Alumni & Friends

An undated photo from our early days, likely the 1930's

Read “A Woodchuck’s Dream” From 1928

Read the delightful story, “A Woodchuck’s Dream,” an unattributed short story published in one of the earliest Chewonki Chronicles, circa 1928. In the story, a Woodchuck group (the moniker for our youngest campers at the time) is enchanted away from their cabin in the middle of the night by a stupendous discovery. But, their wonder quickly turns to terror as they confront a monstrous foe in the woods.

An undated photo from our early days, likely the 1930's

A Woodchuck's Dream

It was midnight on a moonlight night in Woodchuck Den when the strangest adventure of the year befell the Woodchucks. It was Dicky Whidden who made the startling discovery which began the whole affair. Waking unexpectedly at midnight, he reached out half-sleepily towards a moonbeam which feel clear and white across his blankets. To his amazement it lay in his hand like a ribbon, soft and silky to touch, with yards and yards of it stretching away into the trees outside. “Oh Golly,” exclaimed Dicky. “A real moonbeam! – Look! Look” – and he leaped from bed to wake the other woodchucks.

“What is it? What is it?” they exclaimed while Dicky held up a glowing strip of moonbeam.

An undated photo from our early days, likely the 1930's

“A Moonbeam! – a real moonbeam!” squeeled Dicky, and each Woodchuck, unable to believe his own eyes, leaped from bed and reached for the nearest moonbeam, to gather the white silky stuff into his hands.

From inside came the sonorous snores of the two sleeping counselors. “Sh-sh-sh-sh!” whispered Buckie Keene, now wide awake to the amazing discovery. “Don’t wake Mr. Morgan! 

We’ll slip out and gather more.”

“Quick!” said Ray Remick, holding open the door, and five Woodchucks tiptoed out and ran down the nearest trail towards the woods. No one thought of being afraid and all were soon absorbed in gathering moonbeams which broke off quite easily and could be rolled up like silk. Ray Remick got the longest strip as he had picked up Pinkie Gregory’s sward when leaving the Woodchuck house and could reach higher than anyone else to cut off moonbeams.

An undated photo from our early days, likely the 1930's

The little party moved farther into the woods, running from moonbeam to moonbeam, until their arms were full of glowing light. The woods grew dark and moonbeams fewer.

“We’d better go back now,” said Joe, looking into the darkness. But when they looked, they could find no trail and no one knew the way. 

“Oh I wish Mr. Morgan were here,” said Dicky.

“I know!” said Bucky, “we’ll yell for him–he’ll surely hear us!”

An undated photo from our early days, likely the 1930's

No sooner said than done. At a signal they yelled all together– “Mr. Mor–gan! Mr. M o r – gan!” But only a mocking echo came back! Then suddenly the deathlike silence of the woods was broken by a commotion in the trees overhead, and the terrified boys looked up. A flock of the largest and most horrible mosquitoes they had ever seen was descending upon them. They were as large as Mr. Allen and far more terrifying–and their wings hummed like airplane motors! They were old and grey and bearded, and they gnashed their teeth hungrily. The leader was bigger than the others and spoke English perfectly. “I get that one,” he said in a deep voice to his band, as he pointed out Joe Paine– “he is the juiciest boy there!” and the ugly beast started out for his victim.

“No you don’t!” yelled Ray Remick, who was the first to collect his wits; he leaped forward, brandishing Pinkie’s sword, and struck with all his might at the onrushing mosquito… “Whack! The good blade passed right through the stinger, shaving it off close to the mosquito’s face. The proboscis fell to the ground with a thud!

An undated photo from our early days, likely the 1930's

“Oh my nose, my nose” screamed the leader, “I’m killed, I’m killed” and rolled over on the ground groaning horribly, and died.

The boys, following Ray’s example, seized sticks and clubs and met the down-rushing mosquitoes with smashing blows. The woods were filled with the sound of breaking mosquito legs, splintering wings, and screaming mosquitoes, as the boys beat back the attackers. Only one boy nearly lost his life. Dicky Whidden was knocked down and pounced upon by a big mosquito. Another minute and Dicky would have been a “gonner,” but fortunately the faint odor of citronella rubbed on his neck by Mr. Aldrich still lingered there. The mosquito turned deathly pale and fell over in a dead faint, where Ray quickly killed him. The few remaining mosquitoes flew away, battered and wounded, screaming as they went.

An undated photo from our early days, likely the 1930's

The boys leaned on their sticks, hot and panting. “We won!” cried Ray, “and, Oh Gosh, what a fight!”

“I want to go home” whimpered Dicky who had had a bad fright. 

“We don’t know the way,” groaned Bucky.

“Oh, that’s easy,” said a voice right behind them, and they turned to see a squirrel sitting on a branch in the moonlight.

“Golly,” said Joe, “do squirrels talk too! But the squirrel paid no attention and only went on working at something in his hands.

“What is he doing” asked Bob Lowell who had an eye for natural history.

“Making my web, of course,” said the squirrel.

“But squirrels don’t have webs–only spiders do!”

An undated photo from our early days, likely the 1930's

“Nonsense!” replied the squirrel – “how do you suppose we catch the nuts without webs?” The boys moved up and saw a large close-spun net stretched between two branches. The squirrel gathered up a loose end, drew the net taut, and took two half-hitches around the limb. “In the fall,” he said, “nuts fall into it” and he looked up hungrily into the branches of the beech tree.

