Pack Your Carhartts: Preseason Is Coming

By Tom Martella

Preseason is coming—to an island perhaps not near, but certainly dear, to you. After five recent preseasons in the Northwoods (only two of which were blessed by mid-May snowfall), I am still motivated by the same things that attracted and retained us as campers and staff years ago: the people, the place, the adventure. All in a familiar routine.

This May, I will once again pack my three outfits—work Carhartts, evening Carhartts, and going-to-town Levi’s—and, with the faithful Jasper, head north. And all are welcome to join us!

The routine is simple: up with first bell, breakfast in the Dining Hall (with a good chance for bacon!), then assignments for the day: building and maintaining cabins and docks; inspecting and enhancing plumbing and water lines; setting up Woodsmanship, archery and the ropes course; readying the canoe and powerboat fleets; battling woodpeckers homesteading in totem poles; clearing brush; chopping wood—a full range of maintenance and new projects. Lunch. Out again, and then the familiar dinner bell.


Over the years, I have worked as peers with kids just starting college (parring the shop and other buildings); graduate students (installing ceilings and roofs in new cabins), young folks starting families (building new cabins), and corporate types—even an ER surgeon—escaping work for a week or two (building docks; fashioning new wannigans). Whether 18 or 80, everybody not only appears to be, but actually is, equal. And in that grand Kooch tradition, they’re also equal to the task—with the right tools and training.

The young guys with whom I have worked (that is, those who got stuck working with me) offered a glimpse of a life—a life style, sports and music—which those at my stage in life don’t really get, even in their families. I won’t embarrass those guys, but I will say that it was fun listening to their banter and their plans—for that night, for next semester, for that new job or grad school, or for life.


A word on tools. We are fortunate that a few folks who come up early have true expertise and can teach those less skilled, like myself.

I have had the good fortune to work with Jack Sellers (whom we miss dearly), Jim Hunt, BJ, John Grate, Steve Heinle, Chase Edgerton and others, all of whom have been patient in introducing me to some of the mechanical miracles that can be found at Home Depot. (One of my annual goals is to learn how to use a new tool, then return to D.C. and buy the same, delighting in my newfound mastery.)

Part of the Kooch way is to expose, teach and empower our youngsters, who take on new challenges as they progress. This works during preseason, too, with old and young alike. One delightful surprise in the dining hall one day was a set of sign-up sheets displayed on a table. One, “I’d Like to Learn,” and the other, “I Can Teach,” encouraged guys to seek as well as share expertise via ongoing preseason tasks. And both lists filled up rapidly.


All of this, of course, in one of the most dramatic settings ever. The deep blue of Rainy Lake contrasting with the dark green of the shoreline and sky-blue above offers a timeless picture, particularly during preseason. Deer Island’s splendid isolation, felt in so many familiar but now-quiet island spots that bustle once the campers arrive, radiates a certain calm that engages one’s mind in a thoughtfulness that I can’t find at home in D.C.

Evenings are enjoyable, too—a different kind of adventure: forays into town (the young guys are always thoughtful in inviting me, and I go on occasion, with the stipulation that at least one other “real” adult comes along), after-dinner softball and basketball, and spirited viewings of the NHL championship series in the staff cabin.

The multigenerational discussions reflect our camp community’s regional representation, residential and collegiate. The easy harmony that initially surprised me shouldn’t, in retrospect, have been a surprise. We come from everywhere, from every time, from every stage in life, and we are all there for one reason: This place, indeed, is full of memories. And each preseason, we get to create some more. Come join us!

This article was originally published in the Spring 2019 issue of the Kooch-i-ching Tumpline.

Alumni, Kooch, StaffBen Woods