Comedian Bob Marley has a somewhat famous routine about camp in New England, specifically Maine. I won't link it here, but those of you who don't mind explicit language can easily find it on YouTube. "If you're not from New England, camp is a structure ... next to a body of water. It's not a lakehouse, it's not a cabin, and it sure as shit ain't a cottage, 'cuz we ain't Hansel and Gretel. It's a friggen camp. You don't go down to camp, over to camp, or through to camp, you go upta camp. ... Can we get a screen door at camp that doesn't sound like we shot someone every time it shuts?"
Bob then goes on to extoll the unique little aggravations that every New England camp seems to have - and while he's spot on about all of them, I'd like to share the better things about camp, having grown up at one on the occasional summer weekend.
When we went "upta camp", it was always by boat, since Camp JanJuKip was on a tiny island on Lake Winnepesaukee. It was named after my great-grandfather's three kids, Janice, Judy, and Kip, and I always thought it sounded appropriately like something out of Salute Your Shorts. Camp had no electricity, just a small generator that made an awful lot of noise, and was used primarily to keep the ancient refrigerator with the faded Trix bumper sticker on it running. My mother's hand and footprints were in the cement step onto the screen porch, which was high and wide enough that some genius had fixed a swing to the ceiling beams. Until I got too heavy for that swing, I spent a fair share of afternoons on it, pretending I could let go and fly up, up through the air and splash down into the lake like a kingfisher.
Camp was for cookouts, snacks, puzzles, and time-worn board games. It was for reading old and musty books long abandoned by others but brand-new to me. It was for coloring, drawing on yellowed sheets of construction paper, and singing at the top of my lungs on the bow of the boat as we hummed across the lake. (In my early teens, I discovered that despite the rushing wind drowning out the world around me, everyone had been able to hear me the entire time, to my great embarrassment.) At camp, we were cut off from the world. No phone, no TV, and usually no radio ... then, later, once it became a possibility, no internet.
My creativity always flourished at camp: I would spend long, lazy afternoons sunning myself on the boulders at the water's edge, listening to the waves from boats' wake lap the shore, and hear other worlds in their song. Socked away in my little corner of nature, cut off from the rest of the world, it was always easier to dream. Out of sight, out of mind.
When Camp NaNoWriMo began to roll around earlier this week, I started thinking more and more about Camp JanJuKip. It's changed a great deal since my younger days: repainted, fitted with a new deck and chimney, a better generator, and - yes, Bob - a screen door that doesn't slam like a gunshot. Wireless internet had made the world accessible from the boulders. The last time I went, I had to admit... it had lost a great deal of its magic. The rough edges had been sanded down, and much of its simplicity had fallen away. It no longer seemed like an old, well-loved treasure tucked away in the wilderness: somehow, camp had become just another house, though harder to get to. But I keep its spirit in my heart, and as I take a break from this blog for the month of April, I'd like to think that every time I sit down to write, I can hear the lake lapping near my feet, and hear the buzz of a hardy generator in the near distance, keeping the hot dogs and my soda cold.
I'll see you all in May,
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