A Song of Fire and Beards

Way up on the mountain,
away from camp,
away from the lodge and den
Resides a master smith,
Tommy Carroll,

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And his legion of Blax Brother men.
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Burning white hot coals of brotherhood,
they hammer out joy and mirth
All from the recesses of their hut
crafting their “Special” projects of worth
‘With four mighty forges—
run like horses—
hitched to a mighty ventilator
He’s chalked upon them names:
“Sky Forge,”
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“Stella”
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and one strangely
“Cat Cremator.”
Recruiting men
Whose skills would spark any anvil
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And perhaps
most importantly
Won’t burn themselves on black-hot metal
He plans to open the exhaust gates of good deeds
And forge friendships
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By the books,
Crafting candle holders,
which— Let’s face it—
Look like modified grappling hooks.
In the world of artforms, theirs is manliest,
Head and chest hair above any.
Let any man who doubt this
try crafting a Jay-hook in pottery.

-John

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Take A Hike!

With a program that competes with other adventure sign-ups like mountain biking and kayaking, it’s interesting to deconstruct why something as plain as backpacking can stand on its own. But there is more to hiking than walking through the woods with a backpack on.

“When we’re out in the woods, everyone’s equal,” says Ben Williams, adventure director and hiker. “You and I might be the trip-leaders, but at the end of the day, when it rains, we all get wet. There’s no favoritism. There’s an even playing field.”

The backpacking program has received new energy at the Creek. It branched off of the mountaineering program just a few years ago. But the pioneers to the activity are anything but inexperienced.

Jim Parham, who has helped shape the program to what it is today, is a well-known publisher and guide book author and creator of the iPhone/Android app Great Hikes of the Southern Appalachian (which you can download for free). Using his app, hikers find turn-for-turn directions to any route they decide to take as well as directions to access points.

He, with the rest of the adventure staff, have made an emphasis on lightweight hiking. They learn all of the key skills needed during a “prep” instruction class before they go on any trip. Instead of heavy name-brand stoves and kitchenware, they use penny stoves (burners made from used soda cans). Instead of carrying around bulky food and water containers, they use water filters to purify local streams in cooking their freezer-bag dehydrated foods. They build their tents using light-weight silnylon tarps lashed to trees or to their hiking poles.

backpack prep

Without concerning themselves with packing too much, they allow themselves flexibility in where they decide to go. Hiking head Colby Lyles claims he can change the trip up to 10 minutes before they’ve packed up the van. “We pick routes based on who signs up. Last trip, instead of hiking the day away, we went out to look at the waterfalls.”

waterfall

That’s not to say they’re ever at a loss of places to go. The camp lies within an hour of DuPont State Forest and Pisgah National Forest, a place you could visit every day of the summer and still not walk down the same trail.

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This temperate rain-forest has over 400 miles of trails to hike through. It offers a network of access points all over the state to trails like the famous Art Loeb, a 2000 foot climb which runs across Cold Mountain (the same from the book and movie), Shining Rock (a rock which glistens like a white sheet) and exposed balds that you can look out from to forever. Black Balsam, a hikable peak along the trail, allows for one of the highest views on the east coast (6,214 ft. in elevation). Other routes could allow someone to see 15 waterfalls in one trip, others 5 peaks in an afternoon. What I’m trying to say is best said by Colby himself, “You can’t go wrong with Pisgah.”

black balsam

It’s easy to get caught up in the beauty of the Carolinas to miss the other practical side of hiking. In addition to learning knot tying, trip planning, bear bag building, and cooking, you learn an activity to do until you’re 90.

Mnt. Mitchell

“A lot of these boys are involved in sports like football, soccer, basketball,” says Ben. “And those are great sports. They’re fun to play. They’re fun to watch. But at a certain point you go from being a participant in that sport to a spectator. A lot of the times I see the adventure program as a way for the boys to get into a sport that they can participate in for the rest of their life.”

Backpacking plans on taking 15 trips in this “Main” camp session alone, including hikes that will range from full-day to 3-day trips.

By John Granatino

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An Ultimate Sport

I have a riddle for you: what sport is played over a 70-yard field, consists of 7 players on each team, and has similar rules to football? If you can’t answer, then you have never heard of Ultimate. It is a game that has been played for the past 40 years, but has just recently picked up in popularity.

With a new turf field to play on, and an arsenal of new discs (not Frisbees), Ultimate has become a key sport to the camp activity board. This year for June camp, in fact, every activity period has had full numbers (a max of 20).

ultimate 2

If you have played Ultimate before and think the game just involves the concept of, “Don’t run with the disc,” and, “Only pass to someone if they’re open,” then you don’t know the sport as it is known here at camp.

