Istanbul

Istanbul: Memories and the City by Orhan Pamuk is a lyrical description of one of the great cities of the world by a Nobel Prize winning writer. Like much of his writing, it is not easy to read Orhan Pamuk. If one is on the lookout for action, this is not the book to read. Istanbul is a very personal vision of the city. Descriptions of its buildings, its streets, of ships passing through the Bosphorus, its people, its writers, its history… intermingle with descriptions of Pamuk’s schooling, his first love, his parents’ conflicts and finally his decision to become a writer.

Pamuk writes in detail about the “huzun” or melancholy feeling of Istanbul. He describes how this feeling pervades the city and its people. He also tries to identify the root of the “huzun” of Istanbul – an impoverished city with the ruins of its past glory ever-present.

Camp Nominingue has its own history. Founded in 1925, it is one of the older summer camps in Quebec and in Canada. Owned by the Van Wagner family since its inception, the camp has adapted over the years to fit the changing needs of its campers, but remains unchanged in its essence – Nominingue is an outdoor camp where boys live in tents and are still encouraged to travel the northern lakes of Quebec on a canoe trip; campers learn outdoor skills that they will be able to practise for a lifetime; and the camp provides opportunities for boys to make choices and take decisions that help them develop their independence and their confidence.

A camp like Nominingue also has images and sounds that every camper who has ever walked its paths, swam its lake or paddled its canoe-trip routes will recognize: the white birch trees shading the tent-line; a loon cry over the lake as darkness settles over the camp; the poplar leaves blowing in the breeze; the gong being hammered at lunch-time; the silent procession through the woods towards council ring; the scream of a jumper flying off the rocks at Acapulco; the “Pony-Express” horde of campers and staff charging down the hill towards the Canadian-base in the athletic field; campers leaning over a fire blowing on the embers to get the bark or twigs to flame; the totem pole standing sentinel on honk-your-horn-hill; or the reciting of “Rise free from care before the dawn and seek adventure…”.

All that is needed is for Nominingue to find its Orhan Pamuk!

Why are boys failing school?

Can a boys’ camp experience help counterbalance this effect?

I was looking at back issues of Québec Science recently. In the November 2010 issue, I came across an article by Égide Royer, a psychologist and professor at Laval University, entitled “Des garçons sur le carreau”. P. 32-34

Égide Royer writes: « Plusieurs études rapportent en effet que les enseignants interagissent d’une manière différente avec leurs élèves selon le sexe de ceux-ci. Les garçons reçoivent plus de commentaires négatifs ou de désapprobation, font plus fréquemment l’objet de critiques et voient leurs idées rejetées plus souvent que les filles. Les enseignants utilisent un ton plus négatif pour formuler ces critiques. Par exemple, on observe que les enseignants de maternelle haussent le ton pour composer avec les comportements agressifs lorsqu’il s’agit d’un gars. »

Royer observes that teachers interact differently with students based on their sex – boys receive more negative feedback; boys are more frequently criticized; boys have their ideas rejected more frequently. As well, teachers use a more negative tone with boys when expressing their criticism. In response to aggressive behaviour, teachers raise their voice more when it is a boy who is exhibiting the behaviour.

He goes on to say that teachers perceive boys’ behaviour as more disruptive, oppositional and intimidating. Teachers will act to correct or end boys’ behaviour more frequently. The result is that for many boys, the school day is filled with negative reinforcement, criticism and punishment.

A boys’ summer camp like Nominingue fills an important niche for many boys. Campers spend the day out-of-doors and then sleep in a tent each evening. The program is active and offers many opportunities for challenge, as well many opportunities to achieve something positive each day. Campers are given daily opportunities to make choices about how they want to spend their time.

Morning instruction plays an important role in our program: boys choose one from a list of twenty skill-based activities such as climbing, woodworking, sailing, archery or mountain biking; they practise this skill for an hour per day for six days aiming to learn or improve their skills.

Travelling the Canadian wilderness in a canoe is another essential component of our program. There is a canoe trip available for every camper, with the duration and degree of difficulty established according to the camper’s age and experience. Most campers at Nominingue choose to go on a canoe trip and this experience often becomes central to the memories that they bring home at the conclusion of camp.

