Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Camp Life

I very much enjoyed George Smith’s “Up to Camp” in this month’s issue of Down East magazine. “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 be a campground and a simple tent. But it’s ours, even if only for a week or two each year.” Smith has captured what it means to retreat to a special place where one can pass a few idle weeks of a New England summer. “We all need a place where ‘there is nothing to do. ”

I will add that a Maine camp is not just for Mainers; there are many of us “from away” who anxiously anticipate our return to the Pine Tree State to enjoy our own summer camp experience. And now, after spending the past 25 summers here on Sabbathday Lake, I am finally getting use to calling our place a “camp.” In the Midwest, where I grew up, a place like ours is usually referred to as a “cottage.” A camp is where you camp in a tent and cook on an outdoor fire or stove. Smith has set me straight. “Camps may be rustic with a two-holer [that is what we called them at home, too]. It may have plumbing and hot showers. It may have a kitchen or just a Coleman stove on the picnic table . . . But it is always the most comfortable place on earth.” I could not agree more and this is why we return here year after year. We come to seek solitude and peace of mind.

Our particular camp is simple and rustic - unfinished knotty pine thumb and groove planks . The sitting room has a couch with lots of throw pillows, cushioned chairs, and cabinet office with its cubbyholes and fold-down desk in one corner which it shares with the hot water heater. Sally Ann uses it as her temporary studio and the paintings she has completed here are tacked to the walls. This room is lined with windows facing the lake, its shoreline with the lower deck and pier just a few feet away and shaded by the generous boughs of a white pine. The joint kitchen and dining area has plenty of space to move about and I use the table as my work space when we are not eating on it. There is a wood stove and wood box and windows over the sink and facing out on the front deck. Rounding out the lower level is a small bedroom and bathroom which appear to have been added to the camp at some point. Finally, there is a narrow stairway over the kitchen sink and counter which leads to a loft over the kitchen and dining area. It has two double beds for company and additional storage space. Two small windows provide welcome cross ventilation. Simple and rustic. It has everything we need.

Smith and I obviously appreciate the same things when we are at our respective camps: There is nothing like a hot cup of joe while standing on the pier and letting the fresh and tactile morning breeze take the sleep from your eyes while listening to the loons cry in the distance; fried eggs and bacon for breakfast; freshly picked strawberries in June and July; local corn, tomatoes and cucumber in August, and radiant sunsets over the lake. But, most important, here is where we come to find “a time of quiet reflection” with none of the distractions we face at home. It is a place with no television, no phone (well, cell phones for “emergencies” and occasional contact with family and the outside world), no computers, e-mail, Facebook, etc. I will confess that I brought a laptop with me but only because I use the peace and quiet afforded by our camp to get some writing done. In fact, I am writing this from the kitchen table in our camp as the old chrome percolator clunks the day’s first cup of coffee into existence. I find writing relaxing and rewarding. It may be considered “work” by some, but I don’t look at it that way. Writing, for me, is one of the things in life that makes getting up each morning worthwhile. So writing each day has become an integral part of camp life. “Writing is like a twitch,” Stephen King tells us. “You do it because you have to do it. And it’s fun.” I agree. So why should it not be an integral part of camp life?

We have been here for a few weeks now and will stay until early October. We have watched summer arrive at the lake, and we will watch it depart at the other end of our stay, as the trees begin to show their autumn foliage and its time to think about heading home. It will be hard to leave, but there is always next year.

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