Neil Newsome, a member of a Kansas University amateur Ultimate team, and a returning member of this year’s Ultimate staff, has continued to build a whole new level to the game here at FCC. He is teaching techniques like “horizontal stacking,” where positions are organized with the 7 players as 4 cutters and 3 handlers. Working to receive short passes from the handlers who remain on the other end of the field, the cutters can make for quick goals. The use of drills, positions, strategies, and what is known as “marking a man” are making, what was a couple years ago a competition in making long passes, a synchronized game as complex as soccer or football.

ultimate 3

The sport is by no means unique to camp. It is a regular group activity at virtually every college campus. It even receives its own highlights on Sportscenter. As of last year, America has formed two new professional Ultimate leagues. And according to Newsome, the sport has plenty of room to grow.

ultimate 5

“The sport is so new, that no one has an advantage. Everyone is still learning.” He claims it has been around since he was a camper at Falling Creek 7 years ago, but not like how it’s played now. Last year was the first year Newsome taught Ultimate. Knowing the sport’s origins at camp, Neil has made the necessary changes to create the blossoming program here today.

Under the direction of this year’s staff, the teams have not had any difficulties with experience differences. “We have been surprised by the Cherokees [the younger tribe in camp]. We’ve never had to separate the older boys from the younger boys.”

ultimate 4

This year, with the new degree of friendly competitiveness brought to the table, the game is heightened to a new level. Ultimate has received such great feedback and interest that there is no doubt that it will remain as a regular activity scheduled here at Falling Creek for years to come.

- John Granatino

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Journey Down the French Broad

Although we typically do articles on this blog, this weekend I sat down with three boys who had just returned from a two day paddling trip down the French Broad River. Based on their account and my cross references with the counselor, I decided their tale would make a better short story than an article. The following narrative is based off that interview with Keaton, Nick , and Michael…

French Broad Open Canoe June 2014

Today the van buzzed with excitement. My friends and I had just finished two paddling trips earlier in the week, earning our Yaklet, the camp’s certification that we could paddle a kayak. We were ready for the next challenge. Today we were going down the French Broad River, the widest river in West North Carolina. Its turbulent waters are labeled as a “class 3,” making it more difficult than any we had done before. We agreed it would be worth enduring a two hour trip to the put-in.

I looked over at my friends Nick, and Michael, two brothers who had gone through the program with me. We knew we were more experienced than the other boys. Nick looked antsy, like he was ready to get out on the river. Michael was making some adjustments on his life vest. For some reason the counselor driving the van blasted a local Latino-music station at maximum volume. And despite not understanding any of the lyrics, it still pumped everyone up.

We arrived at the launch area to what our counselor Jez described as a normal day. “There’s nothing abnormal about the river today,” he said. “The weather’s beautiful, and we shouldn’t be encountering any abnormal water levels.”

“But that’s not to say we won’t have a challenge,” he said with a foreboding smile. After spending some time on the shore, going over basic signals and instructions, and scarfing down a lunch of tortillas, peanut butter, and honey, he commanded us to move into the water.

I could see the look of fear on the younger campers faces as they slid their own canoes into the water. I followed their gaze downstream as I saw the current splashing against the large rocks scattered across the river like an obstacle course of terrain.

The lukewarm water shocked my system as it seeped into my wet shoes. The brown water made it impossible to guess what I was stepping in. But I decided it didn’t make a difference as I swung myself aboard. Michael climbed into the boat behind me. And Nick climbed into his own canoe down the shore. Before I had a chance to nod at him, I could feel my own boat take off like a bucking bronco. I hadn’t even had a chance to stick my paddle in the water before I could feel the boat drifting out of line with the others.

“Stay in line!” shouted Jez. At first I thought he was shouting at me, but I looked around and to my relief saw the mob of other paddlers twirling around like the teacup ride at Disney.

The river carried our boats along despite the awkward angle it drifted at. We looked at the bank wishing we could see the rapid train carrying us along. It didn’t take long before we seized control of the boat as we stabbed our paddles deep into the water.

We pulled off into an “eddy,” or a pocket of calm water beside the river, to listen to more direction from Jez. “You need to stay in line. It’s going to get rough up ahead.”

We nodded; wondering if that was humanly possible, before launching ourselves back into the rough water.

The French Broad’s beauty captivated us for a short time. The narrow channels that emptied into it like a network and boulders jutting out from every direction reminded me of a painting that would go up in a natural art gallery.

The scenery disappeared almost immediately once I heard the yells of the first boat behind us flipping over. Turning around, I saw a group of younger campers swimming to shore, with one of the counselors helping to tow their canoe off to the bank. I steered my paddle out to stop from running into them. Right as I did so, my paddle slid out of my hand and into the gurgling water.

