Many of us at CMF have experienced it from many sides with different perspectives at every corner. Jennifer Prescott writes about her different Layers of Cragged and how they have helped to change her life.
Layers of Cragged
Hiking to Cragged Faces, and deep in the woods near Cascades, one often discovers shards of mica, a shiny mineral that crystallizes in flat sheets. Lightweight and flexible, a piece of mica can contain layer upon layer, each translucent and .25 millimeters each or thinner.
When I think upon my summers at Cragged, I’m reminded of these small pearlescent treasures. My time here is built of layers of memories and experiences, summers upon summers of love and laughter and light that cannot be broken apart; it is the sound of the laundry machines at night under the stars and a sweet ukulele in the Playhouse and the rain on the rooftops. It is canoeing across wide calm lakes at dawn with the fog rising and looking out from summits into great gulfs of valley and green. This is my home. And when I am away from it, I will always long for it.
I was sent to Cragged for the first time at age 11. Although my older siblings had attended camp (and my brothers had been staff members), we lived in Michigan and my parents likely felt that it was a far distance from which to send their youngest daughter. Nevertheless, off I went. (When they arrived a month later to collect me, I was outraged. My first words to them were along the lines of “How dare you have waited THIS long to send me here?” I was already regretting the time I had lost. Summers not spent at Cragged seemed to me summers wasted.)
Many have said that CMF is a place in which you can be your true self, free of judgment. I found this to be true from the start. I didn’t spare a backward glance for my actual home, which I dismissed under the thrall of days rich with experiences. Every moment, every day, seemed to slow down into an extended and magical dream.
There were hard times, sure. I’d recently had knee surgery, and the first hike they sent me on (Tripyramid!) was jarring and decidedly not magical. One of my cabin-mates was mean and made fun of me one day during rest period. I ran to the bathroom to cry and a young staff member found me, put her arm around my shoulders, and told me I never needed to allow anyone else to dictate how I felt. I mention this because years later, those hard spots mean nothing. You get over them because you become “Cragged trained,” which means you can conquer anything that comes your way. Pack for a trip, lift a heavy load, haul a sack of food high into the treetops so the bears can’t snatch it down, change a flat tire, stare down a bully—it’s all possible. Cragged makes you strong in the best way. There might be an obstacle in your path but you simply step over it and keep climbing. You are surrounded by a field of energy greater than you have imagined. You have the force of the Cragged family behind you, and you will be stronger than you ever thought possible.
I swam and leapt from the diving tower at Loon Lake—the old diving tower that has since been replaced with our new “Spruce Goose,” built by another Cragged parent. We walked to Maine and braided wildflower crowns and my counselor sang the lyrics to a song which, just now and almost three decades later via Google, I have finally identified as “I Walked a Mile” by Barry McGuire. We scrambled down through a soft pine-needled grove and plunged into Cascades. At Emerald Pool, at the foot of South Boldface, I leapt from a high rock into water so cold it seemed to stop our hearts for an instant. In assembly, I watched the guitarists fill the Playhouse with music and I sang (and cried hot helpless tears, of course, on the last night—“Circle Game” was the “Jet Plane” of that time). On the trail, I watched the trip leaders shoulder massive frame packs and step away up the rock faces above me and thought, “They must be gods!” The counselors were larger than life. They were merry tricksters, confidantes, and mentors who challenged and entertained us and never for a moment failed to deliver the wildest and most heartfelt enthusiasm I had ever witnessed. I wanted to be like them. I wanted to BE them.
After two summers as a camper and one spent paddling the Allagash, I eventually returned to Cragged as a counselor. I brought a bag of costumes and wigs and my campers and I roamed about, pulling pranks and laughing so hard our sides hurt. We hiked and climbed and built things and explored and dreamed. I played and was a child again, but this time trying to bring that same spirit of mentorship I had experienced as a camper. I wanted to make sure every camper learned what I had: You are important. You are unique. You can do anything.
That summer, a great friend handed me a guitar and taught me “You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere.” With aching fingers and awkward chords at first, I joined the CMF band—then a formidable “guitar army” but today interspersed with campers on ukuleles, a bass, electric guitar, and a keyboard. I became a trip leader, and later the waterfront director. I’ve spent many of my hard-earned vacation days away from my “real” jobs working up at Cragged. There is simply nowhere else I’d rather be.
I sent my three sons to CMF as soon as they were old enough because I wanted them to experience the love and energy that this place has granted me. And they have. I am so grateful and fortunate to have been able to give them the gift of this special place. Like most parents of campers, I am away from them now while they hike the rugged mountains and canoe the wild rivers, under the clouds and stars. I know in my heart that they are growing stronger and more independent, as they should. Today, my 14-year-old, who is part of the Wilderness program, is canoeing in the Rangely Lake region in Maine. My 12-year-old is at Aziscohos, also in Maine. And my 10-year-old is hiking in the Presidential Range of the White Mountains. Perhaps he has summited Mount Madison by now, and has looked out from another 4,000-footer and announced proudly, as he likes to do, “I was born with hiking boots on!” I think of them all and know that they are having the time of their lives. They have been building their own memories these past 9 years and will continue to do so. They can hold their own shards of mica in their palms and marvel at the layered beauty. Every child should be so lucky.
Cragged begins and ends and begins again as if it never stopped. It is my favorite place on this earth; the place I can forever be me. I could fill a book with my Cragged memories. I could write poem after poem and it would never be done. I remember the stars strung out against the sky as I stumbled out of my tent in the middle of the night at Old Speck Pond on the Mahoosucs, the pounding on the tables for “Chef’s Parades” (so hard the water bounced free from the cups), the lineup of vans turned southward in the dusty road, diving from the bow of my canoe into the dark waters of Black Pond. I remember everything.