For The Pulchritude of Peterkin
By: Thomas K. Hyland, Jr.
Nestled in the foothills of Romney, West Virginia, Peterkin Camp and Conference Center is an absolutely delightful place to hold any kind of meeting, seminar, or retreat. Owned and operated by The Episcopal Diocese of West Virginia, this fourteen hundred-acre site offers an environment and serenity with nature that is unsurpassed for rejuvenating the body and soul.
What follows started out to be a brief attempt at free verse, but, as the time I spent there progressed, my thoughts and writing grew to be a lengthy article of prose. Let me begin by apologizing for failing to record anyoneís individual name.
If I left you out, it was not on purpose, rather an error of omission. My original goal was merely to meditate and record a truly wonderful experience. However, as I met and learned to appreciate the people there, my hope is that, in some small measure, this piece will help to generate some funds for this worthy and dedicated place.
Thus, begins the tale:
Evening of Arrival:
Rays of the sun glistening on the gentle meandering stream,
Silent butterflies flittering from flower to flower, helping with Mother Natureís chores,
A pitter-patter of raindrops from a timeworn gutter, whispering, "fix me, fix me."
The incessant mating calls of the cicadas, alternating their choruses with those of the crickets,
The three sounds together, a syncopated rhythm of natural orchestration.
A neatly arranged room, with crisp, clean sheets and folded linens and blankets,
how delightful, no work to do, Daisy, the Housekeeper, has done well!
Clang, clang, the big bell is ringing, time for dinner,
a brief prayer of Thanksgiving, then we chowed down.
Good vittles, served by good people.
The host and hostess, Jim and Florence Churchill and their young helpers:
Amy, Bea, Catherine, Daniel, Mary, and Stephanie do an excellent job!
Morning of the first day:
After a substantial breakfast and the first rehearsal,
a walk in the woods to explore a new pavilion, donated and built by the local Hunters.
A large well-built structure, with a brick fireplace and grill, and quite impressive.
A finger gingerly set upon the moist earth, hoping the beautiful butterfly will emboard, and she did!
Then, a tiny probing proboscis, seeking food . . .
Alas, none here, so off she flew, continuing her search.
Afternoon of the first day:
A choir of angels, singing melodious tunes,
boy soprano voices, male altos, tenors, and basses,
such beauty being resonated . . . ah, but it is US!
Us, and Father Bob, Big Daddy, at the keyboard . . .
are we good, or what?
Another choir is heard in the distance, warming up,
must be Saint Davidís . . . is it the boys or the girls?
No matter . . . both sound terrific!
Now, as the sun slowly passes in its westward path,
gray clouds form over the majestic mountainside,
a welcome, gusty breeze is blowing, some weather is coming.
Met a bearded fella named Norman, helped him carry a picnic table for tonightís cook-out.
Off in the valley somewhere, a high school marching band is practicing, they sound really good!
Meanwhile, the joyful sound of happy kids at the pool
fills the air.
Now itís almost four oíclock, as I sit here on the spacious porch of the Gravatt Hall writing,
the crickets renew their spasmodic lullaby.
Went to the kitchen for a bucket-full of ice . . .
smiling faces each and every time.
I see Eric returning from his first dip in the pool.
Two small butterflies, one white, one orange and black,
now work the flower bed.
A large black ant visits me at the picnic table,
I wish him well as he goes on his way.
The never-ending search for food by Godís little critters seems always abundantly met.
Lord, we thank Thee for all Thy creations . . . but,
Iím also glad the Cutter ģ insect repellant is working fine!
In about a half hour it will be time for Even Song,
one of the hymns will be Rutterís
"For the Beauty of The Earth,"
one of my personal favorites, and the impetus which prompted this writing.
Lord, Help me to do a good job, Amen.
As I gaze at the beautiful geraniums in the barrels
on the porch, I remember how
my Mom loved them so, especially these red ones . . .
Iíll bet heaven is filled with them by now.
Dad, I brought your old Bolo knife from the U.S. Cavalry with me, on this trip to nature.
As I wipe the salty streams from my cheeks,
I also think of Dele and Jim,
I trust in my Lord that you are all busy, preparing places for the rest of us.
Itís quiet and peaceful now. The group has left the pool to prepare for the eveningís activities.
One-by-one, and two-by-two, the stragglers amble along the lush green lawn.
There goes Randy now, deep in thought.
The cricketsí serenade resumes again, reminding me of an old tune, "Indian Love Call" . . .
"Iím calling You . . . oo-oo-oo-oo-oo-oo-oo."
Time to get myself ready, but,
"Lord williní and the crick donít rise" . . . Iíll be back!