An undated photo from our early days, likely the 1930's

“And now” said the squirrel, “it’s time you were back in bed. I saw your fight with the mosquitoes – you have beaten the toughest band of pirate mosquitoes in the woods and all the little animals on Chewonki Neck are grateful to you. I am going to show you the way home.” – And the squirrel came down and led the way rapidly back the trail within sight of Woodchuck. Den. “Now,” he said, “I must leave you, but with this advice! – Never go into the woods at midnight when the moon is full! All things are different then! Goodnight!” – And the squirrel was gone.

The boys scrambled the stone wall and hurried on. “Oh, I’ve lost my moonbeams!” said Bucky, stopping short. Indeed, all the boys had dropped them at the fight and forgotten to pick them up. They looked about them, but the moonlight had faded and the grey light of dawn had come. They tiptoed into the Den and back to bed. Mr. Morgan and Mr. Aldrich still snored.

An undated photo from our early days, likely the 1930's

Clarence Allen, Chewonki founder, started writing the Chewonki Chronicle in 1928. The monthly bulletin was hand-typed and meant to give families an impression of their child’s camp experience. The publication featured reports from Allen along with lists of jokes, itineraries, short writings, and other tid-bits submitted by campers and counselors.

We continue to publish the Chewonki Chronicle on a yearly basis.

Whitewater Wanderer Follows The Flow

“When you’re on the river, problems go away,” says Tom Shwartz, a former Chewonki camper, tripper, and leader. Shwartz was introduced to whitewater kayaking during our Umbagog leadership expedition in 2011. Since then, he’s pursued his passion for rapids all over the Americas, including Oregon, Idaho, and Patagonia, Chile. “The river is always home,” Shwartz says, “even if you’re someplace new.”

Umbagog Whitewater Kayak is a unique Chewonki trip for aspiring paddlers to learn whitewater kayaking and outdoor skills. Campers stay at a base camp in Sunday Cove on Lake Umbagog and travel a short distance to the Rapid River each day for whitewater paddling. Surrounded by a vast area of scenic forest, participants hone both their skills in both flatwater and rapids. The area is home to Smooth Ledge, one of New England’s best kayak surfing spots, as well as loons, bald eagles, osprey, and moose.

Tom kayaking in Idaho last summer

“Chewonki gave me the comfort and ability to get outdoors,” says Shwartz. “It showed me these places existed.” He returned to Maine the following summer for the Northeast Rivers expedition to scratch his newfound whitewater itch. The trip gave him the chance to paddle Maine’s most well-known inland water bodies, including the Penobscot and Allagash Rivers. On the Gatineau River in Quebec, Shwartz fondly recalls days spent practicing kayak techniques just downstream from a French Canadian electronic music festival. “It was a blast,” he says.

Chewonki's 2019 Umbagog Leadership Expedition

Shwartz’s penchant for paddling brought him to South America next. As a senior in high school, he attended Kayak Semester in Patagonia, Chile. Participants complete their high school requirements while attaining their whitewater guide certification – all while paddling in world-class rapids. Shwartz returned to Chewonki soon after as a cabin leader.

Now, a 24-year old graduate from Lewis and Clark College, Shwartz says that access to whitewater factors into most of his major decision-making. “I went to school in Oregon because there’s great whitewater kayaking there,” he says. Every school break and vacation is another opportunity to paddle. 

Paddling the south fork of the Payette River in Idaho. Photo by Liam Kelly

“Kayaking is a great way to see the outdoors,” says Shwartz. “There’s no other way to see some of these places than by water.” It also requires focus and intention. “I’m a happier and healthier individual when I kayak,” he says. “I’ll go an entire day without looking at a screen.”

His interest in whitewater kayaking has also helped Shwartz find community wherever he goes. “It’s a team sport,” he says, “your friends are your safety.” When visiting a new place, Shwartz connects with other paddlers via Facebook and other message boards. 

“It was a struggle, especially when I was younger,” says Shwartz, “but growing out of my teenage awkwardness helped a lot.” He’s grown to appreciate the bond that’s created by sharing the experience. “We might paddle for hours without talking, but you also cheer each other on and share skills.” 

Tom kayaking at the Grand Canyon last September. Photo by Liam Kelly

Shwartz is also attracted to whitewater kayaking culture. “There’s a whole lifestyle built around it,” he says, and the community is small enough that he can almost always find a connection. He’s even been followed by other paddlers who notice the whitewater kayak on his car. “One guy followed me off the highway, just because he hadn’t seen any whitewater kayakers for a snap and wanted to talk.” 

Shwartz’s love for kayaking hasn’t been affected by the pandemic. If anything, he’s had more opportunities to get out on the water. “It’s perfect because it’s a secluded, outdoor activity,” he says. When his post-graduation tech internship got canceled, he was able to find another gig guiding paddling trips, which he’d like to continue pursuing professionally.

Next, though, Shwartz wants to get into rafting. “Everything you can do in a kayak you can do in a raft,” he says, “but it’s glamping when you have a raft. It’s a barge.” While kayakers can only stow a small amount of gear, rafters can pack for multi-day river trips, no problem. Perfect for someone who can’t get enough of the river.

Young Tom at Camp Chewonki