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The sudden community, Part 1: Midnight

The sudden community, Part 1: Midnight

by Wolf Pascoe on June 11, 2012


What men or gods are these?
What maidens loth?
What mad pursuit?
What struggle to escape?
What pipes and timbrels?
What wild ecstasy?

— John Keats, Ode on a Grecian Urn

I’ve thought long and long about why I busted my ass tried so hard last October to get those sites for the Fern Hill Spring camping trip. I keep coming back to community.

“Wolf, you’re making memories for your kid, and mine,” one mom had said to me at a low point last fall. “Thank you.”

We are, incredibly, seven years into a nine or ten year odyssey at Fern Hill. Every year the group Nick started with, fifteen or so kids, gets smaller. Families leave town, for one reason and another find other schools, lose faith. New families arrive. Four or five from Nick’s original class remain.

I remember the electric charge of parent meetings that first year, all of us crammed together on the floor of the little nursery, so raw and naked in our fears and hopes, barely used to the idea of being parents, and now our kids taking their first steps into the uncertain world.

“Dada stay,” said Nick, more or less every day.

Stay I did, less and less as the year went by.

“Can I support you?” Nick’s teachers would say, whenever I would hover conflicted at the gate, Nick in tears.




There is the real world, which is the world we can touch, hear, see, smell and taste. There is the virtual world, which is the world inside, which is also the world of television and movies, and the whole goddamn Internet.

Tents and sleeping bags are real. Campsites are real. Headaches and sore throats are real. Poems are real, memorized and spoken aloud. Most fears aren’t real. Most fear is a sideshow.

Once I lived among a community of poets for a week. One night we woke and gathered in the woods to recite sacred poems accompanied by sitar and tablas.

“Why in the middle of the night?” someone grumbled.

“Because,” said Bly, “That’s when the soul is awake.”

When the soul is awake, it drinks memory.




Two weeks before the Fern Hill Spring Camping Trip, Nick’s class goes on an overnight of their own, hosted by their teachers. Nick always asks me to go, which I do, along with a few parents.

This year I was sick, gripped by a malevolent virus wreaking havoc with my throat and lungs.

“I don’t want to go if you don’t go, dada,” Nick said.

I was past the contagious stage, though the virus had got me wheezing. I worried about sleeping in a tent and breathing the night air. But I wanted Nick to be with his community.

I survived.

While Nick and the others spent the first morning at the beach, I pitched our tent and defended the food supplies from marauding squirrels. That evening the teachers fed and clucked over me.

Night came on and there was roasting of marshmallows. Children glided like sylphs through the woods.

Nick fell asleep as I began reading to him, and I lay awake in the tent feeling sorry for myself, hoping I would be better for the all-school trip in a couple of weeks.

In the middle of the night I rose and went outside. Are the stars brighter in the middle of the night because the soul is awake?

Happiness, they say, is built on memories, not things.



The sudden community continues next time with Wilderness Diary.

Camp Director



In the Company of Others: Making Community in the Modern World by Claude Whitmyer



What makes your community? Just Add Father is listening. (Add your thoughts by clicking a few lines below below, where it says comments or add one. I always respond here.)


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{ 20 comments… read them below or add one }

BigLittleWolf June 11, 2012 at 1:49 pm

As always, you give us much to think about, and interweave the lyrical with the tangible. I’m curious to know what unfolds next, and admire your ability to persist in providing so much of yourself to Nick, and so consistently.

I did not make enough of these memories with my boys. I know I did my best, but I also know the reality falls far short of what I might have imagined it to be. My sense is that you won’t say similar words to yourself 10 years from now, or even five.


Wolf Pascoe June 11, 2012 at 6:53 pm

I often think, reading your posts, that I wish I could provide for Nick the rich life you provided and provide for your sons.


shelley June 11, 2012 at 5:02 pm

Your posts cut right to my heart in the best of ways.


Wolf Pascoe June 11, 2012 at 6:53 pm

Aw, thanks.