Evening of the first day:
All the combined choirs assembled in the beautiful Strider Chapel to hold Even Song, and praise our Lord. The first item which struck me immediately upon entering was the wall behind the altar. On the ends of the frames of the large, tall window panels, colorful branches and leaves with fruit were painted, a veritable "Tree of Life." On the left side is a collage-type peacock, with his "100 eyes of Argus" plumage cascading downward. On the right, there is a charming little raccoon, about to eat an apple . . . one might think his name should be "Adam".
The service was truly uplifting, with a reading from Saint John, delivered very well by Beau, angelic singing (by all of us no less), and a two-way discussion by Eileen, whereupon we all contributed in sharing the topic of "friendship." When we were finished, I was immensely glad that Andrew had convinced me to come to Peterkin. A finer, more genuine retreat would be hard to imagine.
Later, after a delightful cook-out with all the hamburgers, hot dogs, and trimmings (Eric, Steve, and Travers did a terrific job as chefs), everyone went off to do their respective "things". In fact, just before dark, yours truly managed to struggle through three innings of softball, and I actually got two base hits and an RBI . . . not bad for an old "fuddy-duddy." Oh, yes, naturally the "good guys" won!
Morning of the second day:
Awoke at the crack of dawn, about six, showered and dressed, made coffee, and returned to this peaceful veranda to continue writing. Now, itís 7:30, and the warning bell for breakfast has just rung. The smell of bacon is wafting through the air, and my taste buds have been "twinked" awake. Iíll be back! Oops! Wrong about the bacon, it must have been wishful thinking, maybe tomorrow?
Talked to the Director, Frank, just before he raised the flag (one which once flew over the Nationís Capitol Building). He was originally from New Jersey, then a resident of the great state of Texas, and now here at Peterkin since March. Frank told me that the Conference center could sure use some financial help, to provide for needed maintenance expenses. HINT, HINT . . . to all who might be potential donors!
Later, I met the Assistant Director, Penny, who made me feel quite at home also. Thus far, the entire staff of Peterkin has been overwhelmingly pleasant and helpful . . . a real "down-home" hospitality . . . from people who seem to really like what they are doing . . . a rarity in this day and age!
Well, choir rehearsal went well, and Bob gave us a brief discourse on Saint Georgeís Cathedral at Windsor Palace in London, England. That man has really been around, and has fascinating stories to share. Heís more than a Maestro, heís a living Bard, and Travelogue, all rolled up in one!
Afternoon of the second day:
We enjoyed a lunch of tacos, and nachos with melted cheese, along with a crisp, fresh salad . . . Yum! Before the afternoon rehearsal, there was a nice, long break, during which, Paul Binko was gracious enough to be a "sounding board" for one of my recent articles, entitled, "A Nation of the Pill, by the Pill, for the Pill" Although not quite ecstatic, his comments were generally favorable. Next, Even Song was held again, and a discussion on the evils of "lying" ensued. Tonightís main dinner entree was baked chicken with barbeque sauce, and it was delicious, along with homemade biscuits (you know, the old-fashioned, "drop" biscuits that Mom used to make). A homemade banana cake for dessert topped off the meal. Another observation about the Peterkin staff: all of them just "pitch in" and do what is needed . . . they serve food, clean tables, mop floors, work in the kitchen . . . all the while maintaining an attitude of pleasantness and friendliness. God Bless you all!
Evening of the second day:
Most of the youngsters went to the field to play softball again, but this guy did not want to "push his luck", as I have recently been injury prone. Mr. Twynham went to Romney this afternoon to obtain a selection of books for tonightís campfire. Bobís routine is to read and enact a scary story (in his inimitable way) then, everyone has their fill of roasted marshmallows. Afterwards, all are invited to perform some skits, or sing a song. Geoffrey Topper was having some difficulty getting someone to volunteer to "break the ice", so, I stepped forward and did my version of an old Rock and Roll song, "Gum Drop". Good audience participation and response was received, and the "Show" started off with a "bang."
After the campfire, a substantial group of people returned to the chapel to observe a Compline service. While I never heard of it before, I understand that it is an ancient form of monastic chant, which brings the acts of Vespers, Matins, and Lauds to full circle, to end the day seeking the Lordís help throughout the dark night. Although I had not rehearsed with the other fellows, I was invited to join in, by Andrew. Being a first bass, or baritone, it was the longest I ever used a falsetto, high voice, and I hope I didnít do too poorly. All the lights were out, and we chanted the medieval prayers by candlelight. It was quite impressive . . . a beautiful and mystical experience.
