Afternoon Vibes

Thursday, June 27th, 2024

CHESS GROVE circa 3:00pm—The dusty Kia Sedona which serves as our trusty Lake Shuttle crunches to a gravelly stop in front of an unassuming picnic table underneath a large shade structure. There waits my opponent, the indefatigable Memo Gosnell, one-time crab fisherman in the Bering Sea and longtime Juggling and Chess Instructor at Camp Winnarainbow. I emerge from the shuttle still wet from the lake but ready for battle. An ominous breeze sweeps orange bayleaves across sun-blanched wood chips. The board is already set.

1. e4 b6 2. d4 Bb7 3. d5 e6 4. c4 Bc5

“Chess is a lifelong game; you can always find a better player,” says Memo pouring an old pitcher of coffee into an ice-filled cup. “I’ve been playing longer than you’ve been alive!”

In the early morning campers are welcome to hang out at the Camp Kitchen. Forever the early bird, Memo is always there to supervise and offer chess activities. He lines the long buffet table with tournament size sets for use in gameplay or for the solving of puzzles which campers and staff alike take great interest in. The two-odd hours following lunch is another important, if less well attended, Memo-provided chess time. This is the setting for our current engagement.

5. Nf3 f5 6. Bd3 Nf6 7. Nc3 O-O 8. O-O fxe4

“Afternoon chess occurs alongside the supervision job of Kitchen Watch,” explains Memo. “But the kitchen never moves no matter how much I stare it down!” he quips. “The main purpose is to stop any intruders who may try to enter through this side of Camp. I have the table angled so I have a clear view of the bridge.”

9. Nxe4 Nxe4 10. Bxe4 Qf6 11. Bg5 Qxb2 12. Be3 Bxe3

The Lake Shuttle passes by, a good indication that at least 20 minutes have elapsed since our game began. The afternoon heat, though less oppressive than yesterday, is still conjuring visions of sleepiness.

“Kitchen Watch reminds me of doing wheel watch on the crab boat,” Memo reminisces. “They’re both very important jobs that require a lot of coffee. The main difference is that this picnic table isn’t equipped with radar.”

13. fxe3 Na6 14. Bxh7+ Kxh7 15. Ng5+ Kg8 16. Qh5 Rxf1+

As we play various characters pass through the Chess Grove such as Clowning Instructor Riley Soloner and Program Manager Osayandé Kokayi. When pressed for comment Riley reported, “I haven’t regretted one second of hammock time.”

Now 3:45, the adjacent Art Grove has begun to populate with teachers and students for an afternoon class. This signifies the end of Kitchen Watch, though since I sacrificed my bishop on move 14, we decide to play on.

17. Rxf1 Qe5 18. Qf7+ Kh8 19. Qf8+ Rxf8 20. Rxf8#

The game concludes with a dramatic queen sacrifice leading to a back-rank checkmate. Memo and I have had a long, competitive chess rivalry at Camp. We are pretty evenly matched, though I was able to eke out a win this game. We shake hands and strike the pieces. I turn to Osayandé for a rundown of last night’s Fire Circle finale.

“I organized the drumming ensemble and led the fire safety team for the fire jugglers,” he explains. “Our fire juggling performances usually has a drumming aspect. It adds a dynamic that recorded music just can’t do. I’m trained in West African drumming traditions, so that’s the main type we do at Camp. The rhythm we played last night is called Lamba.”

“Our fire jugglers last night used all kinds of fiery instruments,” continues Osayandé. “We had torches, and people passing the torches to each other. We had two people spinning fire poi and flaming devil sticks. The big finale was Luigi’s ‘dragon staff,’ a twelve-headed spinning staff. That was rad. Everything went off without a hitch”

Glad to hear of the absence of hitches, and weary of the Chess Grove, I breeze over to the Art Grove to check in with some young artists. Bonnie Raitt’s “Angel From Montgomery” floats out of a nearby speaker.

“Right now I’m just making a collage,” says Naomi, 12, of the Blue Tipi. “The Art Grove is great because it has lots of the different vibes. It’s calm, crazy, and creative: the three ‘C’s.”

“The Art Grove is nice to go to for somewhere quiet,” says Dahlia, 10, of the Yellow Tipi. “Even when they’re playing music, it’s still very chill. I’m making a collage out of people’s heads; a brainstorm, if you will.”

Suddenly Unicycle Instructor Thea Lamers has appeared pushing a stroller with the precious cargo of baby Robbie.

“We’re on our 10th lap of Camp,” says Thea. “We’re trying to get in a second nap.”

I decide to continue on my own sleepy way down the road to Downtown Camp. There I encounter a whole different world of activity and commotion. Stilt class is in full swing, unicycles are rolling around the Uni Track, and, like usual, juggling equipment is flying in every direction.

I zero in on Juggling Instructor Jono Finger who is positioned in a camping chair between the Aerials Site and the Improv Grove. Resting on his knees is a lap steel guitar which he plays expertly with a slide and metal finger picks. Two campers dance nearby, who I ask for some closing comments.

“The music was music-ing and therefore we were grooving,” says Mini, 10, of the Orange Tipi.

“We’re related!” exclaims Goldie, 9, also from Orange.

“I went to the creek and went on a creek walk,” she continues “There weren’t any animals except water spiders and a big rock.”

“I murdered a few cherries and like two goldfish,” adds Mini. “I let Goldie wear my sunglasses and she fell over like our Grandma in the canoe.”

“We were canoeing on the Russian River like four days ago, and a branch knocked off her hat!” recalls Goldie. “She was okay but it was really funny.”

“Oh look, baby quails!” shouts Mini.

And suddenly the interview is over.

Stay hydrated,

—J. Payseno