I wrote this column for Down East in 2002, and included it in my book, A Life Lived Outdoors, published last year by Islandport Press. Hope you enjoy it!
Every Mainer has a camp. It may be a place we own. It may be a place our friends own. It may be a place we rent every summer. It may even be a campground and simple tent. But it’s ours, even if only for a week or two each year.
Camp is a Maine tradition – anchored in our imaginations of the North Woods, yet often nearby on a lake or pond, the better to access it on hot summer days. I know one couple whose camp is 100 yards behind their house on a man-made pond.
Camp may be rustic with a two-holer. It may have plumbing and hot showers. It may have a kitchen or just a Coleman stove on the picnic table. It may be on the water or deep in the woods. But it is always the most comfortable place on earth.
Our camp is tucked just outside the northwest corner of Baxter Park on Nesowadnehunk Lake. It was once part of a well-known sporting camp. It is a place of wild critters, eager trout, and many mountains – quiet, peaceful, relaxing, restorative. And yes, of running water and hot showers.
Camp is a key component of our quality of life and mental health.
Camp is laying in bed at night and listening to the haunting cry of a loon. It’s looking out the window as you enjoy a steaming cup of coffee in the morning and seeing a moose amble on by.
Camp is an Adirondack chair, knotty pine walls, old furniture, and sitting up late playing cards or going to bed early as soon as the sun sets.
At our camp, we’ve barbecued outside while watching a brood of young rabbits race each other round and round our picnic table, picked wild berries keeping a close eye out for bears, and paddled a fast stream in our kayaks, getting knocked completely out of the kayak by a “widow maker.”
Camp is a wild brook trout caught on a fly or a smallmouth bass on a spinning lure, a hike up a mountain or a stroll along the beach, a gorgeous Magnolia warbler in your binoculars or a big black bear coming toward you in the road.
Camp is for kids – of all ages – dangling worms at the end of a hook with a grandchild hoping for a white perch, splashing in the water on hot summer days, playing lawn games, and of course, cooking S-Mores over an open fire. Chocolate never tasted so good.
Camp is bean-hole beans, pancakes, eggs and bacon. For some its venison from last fall’s deer. Camp may be the place you go every year to hunt deer or upland birds or to fish.
For me, camp is the sun, rising over Strickland Mountain that lurks over the left shoulder of our camp, enjoyed in solitude from the boat as I whip a dry fly toward feeding trout; a hot cup of the darkest coffee, grounds scouring the bottom of my cup, as soon as I get in from fishing, and blueberry pancakes with real maple syrup from our Mount Vernon neighbors followed by a bowl of strawberries picked the day before along the trail behind camp.
Camp for my family is two does galloping all over the front law in the spring, kicking up their hooves after a long confining winter; a cow moose escorting her calf past our camp toward the shore for a drink; a black duck with six ducklings hovering in the lee of our boat in the lagoon; a merganser swimming past the beach with a dozen little gansers following all in a row. It’s also the heartache of seeing her each week with fewer chicks until she is left with a single duckling that she guards with a desperate ferocity.
To get to camp you may drive, boat, bicycle, or walk. But once you are there, you stay close to home. You revel in the fact that “there is nothing to do.”
I just love it when friends ask, “What on earth do you do up there?” You can’t imagine. You must experience it to understand.
Camp is the family gathering for a traditional week every summer at the lake, or just the two of you, tucked far away from civilization. Or maybe even just you, a time of quiet reflection with no distractions.
Camp is the place we read that stack of books we’ve been saving.
Camp is no cell phone, computer, or television – often its no electricity.
Well, perhaps you’ll have electricity and all of these gadgets and more at camp with you, but you can’t hear the cry of the loon if the TV set is blaring, you can’t read a great mystery while you are texting, you can’t get away from the office if you carry the office with you to camp.
Maine’s camps and campgrounds are the cure for all that ails you. Take the cure this year.