The Maine Attraction

Camp

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{This story appeared on Ten to Twenty Parenting, a website about raising teens and tweens.}

My wife and I have been going to the same location for about 20 years. It’s a family-owned cabin in Lincolnville, near Camden on Route 1 along the coast. There’s not much to Lincolnville, really. You’ll find a small beach nestled between two seafood restaurants and a rocky inlet named Duck Trap. I’m still not sure how Duck Trap got its name because I’ve never seen any ducks trapped there and can’t imagine how one might, in fact, become trapped. Camden lies to the south of town, Belfast just north.

Our trip from Connecticut takes about six hours, allowing for a couple of pit stops. We have three kids—two young teens and a tween—and a beagle who hates, above all else, car rides. Thankfully he’s getting better; his vomiting and defecating used to add another hour or so to our journey.

The cabin we stay in is rustic and charming, if a bit spartan. It was built in the early 20th century and has been expanded and modernized over the years. One such improvement was a bathroom. Running water helped too (though it’s pond water, suitable for showering but not drinking). It now houses four bedrooms, one of which is in a loft accessible by ladder. A screened-in porch is just steps from a dock in Coleman Pond. Out about 30 yards is a yellow float anchored to the muck, providing ample opportunity for jumping, diving and general horseplay.

Ponds are designated as such because of some attribute that distinguishes them from lakes. I believe it has to do with depth. My definition is as follows: If I can see the other side, it’s a pond. If I can’t, it’s a lake. So to me, Coleman Pond, while not nearly the size of Sebago or Moosehead, is large enough to qualify as a lake. It’s shaped like a horseshoe, and the cabin sits along one of the ends. Our side features a small island—by “small” I mean roughly the size of two dumpsters—that houses a loon nest. There used to be a webcam focused on the nest so you could watch the loon and her brood around the clock if you so desired.

Often we vacation with my in-laws, a family of four. The cousin children get along wonderfully, as do the two dogs, who spend most of their time wrestling for vertical supremacy. With nine people and two pets, things get a little cozy, especially with one bathroom. Throw in additional family members—and their pets—who visit from time to time, and it begins to resemble a frat house on Saturday nights. The cabin has no air conditioning, but days are spent on or in the water, and nights are often cool. This is Maine, after all, land of two seasons: winter and August. Mornings often require a sweatshirt and long jammies.

Morning’s also a nice time to take a walk. My wife and I like to stroll up the dirt road that leads to another dirt road that leads to a road with no painted lines and off which branch many similar dirt roads. One such road—or path, really, designated as an “FR,” or fire route, with a number—is called “Mass Pike.” No tolls, though. Walks tend to be brisk in an attempt to outrun the blackflies and horseflies buzzing about and biting. They’re relentless creatures with the stamina to follow you for miles. On our recent trip I bought a bug zapper, a tennis racket-looking device with electrified webbing that fries insects upon contact. They snap, crackle and smoke, emitting a cooked smell similar to dirty ashtrays. I brandished the thing as an ode to Wimbledon, which happened to be taking place while we were in Maine. It also came in handy while I stayed awake one night fending off mosquitoes determined to drain every last drop of blood out of the sleeping flesh.

During the day, when we’re not in the water we’re off hiking or visiting the shops in town—that is, other towns. Hiking is a curious pastime I don’t really understand. We’ve hiked many times, mind you, and there’s certainly some self-satisfaction derived from having survived the ordeal, but the overall appeal is lost on me. When we hike up a mountain, which we often do, I realize the payoff: a great view, in our case of Camden Harbor and the expanse of ocean. It almost makes it all worth the fuss. But when the trip simply takes you out a few miles through the woods and back, I’m not sure that measure of self-satisfaction equals the challenges posed by rocks, roots, gravity, snakes and insects, along with the resulting bites, blisters, scrapes and contusions. Why not go for a stroll on a nice sidewalked street or through a park? I guess hiking seems more manly, even for women.

Many of the shops we visit are tourist traps, but charming nonetheless. Or at least they were charming when we first happened upon them. They don’t appear to change much from year to year. Still, my kids insist we go. Maybe they want to go precisely because it is the same every time. There’s comfort in the familiar and predictable, much like they when they were little children and wanted to watch TV shows and movies over and over again. Yup, they think, this is just as I remember it, and it brings back fond memories.

This year, however, was different. I think they’ve reached their saturation point. Or maybe it’s because they’re getting older and are eager to experience new things. Even on the trip up, my oldest daughter mentioned possibly going somewhere else next summer. And I think we will. Maybe a year away will make the Maine cabin that much more desirable as a vacation destination.

Don’t get me wrong—it certainly is desirable, especially if you appreciate getting away from it all. It’s a welcome break from the electronic sensory overload at work and home, almost taken to an extreme. The cabin keeps journals dating back to the 1920s, allowing people to comment on their stay. On this year’s visit I flipped through them looking for entries made on important days in our nation’s history. December 7, 1941. November 22, 1963. April 4, 1968. July 20, 1969. What did I find for those days? Not one mention of Pearl Harbor, the Kennedy assassination, Martin Luther King Jr. being shot or man walking on the moon. Granted, there’s no television and probably never was, but I assume folks had access to a radio. Maybe they never bothered to turn it on at the right time. Or maybe they did and preferred to instead log the 18-inch bass they caught or note who won that night’s backgammon tournament, leaving the world-altering details to those back in civilization.

And there’s nothing wrong with that, as long as it’s how you define vacation. It’s how my wife and I have defined it so many times over the years and how my kids do now. To their children and grandchildren they’ll recount wistfully the summer days at the cabin, much like E.B. White’s reminiscence in “Once More to the Lake.” Perhaps they’ll establish their own tradition to which they return each year. Yet I think they’ll equally appreciate next summer’s interregnum and the chance to experience new things, ordering something different off the menu instead of getting the usual, this time with a side of luxury and pampering. I certainly remember fondly the couple of places we returned to each summer when I was a kid, but I also wish my parents had taken me elsewhere and shown me a few variations on the vacation theme.

My girls are entering high school this fall (they’re not twins; my precocious middle kid skipped a grade), so we don’t have many more summers with them, and we’re inching along the continuum from cool to embarrassing, when smiles and giggles give way to eye rolls and disdain. I think we have at least one more trip in us. Whatever course we take, we will always return to the cabin. It’s more than a family tradition; it’s part of the generational tapestry, bugs and bathroom lines and all. When we do, everything will look exactly how we left it. And that’s not such a bad thing.

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