Friday, July 11, 2008

The Camp

The most constant place in my life is about to go away and I have some questions.

It’s camp. Like many New Englanders I grew up “going up to the camp” – a cabin my grandfather built on a lake in New Hampshire in the 40s when all around were woods and the lake was full of fish and loons. My grandmother washed out her pots on the edge of the lake. My uncle, a little kid at the time, signed the cement cornerstone with a stick.

My dad grew up going there and playing with the people next door. I grew up going there and playing with the next generation next door. I just had a kid and she will do many wonderful things in her life, but probably won’t know the camp or the wonderfully creative and smart kids of the next generation swimming next door.

Our camp is a two bedroom camping cabin with a gas tank and electricity. It pumps water in from the lake and has a dubious septic system now, though I grew up trekking to an outhouse there. It has very little land. From the lake it looks a bit shabby next to many of the updated homes. But you can see it so well because it is right on the lake. And as a result of this fact alone it has been assessed at a price similar to say, an entire real house in a fairly wealthy suburb of Boston. I own in Cambridge and my house is worth less. My taxes are also a third of the ones on the camp. In the CITY. In Taxachusetts.

None of us can really afford or even justify this. I could take my kid swimming around the world yearly for the taxes on the camp alone. Basically, because not all the owners are involved financially or otherwise (I am not one), it just can’t easily be kept. It’s looking like someone who wants to build their McMansion on the lake will end up with our camp.

And maybe that’s better than someone just moving into our camp in some ways. I mean how could there be a stranger in OUR CAMP? Would they know my Grammie’s ghost is still there drinking tea out of a stained blue tea cup, chuckling and doing crossword puzzles? Will they know all the places to row a boat and swim or to find bird’s nests or blueberries? Would they know every rock between there and the next door camp and have names for them? Would they know how to time it right to get stuck next door playing cards during a big storm? Would their kids learn to swim, to spit watermelon seeds, canoe, kayak, sail, windsurf, chase beavers, imitate loons, rescue baby birds, find pet rocks, bike into town there?

Will they have any nostalgia for the stationery and gift store that once sold penny candy? Will they know that the restaurant on the way into town or on the dock is NOT Bailey's? Will their kid have a favorite flavor of ice cream from Not Bailey’s? Will they remember when the old town railroad station was a movie theater? Will they know what it meant to take Grammie there to see On Golden Pond? Will they have to get drinking water in town and will their dad know every single free spigot in ten miles because he refuses to pay for water?

Will their dog fall in the water barking at ducks or off the prow of the canoe? Will they have a “you catch it, you clean it” rule for fish? Will they know the legend of Sandy Claws? Will Sharky read them stories in the cove? Will they always swamp the canoe on purpose and paddle it around partially submerged or underneath it bellowing “Yellow Submarine”? Will they get to know their cousin by meeting up there for silliness and snacks? Will they have huge treasure hunts or water fights with the family next door? Do they know the secrets to seeing the fireworks on the 4th without being stuck in crowds? Will their dad present firework shows on the dock?

Will they come back as a young adult with boyfriends? Will they climb the tiny mountain at the top of the road? Will they bike all around the woods and hills and keep a map charting the trails biked and where they go on a topo map on the wall? Will they come up alone and write poetry and sing and put a gas lantern on the dock while they canoe out to the middle of the lake and watch the tree shadows rush toward them as the moon is eclipsed? Will they come as an adult and stay by the lake and write a sample chapter of a book about cabins that causes it to get published?

Sort of. I guess, like Lyra they’ll have their own version of all of this, even if it involves ATVs, JetSkis, and some place where they can’t really afford to park their Romney-stickered SUVs. But no matter what…they’d better be pretty incredibly cool to the neighbors. They’ve been my friends since before I could talk. The heads of that family sat with me at my wedding. This is going to alter their camp too.

Live Free or Die is the NH motto. I guess that covers taxing your house to death since it sure ain't free. I used to dream about moving to the Yukon, having a kid who played in the elements. Meanwhile most of my fun adventure friends moved away, my hiking friends died and moved away or got busy, my kayaking has been curtailed by having a kid, the camp is going away.

Even though I didn't make it up there much in recent years I wish it wouldn't have to go. It's just pointing out even more to me that it isn't the place it was when I was a kid. People have built houses along the dirt road and discovered the public access at the cove. The road actually has a street sign now. It's been Google-mapped. People have too many boats on the lake. And it's also somehow pointing out that here at home there are no woods within 20 minutes of my house, no clean beaches for more, and though I tricked out my mt. bike as a city street, baby-carrying machine I keep being afraid to take her on the crazy streets here.

Sometimes this all just hits me and I feel like I just woke up blinking to find I’m standing around with my kid on a cement slab while my husband works in a cubicle a few blocks away and my mom and a number of my friends are dead or gone. This isn’t how I pictured things, and so it is such extra work to make things change.

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