We looked around to see the other canoes around us capsizing like they were built to roll down a river upside down. Our paddle, with a new destination in mind than anywhere with us, swam away, leaving us only with our hands. Based on how our boat pivoted in the water, I could see we were temporarily stuck in a whirlpool.

“I think we’re going to flip,” yelled Michael from the back of the canoe. His doubt lit a fire in me, making me paddle through the current with the speed of a wild otter.

Our boat tipped left and right and I could feel the water giving out from under me like we were floating through the air. I closed my eyes.

I opened them to see us floating on the other side of the whirlpool. Michael had a grip on a near-by branch the size of a thread of twine, tethering us to the delicate handles on the bank. Nick came up behind us, looking dry.

“Made it,” he said as if it were nothing between harsh gasps of air.

I saw our paddle that we had lost drift back to us. I made a reach to grab it, feeling the canoe turning on its side 70 to 80 degrees. I grabbed the tip of the handle, like a leaf-stem in a windstorm. I pulled it aboard and used it to push off from the bank. A pool of water that had collected in the bottom of the boat sloshed as we started moving again.

I looked behind me to see the other campers finding their way back into their boats. I felt like the rough waters of the French Broad had tested us. But the looks of fear and nervousness had vanished on everyone’s faces. We leaned back in our crafts bobbing in the still waters of the eddy, glancing down the river, hoping to see a waterfall.

- John Granatino

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Raptors Flock To Falling Creek

This Saturday marks the end of June camp’s honored camping tradition raptor week. Steve Longenecker, Local naturalist and US Fish&Wildlife raptor educator, brought 7 rescue birds to their seasonal mews here at Falling Creek for the fourth consecutive year for the boys to have a chance to join the ranks of esteemed Falconers of Falling Creek.

Steve’s new recruits have had their work cut out for them, having to take care of every aspect of the birds upkeep: checking the locks, giving them water, make sure they have food, organizing the schedule. But he didn’t take just any candidate.

“I’m not going to announce where we’re meeting tomorrow,” he tells the group of 13 campers who assembled Monday morning. “If you’re not there, then that’s because you weren’t listening. That’s how I’m going to filter out the group. I need you to listen to everything I say.”

Longenecker began Monday by taking his first group out to the raptor pens (known as mews) scattered around the woods around the Nature Hut. After taking care of a pair of screech owls (named Yoda and Harley), Steve had his falconers of Falling Creek in training open the box up of a full-grown kestrel. The bird, named Princess Leia, is the size of a giant crow, with white speckled feathers and a rosy-red wing-span.

After showing once his helpers the proper method of tying the leash’s knot loosening the bird’s leather-straps, he finds a brave volunteer to step forward to de-leash the bird in his hand. As the bird started to fret, Steve cood it, giving Leia his trademark "good girl.”

“I named my dog ‘GG’ since I spent my whole life ‘good-girling’ things,” Steve says to the kids as he quietly chuckles to himself. Feeling more comfortable, the boy finished work on the knot.

After the kestrel settled down into its mew, the flock of campers moved up the hill to “Fort Knox", a complex dubbed so to denote the house of the Great Horned Owl and Peregrine Falcon. “I need someone to bring me R2,” said Steve. The campers took a visible step back as the brown mega-owl called R2 peeked out of its carrying cage.

“Peek-a-boo. You’re just such a sweet thing. Yes, you are,” says Steve to the owl like an old friend. The bird leaps from the box into Steve’s waiting glove. “Usually I have to bait him. But since I don’t have any bait. We’ll see what it does.”

Just as Steve says this, the owl flutters off the perch of his glove and strains on the leash. Steve clasps the owls ankles as it does a roll. He takes the time to show off the bird’s feathery claws. “Look at the size of those talons compared to the other guy.”

After everyone got a good look, Steve invited someone from the group to help him. As a timid young falconer stepped up to loosen the leash of R2, Steve nodded at him with respect. “You’re hesitant. I can appreciate that.”

Steve placed 5 birds in their mews that hour alone (7 birds in total), leaving the bulk of the responsibility in the hands of the older campers. All 13 boys returned the next day. Steve didn’t lose a single recruit. He even retained 3 campers from last year. Later in the week, after the campers spent time helping him to care for and feed the birds, he took them to Looking Glass Rock, a local attraction near Brevard where they can see the birds out of their cages and in the wild. Looking Glass, a traditional nesting sight of Peregrine falcons, is an opportunity too for the boys to see the birds outside the context of camp.

Saturday, Steve has planned for each of them to give their own presentation after having researched one of the birds in front of the entire camp.

Raptor Week

For Steve, this is just the end of another Raptor Week. But for the campers, this is the first step toward being a Falconer of Falling Creek Camp.

- John Granatino

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