Full Circle on Catalina

Full Circle on Catalina

Yesterday, I noticed a new feature on the Gensler websiteCabin Class. Then a name caught my eye: Lord Baden-Powell, the founder of Scouting. And then the location: Southern California. I clicked through to the next page of the Gensler article, and sure enough, the project — EcoCabin —is “the initial step of a comprehensive master plan for Camp Emerald Bay, an 85-year-old campground on Catalina Island, 22 miles southwest of Los Angeles.”

EcoCabin looks terrific, and what a wonderful opportunity!

As you may recall from a previous article, my father was a professional leader with the Boy Scouts of America, responsible for running the Sea Scout program, as well as construction of Boy Scout camps. Throughout the year, my dad would figure out what buildings they needed, as well as what needed repair, and then he would organize work crews of Scouts and Scouters (professionals and volunteers) to do the work. Think of it as the non-profit version of design-build.

75 years ago, my father was assigned to the Los Angeles Council of BSA, and my parents moved from San Francisco to Santa Monica. My dad was responsible for the 10-year-old Camp Emerald Bay on Catalina Island — the same camp for which Gensler is creating a wonderful, professionally and sustainably designed development program that will be enjoyed well into the future. So it’s a double-wow for me!

More after the break.

First of all, my father believed that anything was possible, and my mother was an incredibly good sport. But whenever I think about Catalina and Scouting, I remember a story that my parents loved to tell:

There was a weekend in 1939 when my mother accompanied my father and his work crew to the camp on Catalina. She was pregnant with my sister, but she loved the out-of-doors, and she always said that Catalina was beautiful. They may even have gone to the Avalon Ballroom on Saturday night to hear some big band music. (My mother was a professional singer, and they both loved that kind of music.) However, my mother suffered from seasickness, so I’m sure she didn’t enjoy the ferry-boat ride to and from the island. (But hey, what’s a little seasickness when you’re having fun.)

My mother said that at the end of the day, the work crew needed to get back to LA, so they took the only vehicle back to the ferry. My father wanted to finish up something and assured everyone that he and my mother would be able to get back to the ferry on their own.

My father finished, and they packed everything up. Then they got into a CANOE to paddle their way to the ferry terminal. They were on the channel side of the island, but nonetheless, they were in the Pacific Ocean … in a canoe. My mother was pregnant, and she was not a good swimmer. The ferry terminal was literally miles away. And it was getting dark. She said that she was never more frightened and actually thought that my father might have a death-wish. He, of course, thought it was fun!

Today, if you’re an eligible Scout or Scouter, you can share their experience with the “Rugged Canoe” program at Camp Emerald Bay — “the canoe expedition of a life time

[sic] where you will navigate … through ocean swells and breaking surf….”

Not surprisingly, my parents did get back to the ferry (or else my sister and I would never have been born), and they had a great story to tell for the rest of their days. But my mother never again got into a canoe — not ever.

Back to Lord Baden-Powell:

Lord Baden-Powell
My dad had great admiration for the founder of Scouting, and he had met Lord and Lady Baden-Powell at the BSA’s Philmont Scout Ranch. He loved to tell a story about the way that they pronounced their name:

» Lord Baden-Powell said /ˈbdən ˈp.əl/ or bade-in pow-el

» Lady Baden-Powel said /ˈbdən ˈpl/ or bah-din pool

And then we would all laugh.
Is it any wonder that, with stories like this, I developed a life-long love of linguistics, as well as appreciation for the Baden-Powells?

Now fast-forward to 2011. Camping is definitely back in my vernacular.

» One of my best friends is the Director of Sustainable Design for Gensler’s Northwest Region (yes, the same Gensler that is working on Camp Emerald Bay), and her husband not only became an Eagle Scout, but is also the Scoutmaster of their sons’ troop in Oakland. (The elder son earned his Eagle, and I understand that the younger is this-close.)

» At our Harvard GSD Executive Education program this year, one of our many wonderful participants was Michael Domokur of Domokur Architects, and one of their areas of specialization is design of youth camps. During the course, he shared thoughtful stories about the joy that comes from designing camps in which young people have an opportunity to build memories for the rest of their lives.

» On a recent trip to Whole Foods, I purchased a bag of organic whole-grain chips made by Late July. When I was enjoying the chips, I started reading the story behind the company. 10% of the profits from the sale of the chips goes to the American Camp Association to provide summer camp scholarships; so they are giving back in a way that I know my parents would have appreciated.

And for me? I’ll always remember camping with my family, as well as the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts, but I especially remember one trip, back in the 1950s, when I was a little girl. We were camping in tents, and my mother heard me say, “Nice doggie,” and then found me holding out my cereal bowl to a bear cub, with the mama bear not too far away.

Today, my idea of camping is staying at the Ahwanee Hotel in Yosemite, and my preference in camp food is one of the Yosemite Chefs’ Holidays there. Oh, and although I did get my Red Cross Certificate and Girl Scout merit badge in canoeing, I’d prefer no canoes, either.

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