Tonight just before dinner our Scout age group (rising 6th graders) packed a sleeping bag, water bottle and flashlight for a trek to several of our overnight shelters. They’ll start by building a fire and roasting hot dogs over the coals. Is there anything better than a hot dog roasted over a campfire! They’ll play a few games in one of our remote pastures and end the evening right about dusk with marshmallows, chocolate, and graham crackers. Good old fashioned S’mores. A counselor will lead a devotional before they settle in for a night of sleep under the stars.
We are blessed with about 350 acres, most wooded and undeveloped. We also border Desoto State Park and the Little River Canyon National Preserve, giving us access to an abundance of trails. Last night our Trapper age group (rising 5th) enjoyed a night under the stars. Our Hunters (rising 3rd and 4th) kicked it off on Monday night with a campout. The weather has been perfect the last few days. Not too hot and cool enough at night to enjoy sleeping outside. Not a drop of rain.
Carter and I love to catch them early in the morning when they are hiking back into camp. This morning several Trappers told us it was the best night of sleep they’ve ever gotten. Who knew? They roll back into camp before breakfast in time to get a fresh shower and then join us for the rest of the day. Getting back into camp early is never a problem. First light on the Mountain is about 5:30 and sleeping outside tends to wake you up with the sun. Roderick gives them a laid back night program and an early bedtime the next night.
Last night the rest of us, minus our Trappers, enjoyed my favorite dinner time tradition, Taco Tuesday! Our hard working Kitchen Boys take the night off. These are high school boys, many of whom have camped here growing up. They set tables, wait tables, wash dishes 3 meals a day 7 days a week with the exception of 2 nights. We eat family style so refilling platters and serving bowls for 400 is no small task. So last night brought a much deserved break for these guys.
So a cabin of Chiefs (rising 9 or 10) gets the honor of serving us a taco buffet for eating outside on the front lawns of camp. Now you might think this is a grind for the Chief campers but they actually beg us to get picked to serve. Falling into the category of “it’s the little things”, their favorite tradition is getting to draw a picture or nickname on the plastic apron we provide them while they serve. They also get to eat early, prior to serving, which is never a bad deal for a teenage boy.
Down the line, our taco buffet choices are tortilla chips, ground beef, rice, chopped lettuce, diced tomatoes, shredded cheese, salsa and sour cream. Last night was perfect. The sun was fading over the back side of the Lodge as cabins gathered around in circles to eat and talk about the day. Carter and I walked around to visit with various groups and hear stories of the first few days.
As I mentioned, ordinarily we eat family style in the Dining Hall. We’re sort of Southern old fashioned in that we eat our big, hot meal for lunch every day. Today Mrs. Gail and her team served up grilled chicken, creamed corn, rolls, and a green salad with apple cobbler for dessert. That’s enough to need a big nap right! Which is one of the reasons we have a rest hour every day after lunch.
We sit at assigned tables, 8 - 10 campers and 2-3 counselors per table. Boys are divided out by age group but get mixed in with boys from other cabins. 400 boys and young men trying to eat at once is chaotic, but it’s not as crazy as you might think. Carter has an entire session in staff training where she goes over guidelines and manners for meals with all of our counselors.
Learning to live and especially eat with a community of this many people is a growing experience. Hunger can bring out the selfish in all of us. We intentionally talk about meals as a chance to learn self control and putting others first. It doesn’t always work perfectly, far from it many days! But we work at it. It helps that the food is really good. And we eat a lot of it! Yesterday Gail told me she cooked 170 pounds of chicken fingers. 17 cases, 10 pounds each. And we demolished it. Not a morsel left.
Tonight she served red beans and rice with sliced sausage. I should also mention that Uncrustable PB&J sandwiches are available at all meals, as well as different types of cereal, for boys who might not prefer what is served.
As you may can tell, food is a big deal at Alpine. When Dick (my father in law) started Alpine (at 24 years old!) his father told him that whatever he did with Alpine, never skimp on the food. Boys need good food! The Dining Hall and the meal experience is really the centerpiece of camp. Besides nourishment, so much life and community happens as we gather around these tables. Conversations, songs, skits, laughter. It’s good.
I’m happy to announce that after this summer, we will commence with a complete renovation and addition to our Dining Hall and kitchen. It is much needed and overdue. Our amazing kitchen ladies have been working in a kitchen that is much too small and outdated for our current needs. Camp has grown over the years, as have allergy and storage needs. We are excited to be working with a wonderful team from Leonard Design in Cullman, AL. Our goal is to preserve the front of the Dining Hall but give it much needed structural and infrastructure updates. The “back of the house” will be demolished and we will go back with a much larger, more accessible kitchen with bathrooms, a permanent buffet, and seating capacity for more folks more comfortably.
Our goal at Alpine is to always hold onto and carry on the wonderful traditions that make Alpine what it is. And we want to continue to add value and bring the best experiences for our campers, counselors and all who enter the front gates of camp.
Thanks for reading and good night for now, Glenn