Once, Not to the Lake
August 22, 2020 – I’ve awakened to a rather melancholy Saturday morning. The weather is fair, overcast, 67, grounds sodden from early morning rain. Joni (the border collie) lies in the dirt hole she carved out under the weigela bush. My twenty-seven-year old son, D.R., oversleeps in his bed, nestled below-grade within my Vermont home. Twenty-three-year old D.P. swirls oat milk into his morning macciato in his Brooklyn apartment. A few of our Maine camp friends, are caravanning I-95 toward the Air BNB’s they rented in other coves on Great Pond, opposite Bear Spring Camps. I am sitting in the same chair, at the same desk, in my home office, writing stories as I have for the past six months. This time, authoring a page to mark the twenty-first vacation year at Bear Spring Camps, that COVID-19 pandemia has nullified. I am feeling forlorn for the halcyon days of bear hugs and sunset cruises.
We have been unraveling our tangled lines into this lake since August, 1999. The feeling that bubbles up from the soles of our feet to the solar plexus becomes so strong by the waning summer’s solstice, we release in exuberant darts and twirls onto the wooded shores of Great Pond like an un-pinched balloon.
In the Spring of 1999, my attention was drawn to an 11×14” framed print hanging on a wall, in the home of a client. The bucolic lake scene, illuminated in Kinkade shades of fuchsia, indigo, and tangerine, was a window into a daydream that hung in severe contrast to the concrete urban sprawl that paved our day-to-day. The dreamy scene caused me to pause and say, What a beautiful image, I wish it were a real place. “It is! exclaimed the boy’s mom. It’s an amazing place on a lake in Maine that my family has been going to every summer since I was a little kid.” A few weeks later, I was on the phone with the Mosher-Churchill’s of Bear Spring Camps in Oakland (pr. Rome), Maine, making a reservation for a two-bedroom cottage named Chicadee on Great Pond, the third-week of August.
It is as it has always been, during all of the days in the twenty years we’ve rested upon the lake, and by all accounts the eighty-years before.
The shrill of the loons resonate by dint of the rivulets in the pond, as if it were a ceaseless echo in an unfading firmament.
The rocky dirt road from the farmhouse to the camps is the same as it has always been, when reveling city kids rode on haystacks in a 1952 Chevy stake bed truck, to the Smithfield roller rink.
The devout dawn of vaporous gold, lilting over the calm ripples gently licking the clay shore. The same steel grey and pine green John boats bobbing from ropes tethered to cantering pine docks extending into the mouth of the lake, like ribs of the bass contained within it. Year after year, the week is the same, the people are mostly the same, the grey, striped tabby cat padding the porches for mice, is the same.
This family owned encampment has been run by four generations of the same family, since the founders purchased the 300-acre farmland in 1910, upon which they built six rustic cabins (cottages) and converted a shed to a dining room, (www.bearspringcamps.com). Reclaiming childhood memories on similar camps on the lake, E.B. White brought his own son to summer in these cabins until the 1980’s. Descendants of Mr. White, still maintain a presence on the pond.
Mornings, beginning at 5 a.m., the same whirring of 14 hp motors can be heard churning wakes out to the reedy margins of the coves. At 7 a.m., I throw on a jacket, quietly leave the cabin, careful not to slam the pine screen door, to meet friends for a brisk morning hike. By the time we emerge from the black oak canopy into the morning sun at the hill crest, giving way to fingerlings of dirt roads around Jamaica Point, I’m tying my jacket around my waist. By 8:30 we join our families in the main dining room for fried eggs, loon muffins and New England Coffee. Then it’s down to the lake to sit on the porch with a book, motor out to the shoals at Pine Island for the hope of a prize-winning bass, paddle in the lake, or interlock a few more pieces in the puzzle spread out on the card table in the cottage. The popping sound of tennis balls on stretched nylon and children’s laughter leaping from the floating raft, concertize the quacking of Tom, the duck, and his followers.
At 12:30 p.m. the appearance of a great motorboat race advances the shore, and 150 bear campers pilgrimage up the dirt road to afternoon dinner for some form of meat, potato, and blueberry pie, and lemonade. Afternoons, one may find campers slicing the glass-smooth surface on jet skis, gliding over wakes on water skis, or venturing into Belgrade for souvenirs and fudge. The big kids race off in camp boats to explore lake islands and fly from the rope swing off the cliff on Crooked Island. Kayaks glide along the shores like hyphens adrift in a daydream, and ladies convene for afternoon socials on inflatable lobsters tethered to floating loungers. The thump, thump of corn-filled sacks smacking brightly-colored wood boards tap out a bass riff until dusk gives way to the obsidian star-lit night when the loons yodel their evening prayers. At 6 p.m., the herd returns once more to the main house for a “supper” of salad, a hot sandwich, and blondies.