Our program ensures that campers at Nominingue spend a good part of the day in activities of their choosing. Happy campers are the result – campers are challenged at a level at which they can achieve. Unlike school, there is no frequent need to correct bad behaviour and when the staff raises its voice, it is usually in a cheer or a shout of encouragement!

 

Inheritance

Inheritance is the final book in Christopher Paolini’s four-book Inheritance Cycle which features Eragon, the dragon-rider, with Saphira his dragon, who lead the Varden alliance of humans with the Elves, Dwarves, Urgals and Werecats to victory against Galbatorix, the man who tried to destroy the dragon-riders and who usurped power in Alagaesia. This final novel is comforting to readers who have followed the adventures of Eragon. It is not an entirely happy ending, but most of the loose ends have been tied together by the end. The book itself is overlong and I’m not sure that I would have read it all if I hadn’t already been hooked by the series and wanted to find out how it all was going to end.

To emerge victorious against Galbatorix, Eragon and Saphira need to learn their true names in the ancient language, the meaning of which describes their true nature, including both their strengths and their weaknesses. This true name is the password required to enter the Vault of Souls where they find the eldunari or “heart of hearts” of many of the slain dragons. It is the knowledge and the power of these eldunari that provide Eragon with the keys to victory. This quest for self-knowledge is the essential challenge for Eragon in Inheritance and, in learning about himself, he discovers what he needs to defeat Galbatorix.

 

Challenges that force campers to learn about themselves and grow, is what Camp Nominingue is all about! One of the first challenges that all campers face is learning to live in a group. At Nominingue, all campers live in a tent, in groups of 5-6 campers from age seven to thirteen and in smaller groups of 2-3 at fourteen and fifteen. They learn about conflict resolution, problem solving and cooperation, and how to make friends.

Each new day brings new challenges. All campers participate in an instructional program where they work to achieve certain levels of competence in outdoor, skill-based activities like climbing, mountain biking, archery, campcraft, orienteering, sailing and kayaking. Each day, campers are asked to make decisions as to how they will use the free-swim time, whether to swim, to paddle, to play tennis or to play a quiet game with a friend. There are other opportunities for challenge throughout the session: putting on a performance during entertainment night; carving a whale out of a piece of wood; playing a song on the guitar; running a triathlon; participating in a canoe race…the opportunities are too numerous to mention.

Perhaps the greatest challenge, and certainly one that has existed since Camp Nominingue was founded, is the canoe trip. The length and the location of each trip are planned according to the age, strength and skill of each group of campers. On the canoe trip, campers learn about endurance – paddling across a lake against the wind at the end of the day, when the only thing they want to do is fall asleep. Campers learn how to navigate and how to locate themselves on a map. Campers learn how to get along, when differences arise between members of the team. The result of all these opportunities for challenge is the potential for incredible personal growth – in confidence, in independence and in a sense of responsibility.

Bernard Cornwell and Alfred the Great

Bernard Cornwell is back at it again in this enjoyable series of books about Alfred, the Saxon king, who reigned in Wessex between 1871 and 1891, and who is honoured in English history as Alfred the Great. This series begins with the novel The Last Kingdom and continues with The Pale Horseman, The Lords of the North and Sword Song. Unfortunately, Bruce Gray never read the last novel in the series, so I still have a final novel to read!

Although Alfred is the major historical figure in this series, Uhtred is the fictional character whose story is central to the novels. The setting for the novels is the British Isles in the ninth century, with the Saxon kingdoms of Northumbria, East Anglia, Mercia and Wessex under attack from the sea by Danish Vikings. Uhtred’s story takes place as the kingdoms fall one-by-one to the Danes. The Last Kingdom begins with a Viking raid on York and the death of Uhtred’s father and his own capture by the Danish Vikings. Raised by a Danish family, Uhtred dreams of re-capturing his home, Bebbanburg; he learns the skills required to be a warrior, both on land and sea; he is dragged into the political scheming of Alfred and Wessex; and he develops his spiritual beliefs amidst the violence and ignorance that surrounds him.

