~ Edith Gregson ~
Through nine summers spent at Arcadia, I always marveled at the hyper-speed pace of time passing between introduction skits and closing ceremony. It felt as though just as our pine trunks were properly organized for a summer to be spent in blues, we were decorating our boats and bemoaning the dreaded arrival of the bus, which, despite our understanding of the calendar and impending fall, always felt untimely and completely unfair. Tearful hugs, exchanges of train letters, and last minute gifts of friendship bracelets and photos must have been a mildly bewildering but beautiful experience for our parents to observe.
When tears had subsided on the drive home (after being coaxed to a calm with lobster roll diversions and a last minute ice-cream stop at Pear’s), my parents would inevitably ask how my summer had been and what I’d accomplished. It varied from year to year. I was the skunk in the Winnie the Pooh play (skunk? Was there a skunk in Winnie the Pooh prior to Arcadia’s rendition?), I passed my deep water swim test and could use the outer H dock during General Swim, I sailed in a regatta and finished regardless of hitting the same buoy twice, I received my paddle, I was invited to do the big hike of the summer, John White showed me how to fly-fish on the St. John River, I passed JMG. Fun was had and accomplishments met, but each patch received and goal surpassed seemed to be a superfluous, with the real essence of our summer achievements being the enjoyment of camp-life itself. The felt pieces on our banners, hut trip t-shirt from the White Mountains, and silver spirit pins served as off-season proof that the summer had really happened and wasn’t just a long, joyful dream.
Looking back, I smile at the idea of what if I had answered my parents with the reality of what I now know about those idyllic summers and what was truly accomplished. Mom, this summer I gained a new confidence of self when I was part of a wilderness canoe trip. Dad, this summer I learned that my voice was important when I helped my cabin mates put on a fantastic Antiques & Horribles skit. This summer I realized that boys and girls are equal because how else did Arcadia beat Agawam in the regatta? This summer I realized that having fun isn’t mutually exclusive from being productive. This summer I learned more about who I am and what I stand for and that feels wonderful.
As I reached my Senior years at Arcadia, I remember being acutely aware that I wouldn’t be a camper forever. Those were the years that I sat on the H dock during closing candlelight ceremony and looked across at the girls in Point, Club, and CTG and felt so sorry for them. I was petrified of one day sitting on the far side of the dock pushing my boat into the dusk for the last time. Afraid to leave Arcadia and all it entailed, I cried during “The Circle Game”, finally understanding the incredible desire to drag one’s feet to slow the circle down. Slow things down for one more hike, one more level, one more summer. If I could go back to that time, I would hug my teenage self and whisper that Arcadia was never to be left behind and that those summers, like any truly deep life lessons, were gifts as much for the future as the present.
It is in my own present place that the Arcadian tutelage is happily pervasive. At the age of 29, I’m given an awful lot of credit for my career path and humble success. As a partner at a luxury interior design firm in Washington, DC I hear at a consistent rate that to be a partner before turning 30 is a big accomplishment. I would tend to agree that it sounds like one, but much like receiving 4th
level sailing, the title of “partner” almost feels like a surprise bonus to hours, days, and years pursuing nothing more than a true passion. Seven years ago I didn’t start out with partnership as my goal. I started out eagerly interested in design and pursuing what made me happy and what still makes me happy today. I knew less about what I didn’t know and more about what I wanted to know and it turns out that that can serve one well.
Being asked to discuss my career and years since Arcadia, I instinctively find myself tying everything directly back to Pleasant Lake and the Pine Grove, probably because this, like the drive home at the end of each summer, is the first time I’m really asked to reflect on this most recent happy stretch of time. My titles and positions within JD Ireland have morphed and changed over the years, with every new stride a small marker of success, celebrated daily by my own extreme enjoyment of the craft. Each small achievement has been built from the same Arcadian principles cultivated in the wilder parts of Maine. My confidence of self may have blossomed from completing a set of rapids on the Allagash, but it has transitioned beautifully to city life, very obvious in design expressions that more and more reflect my own taste as a young artist. My voice, and being heard, has been a necessity from day one. Directing a cast of characters as project manager means that regardless of nerves and inexperience, designs need to be accurately explained, detailed timelines dictated and mercilessly adhered to, and projects managed seamlessly and precisely. Like requesting competitors do their 720’s after hitting a buoy in a sailing regatta, it also means holding people accountable for their mistakes, which can make contractors uneasy when rebuked by a woman a fraction of their age. Equal is equal and my skillset would grow dusty from disuse if fear of offending were placed above the sharing of knowledge.
And the strongest tie back to Arcadia? That which trumps confidence of self, an unbridling of the voice, and feminism as a deeply entrenched identity and not just a concept? It’s the easiest of Arcadian mantra to follow. It’s the fundamental belief that having fun and pursuing one’s own happiness is not only of the utmost importance, it can and does lead to our greatest achievements and accolades. I spend my days immersed in creativity. I design furniture and lighting, detail floor plans and elevations, select artwork and curate collections and I watch as my sketches become reality and as clients’ spaces become warmly designed homes. The days pass by productively and, as I now clearly see it, as happily as those summers spent at Arcadia.