A Camp Full of Memories

DSCN6517This week I’m sharing with you my three favorite columns about camp. This is the second column. It is in my book, “A Life Lived Outdoors,” published by Island Port Press in Yarmouth.

Our camp in Maine’s North Woods on the shore of Sourdahunk Lake is relaxing and restorative. And after 22 wonderful years there, it’s now a camp full of memories.

My Mom and Dad visited us at camp each summer, and we surprised them there with a celebration of their 50th wedding anniversary. They didn’t know we’d invited my brother’s and sister’s families, until they started arriving. It was an anniversary none of us will ever forget, including the hymn sing.

Dad had never fly fished, and Sourdahunk is fly-fishing only, so he gave it a try. While he never mastered the art of casting, he could get his fly out there far enough to catch fish. He took the boat out early one morning and came back just as Mom, Lin, and I were getting up. I knew from the look on Dad’s face as he pushed open the screen door that he’d caught a fish. And what a fish it was! A gorgeous fat colorful 15 ½ inch brook trout – the biggest we’d catch that entire season. One reason I’ll never forget it is that Dad carved a copy of that fish and it’s hanging on a wall at camp.

After Mom died, Dad started coming up with me to open camp each spring. He’s 90 years old now and doesn’t travel far from home, but I will never forget those trips.

Our kids grew up here. I took Rebekah, Josh, and Hilary on a backcountry camping trip one August into Wassataquok Lake. Because it was August, I told them it would be warm and we would not need sleeping bags. I carried a couple of blankets with us, along with pots and pans and food. Little Hilary insisted on her tiny sleeping bag, so she carried it the entire five miles attached to her backpack.

It came in handy. The nights were freezing! In our lean-to, I unzipped Hil’s sleeping bag and used it to cover all three kids. None of us got much sleep. But I can still see the kids prancing in falling water at the stunningly beautiful Green Falls. And the memories of that trip do get better over time.

My wife Linda, Josh, and Hilary all learned to fly fish here. Linda would occasionally accompany me in the boat for an evening of fishing, but she’d sit and read while I fished – until the fishing really heated up. One time I had been casting for an hour with little luck. Lin sensed that it was time to try it. She picked up her rod, make one cast, and landed a 13 ½ inch trout. She smiled and sat back down to read some more. She always caught the biggest trout of the evening. It was a humbling experience and memory for me.

I tried unsuccessfully to teach Josh to cast, so you can imagine how much fun it is now to sit in the boat and watch him cast so beautifully and flawlessly. How’d he learn to do that? He casts a lot better than me now. And every evening we’re out on the water, I put more memories in the bank.

Josh also became my go-to-fly tyer. He ties the Sourdahunk Yarn Fly, something a friend taught him to tie years ago. It’s the only fly we use to fish the lake’s famous Green Drake Hatch. Fortunately, Josh is still tying those for me.

Some of my best memories of fishing involve Hilary. I see her at 5 years of age, sitting on a downed tree across a small brook, holding her alder twig and string with a hook and worm on it, hauling tiny trout out of the water and squealing with glee. That alder rod is still hanging on the porch. Yes, you can hang onto some memories by hanging them up!

Hilary also learned to tie flies but hers were always her own colorful creations. I’ve got a wonderful photo of Hil in Sourdahunk Stream holding up a very small brook trout, the first fish she ever caught on her own fly. I had carried her on my back across the stream, where she was able to reach a small pool of fish. She caught a bunch of fish, but that first one is the one we’ll both never forget.

My sister Edie and her boys, Nate and Ezra, have also contributed to my camp memories. One year they were up visiting us when Nate said he had never seen a moose and really really wanted to see one. That evening I took them out into the bog behind camp, where we stood behind a bush near the water. Ten minutes later a large cow moose walked right by us, just 10 yards away. To this day, Nate thinks I am a fantastic guide! Little does he know how much luck played in that particular memory.

These days Rebekah is creating memories with her visits to camp with husband Patrick and our grandsons Vishal and Adison. Lin and I get up here with them when we can, although often we like to let them have their own special time here.

Labor Day weekend of 2012, I forded Sourdahunk Stream with five-year-old Vishal on my back. Then I placed him on the ground and we hiked a few hundred yards to one of my favorite pools, hoping to catch some native brook trout.

Because he hadn’t yet learned to cast flies, I did the casting, then handed the fly rod to Vishal. He immediately began reeling, hooked the fish, and hauled them in, while we both whooped it up.

I handed V the first fish and told him to release it back into the stream. And he tossed it like a football out into the depths of the water! Oops! “V, I need to give you a bit more instruction on that,” I said.

There are no sweeter words than, “I’ve got another one Grampy!” I took the hooks out of the trout, handed them to V, and, after that first football toss, he carefully released them back into the stream. We caught 24 trout in an hour and a half of the most fun you can have with a grandchild.

Trout number 21 was a whopper. As soon as Vishal released the fish, I made another cast, only to hear him exuberantly exclaim, “Grampy, we’re both very happy!” Boy, he got that right!

There are memories of climbing Baxter Park’s mountains with the kids. There’s that time that Josh almost drowned at Ledge Falls – not really, but that’s how he remembers it! There was the famous whiffle ball game in the back yard where a doe deer came out and sniffed the whiffle ball – apparently thinking it was a salt lick. The time we were all walking the driveway when a big black bear ambled down the road toward us, went into the woods to walk around us, and then came out in the driveway just below us.

I’ve got photos of Josh chasing a ten point buck up over the lawn and Lin feeding a tame fox. Wildlife memories abound. We saw so many moose at camp that when Lin or I would exclaim, “There’s a moose on the lawn,” Hilary would not even look up from her book! One morning Lin and I looked out to see a coyote circling the fire pit where we knew a small bunny was hiding in the woodpile. We never saw that bunny again.

Lin and I now travel to camp alone most of the time, relishing our memories there while making new ones. Yesterday she saw her first pine martin. It almost ran her over on the road as we were out bird watching. Memories at camp just keep on coming.

George Smith

About George Smith

George stepped down at the end of 2010 after 18 years as the executive director of the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine to write full time. He writes a weekly editorial page column in the Kennebec Journal and Waterville Morning Sentinel, a weekly travel column in those same newspapers (with his wife Linda), monthly columns in The Maine Sportsman magazine, two outdoor news blogs (one on his website, georgesmithmaine.com, and one on the website of the Bangor Daily News), and special columns for many publications and newsletters. Islandport Press published a book of George's favorite columns, "A Life Lived Outdoors" in 2014. In 2014, George also won a Maine Press Association award for writing the state's bet sports blog. In 2016, Down East Books published George's book, Maine Sporting Camps, and Islandport Press published George and his wife Linda's travel book, Take It From ME, about their favorite Maine inns and restaurants.