections turned to a goofy guy with red hair and glasses holding this skunk while
the rattlesnakes in the cages were being fed. It's Wednesday, it must be rattlesnake feeding day at
the Nature Lodge!
Kim, it was great catching up with my NOAC roomy from 1973 (That would never happen in today's YPG world, Kim was 19, I was
14!) Kim's fascination for the world and people around him never ceases to amaze me. We chatted about Camp back
in the day, and his family, whom was well known around Salinas as pioneers in the modern era of architecture, and philanthropy.
Kim and I were on a Camp
Promotions committee together back then. We spent hours poring over 35mm slides for the
Camp Slide show, set to music. It was a lot of fun reminiscing.
I was so thrilled to see that you all have kept
some of the great
traditions alive. There is still Pico Paste on the menu! Your Lodge certainly isn't bashful about
patches (never has been)! Even though you've run them all out of camp, it's nice to know that you still pay homage to
the Lodge Mascot, maybe a little more so than we ever did back in the day. Are those the old Sit Caw Yu tipi "pipes"
up by the Chapel? Sure looks like them. And it's good that you guys let Ken Rodgers still hang around (just kiddin'
Kenny)! And to bring it all full circle, one of the last Ordeal members that I "tapped out" as a youth is still a very
big part of Esselen. I never met another kid that was so anxious to be in the OA, not before, and probably not since!
He recalls me driving him to camp for his Ordeal back in 1976 (another thing that today's YPG would never allow: a 17 year
old to drive a 14 year old Scout to camp). And I was his Allowat Sakima for his Pre-Ordeal and Ordeal Ceremony.
Later when I rejoined Scouts and the Lodge in the late 80s, he was hanging around Cholon Clan as an adult. We got to
be friends those few months before I moved to Southern California, and then, as happens more frequently
that we'd like, we lost touch. Only through Jim's website was I able to make the connection to my friend Mike Soto,
and this weekend was a very wonderful time to share old stories, catch up on the history of Esselen since I had moved away,
and to reunite, with a mandate to never lose touch again. Thanks Mike for all the patches and for catching up.
most of all I want to say thanks to the current men and women of Esselen. Thanks for your hospitality, thanks for all
your hard work and dedication to this weekend, and thanks for keeping the memory alive of a time that some will always look
upon and call the "golden days." My hope is that 25 or 35 years from now you will be able to look back and share the
same kinds of memories we have shared this weekend. And
hopefully, as far as camp goes, not much will have changed,
and as you wander about, I hope that it brings back as many fond memories for you as it did for me this past weekend.
Esselen Lodge 1973-1977, 1989-1990, proud alumni 2007 onward.