By Andrew Nelson, Hante & Outdoor Programs Manager
I think it’s safe to say that most people who read this blog can identify with me on this: Eagle’s Nest tends to find its way into the hearts and memories of those who experience it, warming our lives with what we learn and who we meet here. Since beginning in this position I’ve met lots of folks who ask how I got into this line of work, and who enjoy learning that I was a camper beginning in 2002. Having Eagle’s Nest’s presence through different eras of my life made me think I’d truly understood the gravitational pull it has on its community. Recent events, however, have made me realize just how far I’d underestimated the extent of this pull.
The summer of 2021 was truly special; we reopened camp and shared its joys with folks who waited two years for them. One particularly special aspect was the encroachment of wildlife that had begun to think that campus was empty of people and safe for them to wander. We saw plenty of white squirrels, moles, rabbits, and even foxes. We also had a black bear friend who would visit from time to time, drawn by the sweet aromas coming from our outdoor dining spaces (who wouldn’t be?). Starr Sink, our Head Cook, even had the pleasure of watching it occasionally “borrow” bottles of ketchup when nobody was around, presumably for dipping its forest fries.
“It was surprising, and I admit that I didn’t always appreciate it—it’s kinda rude not to ask. It was cute, though,” says Starr.
Fast forward several months, and the camp team is spending some time working on our on-campus campsites in the forest behind camp. Ed Haubenreiser, our new Outdoor Programs and Hante Manager, was pruning and weeding out at Old Mill when he discovered a cache of empty, broken ketchup bottles behind a big oak.
“I heard that the Black Bear Kindred’s color was red, so I just assumed they were out here doing some kind of ketchup face painting. Weird, I know….but supply chains are all over the place right now, so maybe they couldn’t find actual face paint. I mean, what else was I supposed to think?” says Ed.
After explaining the poor manners of the actual black bear last summer, we all went out to examine its mess. As we were cracking jokes about how hungry it must have been, what it used for dipping, and how bears have poor condiment taste, we were pleasantly surprised to have Ted Wesemann, retired Eagle’s Nest legend, stroll casually into the campsite. His normally calm, intent demeanor seemed a little off, however.
“Yeah, it was strange. He kinda mumbled a reason for being out there, which was uncharacteristically nonsensical. Then he picked up a few sticks and left,” remembers Lia Messersmith, our In-Camp Program Manager.
“Retirement can be hard,” says recently retired OA Spanish teacher, Rodrigo Vargas.
Perplexed but still interested in the ketchup bottles, we began picking them up to take back to camp when Ed brushed his hand against something unusually cold. He removed some pine straw and loose soil to find, to our surprise, a large metal hatch door—think “Lost,” the TV show. In hindsight, we probably committed the cliche horror story mistake of investigating instead of walking away and reporting it. Curiosity is powerful, though.
Upon opening the hatch, we were met with something nobody expected: an intricately carved wooden staircase made from the finest looking Black Walnut I’d ever seen. Short in length, we could see a tunnel leading from its base, with large, twisted iron sconces lining the walls. I remember thinking that the candles they held looked handmade. It was an inviting sight, so we descended.
“Oh hey, y’all!” said a familiar voice. “Figured you’d find us at some point.”
The short tunnel opened into a gloriously furnished underground room, with Jane, Ted’s wife, nestled cozily on a plush leather armchair. It was a strange discovery. I was definitely surprised, but also felt a sense of total normalcy.
“I wasn’t surprised at all,” recalls Lia.
Jane invited us to sit and chat for a bit. Pretty soon Ted arrived with a sigh of exasperation. His face registered that the jig was up, so he started to come clean.
“I really just didn’t want Noni to find out. I couldn’t decide whether or not she’d approve,” he said. “It felt weird being at home all the time once I left, so Jane and I decided to post up here instead. This place really pulls you in and doesn’t let go. Jane had a busy schedule, so I came out one Saturday last spring and set all this up. I thought it was well enough hidden, but I guess I’ve finally been bested by someone else at Eagle’s Nest.”
When asked about the ketchup bottles, they both let out a chuckle.
“We just really like ketchup,” laughed Jane. “It was hard to get into town with all the campers around last summer, so we had to figure something out.”
“Yeah, I had this old bear costume lying around and figured that would be our best shot,” added Ted. “We thought people wouldn’t dig too much into a bear coming up and taking ketchup, especially with my bear impression. I’ve been honing it for years. Then the broken bottles were meant to be a red herring—make it look real, you know? Oh well.”
We finished our tea and said goodbye. We debated whether or not to out them for awhile, mainly because they just seemed so happy. But, when tasked with writing a blog post about the power of the Eagle’s Nest community and what draws it together, I couldn’t think of a better example. Here is Ted, fully retired former OA Head of School and Science Teacher, literally unable to detach himself from this place. So, with that in mind, I encourage us all to reflect on the impacts that Eagle’s Nest and Pisgah Forest have had on our lives, and use those reflections to stay connected here and build warm communities at home. As they say, “Home is where the Hart is.”
Update: Noni did not approve. Please do not build underground homes on Eagle’s Nest property as a way to stay connected.