A central them in the novels is belief: the Christian beliefs of Wessex and of its Christian king Alfred in danger of being overwhelmed by the pagan beliefs of the Danes. Alfred is portrayed as extremely religious, favouring the church, prayer, education and peace over ignorance and warfare. Uhtred, although forced by fate into alliance with Alfred, rejects the strictures of Christianity. His gods are Odin and Thor. “The gods like bravery, and they love defiance, and they hate cowardice and loathe uncertainty. We are here to amuse them,… that is all, and if we do it well then we feast with them till time ends.” (The Lords of the North, p.328) And his life is determined by fate. Uhtred says that “Fate is inexorable. Fate cannot be changed. Fate rules us. Our lives are made before we live them.” (Sword Song, p. 53)

As I read these novels, it made me reflect on Camp Nominingue and what we believe at camp. Almost everyone who has been a camper and a counsellor at camp believes that a canoe trip is not only an amazing experience but also, the essential Nominingue experience. At Nominingue, however, it is not just any canoe trip. These are some of the cherished beliefs of Nominingue trippers: true canoe tripping should be done in cedar and canvas canoes; there is nothing like cooking on an open fire; a canoe should be carried by one person and a portage must be completed in one shot, with all packs, canoes and equipment carried across the portage, without anyone in the trip group having to do the route twice. Although I was raised in these beliefs and recognize their merit, I also know that there are good reasons to use a stove, or to travel in Kevlar or ABS canoes.

Camp Nominingue values the outdoor experience. All campers live in tents, canvas prospector tents set on raised wooden platforms, during their stay at Nominingue. There is a canoe trip offered for every camper, whether he is at Nominingue for a week or seven weeks. Freedom of choice is an important value. Campers choose instructional activities each week; campers choose how they will spend their free swim time; and there are lots of opportunities to learn new outdoor skills. Nominingue believes in the importance of respect: for oneself, for others and for the environment. To us these are essential components of the Nominingue experience.

At most camps, campers live in cabins. Although cabins might provide more comfort, we believe that part of the outdoor experience is lost. Choice and decision-making provide campers with opportunities for personal growth. Sometimes choice can be inefficient. Campers provided with time to choose might not always use their time wisely, but at Nominingue, we consider the opportunity for growth more important than the potential for loss. Every camper who spends time at Nominingue learns about these values and beliefs from the campers who return year after year, from the staff who themselves were often campers and from the place, which reflects these beliefs in its organization and in its spirit. There is no doubt that the values and beliefs learned at camp are as important if not more important than any other skills campers learn at Nominingue.

Catch-22

Catch-22 is a novel that I remember a number of classmates reading, back in high school in the 1970s. I did not read it at the time and did not watch the movie version either. This summer, I saw it in a book store and decided that it was a novel that I should read.

The expression catch-22 entered the English language through this novel. I have always paraphrased the expression as “a situation where one is damned if one acts and damned if one does not”, but I was interested to finally discover the origins of the expression.

This excerpt from the novel captures the essence of the expression “catch-22”:

 

Yossarian looked at him soberly and tried another approach. “Is Orr crazy?”
“He sure is,” Doc Daneeka said.
“Can you ground him?”
“I sure can. But first he has to ask me. That’s part of the rule.”
“Then why doesn’t he ask you to?”
“Because he’s crazy,” Doc Daneeka said. “He has to be crazy to keep flying combat missions after all the close calls he’s had. Sure, I can ground Orr. But first he has to ask me to.”
“That’s all he has to do to be grounded?”
“That’s all. Let him ask me.”
“And then you can ground him? Yossarian asked.
“No. Then I can’t ground him.”
“You mean there’s a catch?”
“Sure there’s a catch,” Doc Daneeka replied. “Catch-22. Anyone who wants to get out of combat duty isn’t really crazy.”

There was only one catch and that was Catch-22, which specified that a concern for one’s own safety in the face of dangers that were real and immediate was the process of a rational mind. Orr was crazy and could be grounded. All he had to do was ask; and as soon as he did, he would no longer be crazy and would have to fly more missions. Orr would be crazy to fly more missions and sane if he didn’t, but if he was sane he had to fly them. If he flew them he was crazy and didn’t have to; but if he didn’t want to he was sane and had to. Yossarian was moved very deeply by the absolute simplicity of this clause of Catch-22 and let out a respectful whistle.
“That’s some catch, that Catch-22,” he observed.
“It’s the best there is,” Doc Daneeka agreed.
(Heller, Joseph.  Catch-22 . Simon & Schuster Paperbacks: 2004, p. 45-46.)

