I know who you are.
Whether you opened this book (the new “90th” book due out this summer) and immediately sought out the section devoted to the ’90s and 2000s, or you read every page up to this point and my “I know who you are” opening has now led you to reconsider why you set out on this course in the first place, or you simply found yourself existing in the same space as this tome, chances seem good you’re what my friend Sam refers to as “one of us” (before construing that as a compliment, you should know I once watched Sam pee on his own head during a trip to the White Mountains when we were 10).
Every subsequent Kieve generation boasts its own war stories, rock stars and idols, too-popular-to-sign-up-for activities of the summer, chants that echoed deeper and deeper into the caverns of our brains as the school year languished into its colder months, raft skits, Ritz Skits, odd-couple friendships, characters, jokes and tripping mishaps. So, do you need me to recount the time my friend Sam peed on his own head? Probably not. As an aspiring adult, I recognize it’s kind of gross. But as a South Bunkerhillian, 18 summers ago, it was about the most impressive and enviable feat I’d ever witnessed.
I know who you are because you wouldn’t read any of this if you didn’t love and understand this place enough to even consider browsing 90 years of stories waxing poetic about different variations on the same theme.
Kieve is a verb. This book covered that in its introduction. Kieve is also a smattering of paths, fields and cabins at the end of a wooded peninsula on a lake in Midcoast Maine.
The stillness of the lake in the morning, the leaves talking to the wind at Harriet House on a sticky afternoon, and the disappearing silhouette of the flagpole at dusk all add to the wonder of the Kieve experience, but we’d be fools in the most Chewonkee-sense of the word to think the Kieve magic lives at the end of West Neck Road.
Nay. That magic, that charm, that twinkle-in-the-eye, -we’re-all-in-on-the-joke mischievous creativity lies inside Kieve’s people.
And Kieve is people, by people, for people, about people. We nurture and mold them, certainly. But Kieve is as much about instilling that hyper energy I’ve found nowhere else on earth (and for which I’ve searched everywhere), that set of values every alumn carries with him for life and that roguish sense of humor a Kiever recognizes immediately in a kindred spirit as it is about unleashing and unlocking those gifts.
For every JK kid who goes on to complete Kieve West, we seem to start every summer with another 18-year-old JC persuaded to work at a summer camp whose name he can’t pronounce by his college roommate. That rook then integrates him- (or her-!) self into our legions of legacy counselors, improving the camp dynamic with fresh material and an innovative way to run archery. As Sam would say, he or she’s one of us.
For current, former and future counselors, none of us will ever work in such an infectious environment again, waking up before sunrise to construct a baseball field, staying up through sunrise to edit a movie, building upon every day, every evening activity, every announcement to ensure the following one is bigger, better and more absurd.
I spent eight years as a camper with the same 13 cabin-mates, returned to work on staff with at least nine of those 13, still speak daily with most of those nine, gather regularly with my Kieve family to cause trouble away from the peninsula, and consider my group of Kieve friends my best friends. I even lucked into (I don’t know how) a future wife I kidnapped from the Ritz.
I feel special, but my Kieve experience is not unique. Every posse of campers and counselors must leave at some point, and when they do their generation seems to huddle up, close ranks and form a Kieve outpost comprised of chants, stories and memories preserved in time by the people who made them possible.
In so many ways, Kieve made me possible. I learned the kind of person I wanted to become at camp and continue to build myself into that person. Kieve gave me my friends, a few skills and a lot of implausible stories. I navigate the world confident in my ability to execute a flawless pain-dive in nearly any depth, temperature and consistency of water. I can’t imagine raising a son who didn’t own the same skillset, honed during a decade of Kieve summers. I chose a career I deemed most similar to the writing, directing and producing of an Aqua Attack sequence. And I managed to glean an actual tidbit of life philosophy from that same HBC on whose watch/behind whose back Sam peed on his own head to the amazement of me and my fellow cabin-mates: Drape a compass over the parts you value most and venture out into the woods in search of glory and Oreos.
Mac King on the Allagash in 2005