Saturday, September 19, 2009

18. Homage to Spencer Pond

A couple of weeks ago Bill and I returned from our annual pilgrimage to an old sporting camp on Spencer Pond, a small body of water near the majestic Moosehead Lake in northern Maine. For the eighteen summers we have been going there it has been a great place for me to indulge in my favorite sports of gentle hiking, canoeing and, most of all, reading. There are six cabins, each with its own personality, plus another for the owners who live there from May thru November. Surrounded by paper company-owned land and an hour from the nearest town, one must traverse a dusty, bumpy gravel road for twelve miles to get there, always prepared to dodge lumber trucks driving fully loaded down the middle of the narrow roads.

For all these years Spencer Pond has been my get-away before starting the busy fall schedule. And one of the things that makes it so enticing is that the cabins are primitive: no electricity, no running water, plumbing "out back." They each have two gas lamps (barely OK for reading), oil lamps in the bedrooms, hand pumps at the sink and a woodstove. Somehow the absence of modern amenities takes a huge amount of stress off my shoulders, as do the screened porches overlooking the lake.

We first went to Spencer Pond in 1992, when Emily was seven. We stayed for an entire week and what a luxury that was! Emily was a curious child and loved the adventure of being out in the woods. She spent hours everyday in the swing that hung between two enormous pines, lost in her own world of imagination. As she approached her teenage years a trip to Spencer Pond became less appealing, unfortunately. What? A week alone with Mum and Papa? No friends, no TV, no radio? Occasionally we acquiesced and let her stay with a friend, but I missed her presence desperately. To her chagrin she came down with mono one year right before our scheduled trip and of course she had to go with us. Not only was Spencer Pond the perfect place for her to rest and recuperate, that time away with her was a precious gift to me.

One might think that all those visits would run together and in a way they do, but there have been some stand-out memories. Quite a number of years ago, when my parents were in better physical shape, they and my aunt went with us. We stayed in the largest cabin and immediately discovered that the plumbing situation was going to be a problem. And then there was the issue of Aunt Dot and her purse: here we were, literally in the middle of nowhere, and she wouldn't leave her purse in the cabin because there was no lock on the door. So there goes Dot, traipsing around the woods with her purse in hand. At one point we finally convinced her to leave the purse in the cabin while we took a walk, and upon our return she was just sure someone had taken some of her money!

Our dear west coast friends, Susan and Jay, accompanied us one year. They stayed in their own cabin, but we cooked all our meals together. And they were marvelous! Susan and Jay are two of the best cooks I know and we took camp cuisine to new heights. Jay was very excited about trying his luck fishing and spent a lot of time out on the dock casting a rod and reel. One early morning I was reading on the porch when Jay quietly peered through the screen. Julia, I have a little problem here. He showed me his upper arm and a fishing lure with a large hook was stuck there. Ouch. I quickly proved to be no nurse, so Bill and Jay went to awaken Bob, the owner. He roused himself from sleep and managed to extricate the barb, saving Jay a trip to the ER, at least an hour away.

Showering is a challenge, too, but one I eagerly embrace. The first step is to heat up about 2 1/2 gallons of water on the gas stove and then transfer it to a shower bag. As you bathe you must be judicious with this water, closing the clamp when you don't need it. You cannot stand and enjoy the hot water flowing over your back for minutes and minutes as you might in a modern shower. Bill has been slow to learn this and on at least two occasions I have heard screaming profanities coming from the shower stall and a request for his swimming trunks. Covered in soap and shampoo he's had to make a run for the lake to dive in and rinse off.

Getting away like this every year gives me some perspective not only on my life, but on our collective lives. Coming back to "civilization" I am acutely aware of the waste we indulge in: food, water, energy. I am reminded of the futility and impermanence of our materialistic culture. And most painful of all I witness myself participating in all this, swept along by the influences around me.

I like the simplicity of life at Spencer Pond and I like who I am there. Every year I strive to bring that person back with me: a woman who takes time to watch the birds, have a leisurely cup of tea, write letters, walk in the woods, pray. I return to the "real world" with life on a schedule, bills to pay and a balancing act of commitments every day. I have yet to find a workable balance between the quiet I crave and the work I love.

Our time in the north woods this year was especially poignant as our friends who own and manage the cabins, Bob and Jill, are retiring. A search for a new manager is underway and I hope the right person is found. But something tells me that Bill and I are going to take a year off and explore somewhere new- for some inexplicable reason that just makes sense to me. If that is the case I know it will only be a short suspension from the beauty and peace I find in my pilgrimage to Spencer Pond.