The protagonist of the novel is Yossarian, a bombardier during WWII, operating from an island in the Mediterranean. Yossarian is not a dashing or romantic hero, but he is a hero nonetheless.

As I read the novel, I began to wonder if at Camp Nominingue, we ever put a camper or counsellor in a catch-22 situation. For example, at Nominingue we canoe trip using cedar and canvas canoes. These canoes can get rather heavy on a 7-10 canoe trip, as water seeps into the wood. Our counsellors are expected to portage these 16 ft. canoes on portages from 200 m. to 2000 m., and sometimes over longer distances. Counsellors who have been at Nominingue for a number of years take pride in being able to complete these portages without putting the canoe down as well as ensuring that all packs and canoes are transported over the portage in a single hike. Does this expectation put undue pressure on our staff to live up to these standards? If a counsellor was injured, would he say anything, or would he risk further injury by completing the portage without complaining?

Campers who return to Nominingue every year are impressed by the exploits of the counsellors who carry such canoes over long portages. As they become bigger and stronger, campers will often ask to portage a canoe or will test themselves to see if they are able to carry a canoe. Should they be allowed to even try? Is the culture of the camp teaching them to push themselves beyond their limits?

Challenging campers to go beyond where they have been before is an essential contributor to the personal growth that campers experience at Nominingue. However, this must be balanced out with a concern for the health and safety of both campers and staff. The example we set for the staff and campers goes a long way towards the culture that stands for Camp Nominingue.

Brisingr and Nominingue

Brisingr is the third novel in Christopher Paolini’s Inheritance cycle. In Brisingr, Eragon, the last free dragon rider, undertakes two voyages through Alagaesia alone without Saphira, his dragon. On one voyage, Eragon travels from Dras-Leona, after defeating the Ra’zac, back to Surda, traveling on foot through enemy territory. The second voyage takes place when Eragon along with Garshvog, a Kull, travel from Surda to the Beor Mountains, the home of the dwarves. As he travels, Eragon feels extreme loneliness, cut off from the mental and emotional link between himself and Saphira. He knows that although it is difficult for both of them to be separated from each other, that the separation will make them stronger, a necessity if they are going to be able to defeat Galbatorix and his dragon.

In a summer camp, campers live an experience away from their parents and home.  For many campers, this separation is a challenge. Studies show that most campers will miss their parents at least some of the time when they are at camp. Having worked at Camp Nominingue for more than twenty years, I know how hard this separation can be for both parents and their son. I have also seen so many boys overcome this feeling and thrive at camp. Learning to live without the comfort of home and parents is an extremely empowering experience. When a camper overcomes his homesickness and begins to participate and enjoy the opportunities offered at camp, he gains tremendous confidence in knowing that he can live and thrive independent of home and family. Like Eragon, campers learn that personal growth does take place when new challenges are met and overcome!

Eldest and Nominingue

Eldest is the second novel in the Inheritance cycle, of which Eragon is the first, written by Christopher Paolini. In Eldest, Eragon heads off to Ellesmera, the land of the Elves where he will be tutored by Oromis, who it turns out is a dragon-rider like Eragon. The primary focus of this novel is the training of Eragon. He spends countless hours learning to open his mind to the living things around him; to practise the language of the elves, the language of magic; and to learn humility in sword fighting against elves who possess superhuman strength, speed and agility. His is a crash course in wisdom – to learn the wisdom required to face Galbatorix, the renegade dragon-rider who has made himself the king of Alagaesia. The difference is that Eragon only has weeks to prepare himself whereas Galbotorix has had more than a hundred years to acquire his power.

At Camp Nominingue, an important focus of our program is skill training. Although we do not train dragon-riders, we do provide boys with the opportunity to learn outdoor skills which they can use on canoe trips and which they will be able to use throughout their lives. Each morning, campers participate for two hours in two instructional activities, drawn from a list of twenty activities. These activities are drawn from five basic categories: canoe tripping, water skills, outdoor challenge, sports and other life skills. Campers choose two activities which they will take for six days, as they work towards developing a certain level of competence. For every instruction, there are four levels of accomplishment, so there is always a realistic goal for a camper to achieve. Campers receive a shield which records their skill accomplishments at the end of summer and they have the opportunity to continue their skill development the following summer.