Jim Parkevich June 11, 2012 at 6:22 pm

Many years back, as I have mentioned, I served as an adult leader in a Boy Scouts of America troop. Camporee’s were always a big deal..many troops sharing the same camp, a cacophony of noisy activity..I helped in the mess hall, welcoming any adult help that cared to volunteer. One very nice man, among others came to offer his help. He was gaunt and thin, his hair gone from that all too familiar look of chemotherapy. I swallowed hard and welcomed him, trying hard not interfere in his work because I felt sorry for him..And he sensed my observations.., said in a low voice that his time was limited, the cancer would soon take him. But, his son was so close to Eagle..he wanted to spend as much time with him as possible. He had the unenviable job of slicing onions. The onion gas made him choke and gasp for breath,..he was adamant about completing the job . I nudged him and said…watch and learn….I ran the sink full of water, then bid him to slice the onions under water..Presto !! He laughed !!
Six weeks later, I drove the 1- 1/2 hours to attend his funeral…His son had completed his project work and received his Eagle Award five days before his fathers passing. How hard it was. to pull up to attention and salute my fallen friend. And you are right, Wolf..The sense of community, camaraderie, new friendship, learning and acceptance. This new generation is certainly missing
all that is community, and all the memories that come with it.


Wolf Pascoe June 11, 2012 at 6:59 pm

Not all this generation is missing it, I pray. The lovely trees are uprooting the cement sidewalks everywhere.

Watch and learn. What a wonderful, beautiful story Jim. Thank you for gracing this page with it.


Kyle Bradford June 11, 2012 at 9:25 pm

“Because,” said Bly, “That’s when the soul is awake.”

I’m sure there are more poets with the last name Bly, but I’m going to ask anyway, you aren’t referring to Robert Bly the author of “Iron John” are you?


Wolf Pascoe June 11, 2012 at 9:39 pm

Yes, but this event was poetical, not Iron Johnish.


Kyle Bradford June 11, 2012 at 9:40 pm

Doesn’t matter, that sir is absurdly cool. I have his book on my end table right now.


Wolf Pascoe June 11, 2012 at 9:48 pm

Not so much cool as old, I fear. Absurd, though, yes. 🙂


Barbara June 11, 2012 at 11:10 pm

I’m not surprised you went, despite being sick. I’m sure I would have, too. Some would say that’s not a good thing, but you have to listen to your heart. The stars were happy you went and I’m sure Nick was. I hope part 2 is happy!


Wolf Pascoe June 12, 2012 at 12:11 am

Happy will come, I promise.


Privilege of Parenting June 12, 2012 at 12:12 am

Is the soul only awake at night, or could it be that, like the stars of poetry, it is always glimmering, merely obscured from obvious view by the self’s near brightness? Maybe children are like eclipses that allow us to see soul by the light of the sun itself?


Wolf Pascoe June 12, 2012 at 1:20 am

“children are like eclipses”

Oh, I love that.


pamela June 16, 2012 at 8:03 pm

This is one of my favorites. Thank you for reminding me that fear is a sideshow. Sometimes I think it’s the real deal. I also love this:

When the soul is awake, it drinks memory.

Gorgeous. You are also a rockstar. I am such a wimp when I’m sick. I don’t think I would have made it as far as the car …


Wolf Pascoe June 16, 2012 at 8:24 pm

But you can twist yourself into a pretzel, and I can’t.


pamela June 16, 2012 at 9:13 pm

Twisting yourself into a pretzel doesn’t make you a better person or parent. Putting your child before yourself does.


Wolf Pascoe June 17, 2012 at 5:14 pm

Who wants to be a pretzel anyway?


6512 and growing June 17, 2012 at 10:16 pm

Not to be inappropriately sentimental, but fathers really showing up for their kids makes me warm inside. (I also love camping with a tribe of families).


Wolf Pascoe June 19, 2012 at 10:21 am

As the great camper Woody Allen (“I am two with nature.”) said, 80% is showing up.


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