Morning of the third day:
Breakfast, rehearsal, a casual stroll along the banks of the babbling brook, and an enjoyment of the cool, rainy, autumn-like weather was the epitome of tranquility. Water striders kicking, then gliding along the peaceful pools were abundantly enjoying themselves also. An occasional bird of unknown species would sing out his trill, then wait for the return call of his mate, then, repeat again, closing the distance between them. As Voltaireís Candide would say, "All is well, in this, the best of all possible worlds."
Afternoon of the third day:
Because of the weather, the leaders decided to postpone the "tubing" excursion until tomorrow, hoping it would be warmer. Also, the Even Song was held in the chapel, instead of up on "Prayer Hill". I had the distinct honor of reading the Gospel (Mark, Ch. 14) and Eileenís subsequent discourse about Saint Peterís denial was quite powerful. We can all relate to times in our lives when we have either been betrayed, or been the betrayer. The forgiveness by a true friend is always deeply appreciated. After all, "To err is human, to forgive, divine."
Evening of the third day:
After dinner, with more delicious home-baked biscuits, the children and some adults relaxed in the pavilion, watching movies. I returned to the solitude of the Gravatt veranda to listen, observe, and write. The ever-present crickets and locusts were there, providing their a capella entertainment. A quiet discussion with Andrew, Paul, and Eva Glasgow ( a parent from Saint Davidís group who was monitoring the girlsí choir) ensued, where we reminisced about old television shows, and old songs.
Morning of the fourth day:
Mister T was feeling a bit "under the weather" and took a leave of absence to get some needed rest. Accordingly, Adrick conducted all rehearsals for our choir (The Cathedral of Mary, Our Queen, from Baltimore), and did a fine job, as usual. During one of our breaks, while sitting on the porch with little Evan, I was delighted to get a brief glimpse of a little hummingbird, as he drank from a tiger lily. It was the first one I had seen in years, and I got all excited. When I spoke out, to tell Evan to look, the bird was startled, and left, as quickly as he had arrived. Later, that same day, while telling the story to his mom, Eva, we saw two more hummingbirds, at the same time.
Afternoon of the fourth day:
After a scrumptious baked ham and cheese sandwich for lunch, around 1:30 p.m., we loaded all the kids and monitors aboard three vehicles and took them to the Wapacomo Camp Ground, where they began their ambling trek of "tubing" down the Potomac River. After taking some pictures, and seeing them off, Paul, Mike Berger and I took a brief excursion to downtown Romney. On the way, we saw a beautiful deer on the roadside. Then, we bought our needed supplies at the local Revco and 7-11 stores, then returned to camp for some "R and R". While Paul took a "snooze", Mike and I enjoyed two games of cribbage on the porch.
When all the adventurers returned, we climbed up "Prayer Hill" to attend Even Song. The view of the mountainside, cast as a backdrop to the large wooden cross is quite breath-taking. I hope my pictures turn out! Steve Gradinís reading from the Old Testamentís Seroch was well delivered and well received, as was Andrewís a capella singing, and Eileenís closing remarks on true friendship. A true friend is a "treasure" to be guarded, like gold!
Evening of the fourth day:
We loaded everyone and went to town, for a dinner of lots of the best pizza Iíve had in a while, at Foxís Pizza, on Route 28. We all fit nicely in the rear private room, and thoroughly enjoyed ourselves. Upon our return, all those who were not yet exhausted convened on the field for softball. I took the opportunity to take a short nature hike, crossing the wooden bridge, and up the trail. In the distance, the ever-practicing band percussion was heard, alternating with happy screams from excited softball players. As dusk slowly approached, and the voices dwindled away, I returned to my appointed task, sitting at the table on the porch, updating these chronicles.
Most of the boys and girls (note: this was the very first visit for the Saint Davidís Girls Choir, and they were excellent, indeed) then enjoyed a relaxing night of movies again. Some of the adults gathered at the Infirmary to exchange some stories, comradery, and laughter. While I really wanted to stay up late, and participate more, by 10:30 p.m. I was in bed, "zonked" out! The prior two nights of being up late and arising early, had taken its toll. "The Spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak."
Morning of the fifth and final day: (did I hear someone say, Amen?)
Breakfast, rehearsal, then packing, cleaning, and the "Peterkin Pick-up" were all accomplished; then, lunch, a whole bunch of group pictures, and hugging, and goodbyes ensued. As we bid adieu to the wonderful people of Peterkin, and looked ahead to returning to the "real world" of stress, hard work, and the bombardments of the news media (note: I had not listened to radio, nor watched the "boob tube" for a solid week, and yet, had somehow survived) . . . one thing was absolute in my mind . . . in the famous words of General Douglas Mac Arthur, "I shall return!"
See you next year at Peterkin . . . "try it, youíll like it!"
© August 25, 1997: Thomas K. Hyland, Jr.
(just noticed - finished on my 57th Birthday - OUCH!)