CN Instructions:
Canoe tripping     Water Skills           Outdoor Challenge  Canoeing                    Swimming                   Archery   Campcraft                  Kayak                          Riflery    Orienteering              Sailing                          Climbing                  Nature studies          Windsurfing                Mountain Biking
Outdoor cooking       

Sports                       Other
Tennis                         Crafts – Woodworking
Lacrosse                     Theatre
Basketball                   Guitar
Soccer

Camp Nominingue is about fun and friendship as much as it is about skill development, but building skills is an essential part of our program. Growth in self-confidence is often the result. At Nominingue, this has always been true!

The Elegance of the Hedgehog

The Elegance of the Hedgehog
(from L’élégance de l’hérisson de Muriel Barbery)

The Elegance of the Hedgehog is the story of three people whose lives intertwine in an apartment building in Paris. Paloma is a twelve year old girl who plans to commit suicide before she reaches the age of thirteen. Renée is the concierge of the building. She lives two separate lives: in the life she reveals to others, she is a gruff, short-tempered concierge, with few deep thoughts, who spends her free time watching TV; in her second, hidden life, Renée is a self-taught woman of the world, whose tastes run to exotic cuisine, classical music and academic texts. The third character of note is Kakuro Oza, who moves into an apartment after the death of its previous occupant. His arrival serves as a catalyst to bring these three unhappy people together. The result is life changing!

Kakuro and Renée help Paloma realize that suicide is not the answer, that she can’t expect to be happy all the time. Paloma states: “I have finally concluded, maybe that’s what life is about: there’s lots of despair, but also the odd moment of beauty, where time is no longer the same. It’s as if those strains of music created a sort of interlude in time, something suspended, an elsewhere that had come to us, an always within a never.
Yes, that’s it an always within never.
Don’t worry Renée, I won’t commit suicide and I won’t burn a thing. Because from now on, for you, I’ll be searching for those moments of always within never.” (p.325) The conclusion of the novel is surprising and bitter-sweet, but in the end appropriate.

Every camper who arrives at Camp Nominingue is unique: each camper has his own special gifts; each has his own worries and concerns; each has his own particular problems. In many ways, every counsellor at Nominingue is like Kakuro Oza. The counsellor’s role is to reach out and find what is special in each camper, just as Kakuro does with Paloma and Renée. When this happens, as it happens many times each summer, the result truly is life changing!

Nominingue and Eragon

I picked up Eragon at my mum’s cottage. Likely a niece or nephew had left it behind after a visit. My expectations were not extremely high. Very quickly, I was hooked. Eragon and his friends led me on a fantastic adventure into an imaginary world.

The qualities that stand out in the lead character Eragon are his resourcefulness, his willingness to take a risk and his openness to new opportunities. When he finds the egg, he understands at some level that the egg has chosen him. It becomes important for him to protect the egg against all threats. When the egg hatches and a dragon is born, Eragon provides the environment for the dragon to safely grow and flourish. Without fully knowing who Brom is, Eragon puts his trust in the man and chooses to learn from him. When Murtaugh joins his quest, Eragon recognizes his skill and loyalty, and chooses to accept his company. When it is time to accept his role as a Dragon Rider, Eragon accepts the role that fate provides. Throughout the novel, Eragon is offered new opportunities and he makes the most of them. He makes use of the wisdom of his companions whenever faced with a new situation or opportunity. He refuses to back down from the challenges that cross his path. He uses the resources at his disposal, he makes decisions and choices, he learns from his mistakes and he stays true to what he knows is right.

Camp Nominingue is a bit like Alagaesia, although there are no Urgals to attack us. Nominingue is a land of opportunity if only we are willing to take advantage of what is offered. Whether it is learning a new skill in archery or dedicating oneself to improving an inside turn in a canoe or climbing to the top of the wall using the most difficult route, new challenges are always available. Campers and staff alike can always choose to back down and take the easy route or return to the same, safe instruction where they had success the previous summer. There are many choices to make at camp and these might be some of them.

