I came late to the Maine camp tradition. When I was a kid, my family would sometimes spend a summer week on Frye Island in Sebago Lake or Long Lake in Naples. We liked these areas enough to make repeat visits — heck, my brother and I never wanted to leave! — but we rarely returned to the same rental, my parents always preferring to experience something new.
Mark’s family took a different approach, putting down roots on a pink-granite-edged plot in Deer Isle that now seem as inextricable as the weather-beaten spruce trees that cover the land. They started out tenting on the property in the early ’80s, then built a tiny bunkhouse with no plumbing, and later a larger camp with unfinished shiplap walls, a woodstove, and brackish water running through the taps. Mark’s dad, Dave, who has passed away, loved this spot more than any other on Earth, and that feeling has filtered down through two subsequent generations.
When Mark first started bringing me to the camp we call “Deer Isle,” I wondered if I would tire of it. With an abundance of places to explore in Maine — many of them hours closer to our home — why would we commit ourselves to the same remote spot on summer weekends? Now, of course, I understand that what compels people to a camp isn’t always rational as much as gravitational. When we’re away from Deer Isle, we feel it pulling us back. The fact that we can picture every spruce-spiked island in the cove and animal likeness we’ve found in the knots on the master bedroom’s ceiling only intensifies the impulse.
Recently, our older son wrote Mark a letter asking about “Grampa Dave,” whom he didn’t get to meet. Part of it read — and I’m translating here — “I am very sad about Grampa Dave dying. If I met him, then I would be happy that I got to see him once…So how old were you when he died? And what were all the things you did with Grampa Dave? And what were all the favorite things you did with him?”
Deer Isle provides many of the answers. Dave loved taking in the view from the rocks in front of the camp, a ritual he called “checking out the point,” and gliding across the cove with his kids in one of the property’s faded old canoes. He enjoyed walking the wooded path that winds along the shore:
And watching the sun slip behind the blackened evergreens from the screened porch, where he also liked to hunker down with the Boston Globe.
We continued these traditions, except the canoe ride (too chilly!), this past Memorial Day Weekend. And we’ll repeat them many more times this summer. When a place is not merely a vacation spot, but the sum total of loved ones who have spent time there, it never gets old.
Do you love a Maine camp? I’d like to hear about it — please share your stories below!