Evenings are spent on the lakes’ edge illuminated by small rings of fire, the incense of maple and birch swirling around chattering folks encircled upon lawn chairs. The cool northern breadth infused with the sweet perfume of white marshmallows on the ends of sticks twirling over crimson embers, hot, toasted to the cast of brown sugar, or perhaps torched to a savory singe. And the million beacons of heaven glittering the raven sky over the 45th latitude. They never change. They have always been there. It’s “the pattern of life indelible, the fade-proof lake, the woods unshatterable,” the pasture with the rafter of turkey and the silver maple forever and ever.
Our vacation week always ends at Rainbow Sweets Cafe. A small, bake shop, manned by an eccentric comedic with a severe sweet tooth, along Route 2 in Marshfield, Vermont, fifty-two miles from home. Drive too fast, and you’ll miss the only restaurant in town, which marks a corner with a sweet pink sign. Spanakopita, Greek salad, Moroccan-spiced pastilla for lunch, Johnnie Dep’s (cream-filled, caramel-coated profiterole’s) and poppy seed cake for dessert, and a whole linzertorte to go. This delight is not for the timid, the pastries are eclectic European, and you can hear the whipping cream screaming from the Hobart.
August 21st to 28th, 1999, commenced our first year on Great Pond. Turning onto Jamaica Point Road, in what was the town of Oakland [Rome] at the time, we were “Newbies,” joining multiple generations of families returning to the lake of thirty cottages, at Bear Spring Camps, unwitting that we had begun the trip of our lifetime. After a straight six-and-a half-hour, four-hundred-mile drive on I95 N, from Freeport, Long Island, we arrived at 1 p.m. and entered the office of the main house, announcing our arrival. A homey aroma of baked chicken and apple pie invited us to our assigned table in the country-style dining room of slanted wood boards and red and white checkered curtains. The first of 420 farm-fresh meals served us to date.
Following the afternoon “dinner”, campers waved as though they were waiting for us, as we drove the woody Dodge Caravan along the 800-yard stretch of bumpy dirt road to the camps. We parked behind the small, sable log cabin that was set on the sandy beach area, where young children congregate to dig trenches in the sand and capture minnows and frogs in pails.
The cabin is the eye of the rib of thirty cottages lining the northern-most cove of North Bay in Great Pond. It consisted of two bedrooms, one bathroom, a common room with weathered sofa and chairs, a wood stove and a dorm-size fridge. A front porch with log rails to break your fall from the severe cant, faces the watery expanse of the storybook pond. Each cottage having a ring of fire on the beach and a hand-hewn wood dock jutting into the lake, like the spine ribbon of a northern pike.
The blue-woody Dodge Caravan was packed tight with luggage, sleeping bags, and all form of camp sundries. A short list included; beach toys and fishing rods, rainy-day puzzles, drawing pads and playdoh, a laptop and work folders, munchies, drink boxes, and marshmallows. And, Dave never left home without his usual fifty-pound tool box full of socket wrenches and drills bits.
Bobbing from a tattered rope at the end of our dock was the 6 HP steel camp outboard Dave rented with the package. After unloading, we immediately snapped life jackets around the boys and puttered out in the boat to explore the lake. Davin gazed in awe at his father, the first time seeing him power a boat. You could feel the exhilarating pride in his breath.
The children (ages two-and-a-half, and six) immediately made friends. At first sight, this place seems oddly cult-ish, everyone is exceptionally friendly, strangers say “hello”, inviting you to their porches for cocktails and campfires for Smores and drinks. Cabin girls sweep the floors daily, cabin boys restock firewood and gas the boats. Everyone pilgrimages up the dirt road to the main house three times per day for meals prepared by the late Mr. Pearl. Every night, at ten, Mr. Taylor trumpeted Taps from his dock’s-end of cottage Shangri-la.
These moments, not one of which have pass unrecorded, are gifts which have become indelibly essential in the lives of those who share them. An exclamation point on the vernal calendar, just days before the autumnal equinox shift, from playful summer days to early morning alarms and obligations of school and work schedules.
Our children are 23 and 27 now and will drive their own cars to Great Pond. On the third Saturday of August, 2021, we will pick up where we left off to return once more to the best place on Earth and fill the pages of the camp album for our twenty-first year. The same week, The same friends, and the endless silver maple.© Deborah Garcia, 2020, All rights reserved