Eragon seeks advice from Brom, Murtaugh, Saphira, Orik and others. The decision, however, is always his to make. At Nominingue, there are many counsellors with wide-ranging skills and experiences, prepared to offer their support and their wisdom, but the choice often remains in the hands of the camper. This is an opportunity.

To many campers, a canoe trip into the wilderness is scary or at the least a trip into uncharted waters. Experienced campers and counsellors are always prepared to offer some advice or some opinion. Having spent twenty-six summers at Camp Nominingue and having set out on countless canoe trips, I feel that the canoe trip is an opportunity not to be missed. I feel strongly, however, that it is important that campers make this choice to sign-up individually or with a group of friends to go on a trip.

All of the opportunities that Nominingue offers to campers help to ensure that Camp Nominingue is a place where boys can grow…in confidence, in independence and in resourcefulness. This is what Nominingue is all about!

The Camp Nominingue Canoe Trip

Against the Gods: The Remarkable Story of Risk by Peter L. Bernstein is an interesting read about the development of both the thought process and the mathematical principles required to manage risk. Although a lot of the developments in mathematics that are discussed in the book are connected with gaming and gambling, the principles are transferable to risk management in the field. One interesting discussion deals with the situation in Ancient Greece. The Greeks had the mathematical knowledge to measure risk, but they never developed this ability. Greek mythology describes the division of the universe by the three brothers in a game of craps. Through the roll of a dice, Zeus won the heavens, Poseidon the seas and Hades, the loser, the underworld! Bernstein suggests that the Greeks never developed the belief structure that would enable them to consider that risks could be managed – the final arbiters were the gods. When a ship departed on a journey, the travellers put their faith in the gods…

Over the years, Camp Nominingue’s canoe tripping program has made subtle adjustments. New routes have been explored. Old routes have been discarded. New equipment and procedures have been introduced, but many of our principles have remained the same. One good reason for maintaining these principles is that they are at the base of our canoe trip risk management program.

Most of our canoe trips head out with five campers and two staff. When we add a sixth camper, we add a third staff member. We feel that it is important that there be a counsellor in each canoe on our canoe trips. This ensures that the paddlers in each canoe have the experience, the leadership and the strength to handle all the various conditions that we encounter on our trips.

Nominingue chooses to travel on flat water rather than on moving water. This removes the greater risk that rapids and moving water pose for canoeists. It also ensures that damage to our cedar and canvas canoes is minimized. A conscious decision was made at Nominingue to use cedar canoes in our canoe trip program. When loaded, these canoes are reasonably stable. They also enable the staff and campers to live an experience that comes closer to what the voyageurs of old experienced. There is nothing like paddling a cedar canoe in the wild!

As human development has spread throughout the north, canoe trip routes have been restricted. In the twenty-first century, all Camp Nominingue canoe trips travel within the boundaries of two provincial parks: Papineau-Labelle and La Vérendrye. One advantage of this situation is that our trips travel along routes that are known by experienced paddlers at the camp. They share their knowledge and experience of these routes and lakes with each new generation of trippers. The advantage of certain campsites is recognized, time requirements to complete a portage are recorded, exit routes in case of emergency are marked and this information is recorded on itineraries for future use.

One change that has contributed to our staff development was the introduction of the LIT (Leader-in-training) program. This program provides sixteen year-old campers with first aid, lifesaving and canoeing certification and with a unique experience: the opportunity to participate in the leadership of a wilderness canoe trip. This LIT experience translates into better skilled and more experienced junior counsellors and counsellors, and a stronger canoe trip program

For the campers, the preparation for canoe trips begins on their first day at camp. After lunch, every camper will complete a swim test, which determines his swimming ability. After passing the deep-water test, he will then participate in a canoe rescue, where he experiences dumping, emptying a canoe in deep water and climbing back into a canoe. Although this practice does not make an experienced canoe tripper, it is the first step along the path to confidence and skill on the water.

At Nominingue, we introduce campers from seven to sixteen to the joys of canoe tripping, whether it is paddling across a quiet lake in the sun, struggling up a steep hill through mud on a portage, cooking a tasty meal over an open fire or listening to the cry of a loon as dusk falls. We hope to develop in our campers a love of the outdoors and a confidence in their ability to travel in the Canadian wilderness.