The imperfections of camp make it perfect

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

The imperfections are obvious. They’re also numerous.

On the porch, a gap between the screen door and frame allows pesky mosquitos inside. Sections of the floor are rotting. The wooden folding chairs were purchased in a yard sale 20 years ago

Inside, the living room seats no more than four or five people comfortably, with three old rocking chairs and a very old couch. It’s a pullout couch – the “pull out” indicating at least the possibility it can be turned into an uncomfortable bed. The thing is too big to pull out of the building, or we’d probably have replaced it.

Lin did put a new cover on the couch and cushions, demonstrating that even the oldest ugliest thing can be made handsome with a new cover – good news for me, as I get old and decrepit.

The two small bedrooms don’t even accommodate our small family – never mind visitors. The springs on the twin beds in the kids’ room give lumpy mattresses a good name.

Pink gleams through the gray floor in many places, giving us sort of an historical perspective on what was. The door and windows swell meaning sometimes they open and close and sometimes they don’t.

The cane seats in two of the rockers are broken. We’ve put cushions on them to keep from falling through to the floor. The frame of my favorite photo – of twin fawns laying in the field behind us – is warped, but I haven’t gotten around to reframing it.

I had to add small pieces of board to the bottom of the front door last year, to keep a troop of mice from visiting in the evening. Lin never warmed up to those visits, looking up from the couch to see a mouse skitter in under the door. It’s amazing how they can squeeze through such a tiny gap – and are so fearsome when they get in.

Electric light fixtures – some with bulbs still in them – remind us of times past. The building was completely converted to propane 13 years ago. Guess I could use the light bulbs someplace else.

A long crack in the middle pane of the window over the kitchen sink is covered in duct tape. I broke the window four years ago. Two years ago I purchased a new pane – but (due to my faulty measurements) it was one-quarter inch too big. That’s as close as I’ve gotten to fixing it. I find the duct tape decorative.

Speaking of the kitchen, it’s so narrow that two people can’t work there together and the lack of cupboards leaves most food and supplies stocked on open shelves. At least you can see at a glance what you’ve got to eat.

Then there’s the bathroom. The toilet sits on a piece of wood attached to the floor, leaving us precariously seated high above the floor – giving new meaning to the word “throne.” And the toilet is not anchored well so the entire experience is a moving one. It’s quite a ride.

The bathroom cupboard fell once and hit Hilary in the head. I nailed it back up on the wall, but everyone opens it with a bit of trepidation. So far, so good.

There are no closets – and I mean none at all. So the place has a kind of cluttered look, with clothes and other stuff stored along walls and behind chairs.

Most of the plumbing is old, resulting in drips that are loud enough to keep you awake at night. We just replaced the kitchen faucet because I couldn’t stand the steady drip, drip, drip any longer. The old faucets were rusted so tight I couldn’t remove them to replace the washers.

Every spring, the building moves with the frost, giving us warped ceilings, jammed windows, and separated plumbing pipes.

The weather here is brutal, so I have to paint the outside about every three years. Right now, the trim needs to be painted along with the outside steps and deck. Maybe next year.

Two of our four lawn chairs are so rotten they’re dangerous, and last week when Lin and I lifted the picnic table, the top came right off. The chairs and table all need paint and a sign stating: “Sit at your own risk.”

Moss grows on the porch roof and I’m wondering if there’s enough soil up there to plant some vegetables. Deer and other wildlife are so abundant that anything planted in the ground gets eaten as soon as it sprouts.

Last month Josh was seated on the deck about 11 pm when a coyote came by, hunting the rabbits that live under our building. We share this building with bunnies, field mice, and red squirrels, and Black ducks and geese wander around on the front lawn begging for handouts. It’s a veritable wild kingdom here.

Yes, this place has a lot of imperfections. But it’s camp. And it’s perfect.

Kennebec Journal, August 20, 2003

UPDATE: Turns out it wasn’t so perfect. Lin insists that I tell you that we have new bed springs and mattresses in the second bedroom, four spiffy LL Bean Adirondack chairs on the porch and deck, and the kids got us a very nice new living room couch. The kitchen window still sports duct tape, but this summer our friend Bill Seretta is completely renovating the camp, including new windows, and fixing all the imperfections. By fall, the camp will be perfect.

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,, 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.