JUST LIKE HEAVEN
A Reflection on Birch Rock Camp in the 1980’s

To be at Birch Rock in the 1980’s was to have one foot in the past and another in the future. In many ways, it was still the Birch Rock of the 40’s or the 50’s: a place where the Grove was on the right side of the driveway, the Museum was up the hill, and you could still find an old school BR tank top in the lost and found. During Cross-camp Capture the Flag, you could stay hidden for hours in the underbrush between the Lodge and the Birch Rock, plotting your move. The sound of the Bell still filled the air, but so did the crack of the riflery range and the whine of Cort Morgan’s band saw from the old Shop beneath the lodge.

If you were around in 1980, you overlapped with some of the early legends of the camp: Albert, Onie Brewster, Mike and Phyllis Deneault… I’m proud to say that I swung a hammer with Omar Moxie! Likewise, if you were there in 1980, you also overlapped with a young junior counselor named Richard Deering, and later in the 80’s, with a scrawny camper named Michael Mattson.

It was a time of change, not just for Birch Rock, but for summer camps everywhere. There was a steep drop in enrollment during the decade, and it’s no coincidence it occurred during the proliferation of the personal computer and the first video games. It seemed like an entire generation of kids (and their parents) had forgotten about the summer camp experience.

Frankly, at the time, we didn’t care. In fact, the fewer kids there were, the more fun we had. With only 20 or 30 kids at camp, it had a way of erasing the usual boundaries that separated a full camp. There were no more Cubs, Badgers or Grizzlies in the lean years. It was just one tribe, where we celebrated the strong ones and looked out for the little ones.

As a CAMPER in the 80’s, every day was like Christmas. You didn’t know what to expect but it was going to be awesome. When the sun shined, I was on the Hill playing baseball. When it rained, I was in the Library playing Strat-O-Matic baseball or reading the Hardy Boys. My most lasting memory of the time had another baseball connection. I was a CIT and we were watching the 1982 All-Star game on the tiny black and white TV in the Library. The counselor on patrol in Upper Camp burst in: the Northern Lights were out! It was true – all the colors of the rainbow. I’ve never seen the like of it.

As a COUNSELOR in the 80’s, I will admit to having even MORE fun at camp. For me and my fellow Chesty Children, it was the BEST of times. We had come up together, we knew the traditions, we loved the place, we loved each other (most of the time) and we wanted to pass it on. And not just camp traditions, either. We wanted to cultivate a certain style that was unique to the times, a mashup of Buck Hard and the Breakfast Club.

John Mason and Seth Wheeler 1983

We wore loud shorts, bluchers, and Aviators. We had silly ties, sharp hats and wore Chuck Taylors, Stan Smiths or Bean boots. We loved the Blues Brothers, the Beach Boys, and we all loved Birch Rock Camp. We developed an esprit de corps that made it easy to depend on each other to keep the energy going, from the first day of camp to the Chip Ceremony. We were tight, really tight. I know how tight now because they’re still my closest friends.

It’s probably the reason we were the first group to start the tradition of a staff-themed tee shirt. It kicked off in 1984 with ‘Facilitators of Fun’ and it’s been going ever since.

 Of course, we got a lot of help along the way. I think of how Pete Haas’ arrival at camp would electrify the place. We had people like Bob Van Dyk join the staff, having never heard of Birch Rock Camp, and contribute like he’d been there his whole life. Camp is great that way – it rubs off quickly, but everyone has a hand in shaping it over time.

Speaking of which, no discussion of the 1980’s would be complete without mentioning the impact that Director Dave Weeks had on Birch Rock during this time. He didn’t grow up at camp, like a lot of us. Instead, he came here fully formed and was immediately tuned in to that narrow-band frequency that is unique to Birch Rock. AND, he brought with him a LEGION of kids from Maryland, with their lacrosse sticks and their OP gear, and they left their mark on the culture of the camp.

And so back then, as now, we come from all corners to this little dot on the map in western Maine and REVEL in having the place ALL to ourselves. The Hill pulls you in and sends you down one of many paths to the Lake. It’s always been about the privilege of living for a little while on that completely perfect piece of land. That’s what joins everyone who’s ever loved the place.

  • Seth Wheeler (’78 – ’87)

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