I came to the hilltop a shy, “husky” boy just a few days short of my 12th birthday with 17 armpit hairs and a busted up leg to my name.
Knowing nothing and no one when I arrived, I walked to South Harris from my first meal at Pasquaney. While passing Innisfree, a man asked if I was Teddy Cooke. Shell-shocked from the cacophony of “ins” and “outs,” cups on plates, and palms on wood, I must have stammered, “Yes, how did you know?”
He told me that he knew because I was going to be the only one they sent back in better shape than received, and then introduced himself as the Charlie Richardson. As the rain fell during the session’s first flag, that was the very first thing I learned upon that hilltop – here, I mattered.
The next day I learned that everything had names. They were places, things and people, all with identities fueled by a lore that seemed otherworldly at first. They were strange and foreign, but these new words soon became sacred to me. I quickly noticed that one didn’t just learn these new words; one embraced, touched, and depended on them.
Knowing what these new words meant became a necessity. What was a Digits? Or, was it a he? How did one earn their A-Game? Why was the Will Georgi as sage as an owl, and yet cool as a cucumber? What kinds of noodles are used to set up a tent? How did the Spencer Cherry make everyone double over with laughter and keep a straight face? Why did ground spice make dank taste better? How did the Charlie Brown know so much about how the world worked? What was in the basement of The Buck? Did the Old School Yogg age in human years? How tall was the Henry Chance? And, what the heck was a pannikin?
My lexicon didn’t just grow that first summer, it exploded.
Words I thought I knew took on new meanings. I learned how to police, not to sit on a yoke, what a flag represented, and what a taut blue tarp in the rain truly meant. I rapidly understood how important two noodles were, how miserable and wonderful tubbing could be, that a stake wedged under a root was art, and what true danger could be found inside of a full ammo box.
Words merged together and created new ones. I learned how to pack a river duffle, never to let go of a t-grip, a mud pond was nothing to be trifled with, and the true versatility of a rain fly. I rapidly understood that your table boy was your best friend, a proper T-rescue could save a life, how a J-stroke could make your Disco 169 dance, and even though I had no idea how a Crazy Creek worked – I needed one.
Then there were the totally unknown. They, shrouded in mist, were the most fascinating to learn. Portage, Therm-a-Rest, wannigan, gunnel, Allagash, deet, Katahdin, OBH, Coleman, resupply, and The One.
These words were treasures, nuggets found while floundering in the river. When I returned home, they would be my rare currency.
These words, like the names of those once etched in the old cabins, are ingrained in the stories we tell each other. The tastes, feelings, smells, sights, and sounds of Kieve, forever fuel these stories. These words are the crucial pieces that allow us to remember why these memories are so important.
These are the memories of campfires, rapids, accomplishments, sunrises, sunsets, rain, hail, heat, hunger, summits, mud, stone, blisters, cold, blood, bumps, warmth, joy, camaraderie, and satisfaction.
The amount of learning and teaching from these men I witnessed as a boy and later took part in as a young man was staggering – it never ceased.
Sitting in my office, I take comfort that just ten years younger than I, my baby brother Peter (‘07-’14) already treasures these words. I relish the thought of young men like him building memories with these words for the next 10, 20, 30, and 90 years to come. My hope is that these words will always be there for young people when they need them most, to be able to transcend whatever life throws at them. Whether it is heartbreak, grief, adversity, loss, or just plain brutal honest difficulty, the memories that they have built will aid them in their perseverance.
Kieve is as large a part of me as anything. It has given me friends, strength, self-awareness, and a sense of duty to better the world for others. Kievers and our memories collectively shared will always make me laugh and cry the most.
(Ted 2nd from left as a Head Bunkhouse Counselor in 2006)