Friday, August 31, 2007

The Maine Attraction

(Maine, August 2005)

Tomorrow I leave for Maine, where I'll be "unplugged" for 10 days with no Internet access (that means no blogging for awhile - just journaling the old-fashioned way with pen and paper) and not even any hot, running water. We're headed to Maine where Dave's family has a cabin (or "camp" as Mainers call it) for nine days of relaxing vacation. Now once you become a parent, everything is relative, especially the term vacation. With kids underfoot, there won't be as much time for relaxing. Gone are the days of languid mornings in bed, reading three novels in a week's time or drawn-out meals complemented by a glass of wine. Instead, I'll be waking up to one of two alarm clocks: Either of the "waa-waa" variety or the "Mommy, I'm 'hungee.' 'Peas' get up, Mommy." I doubt there will be much time for reading and dinner is more likely to be accompanied by spilled milk. Plus, this whole "camp" thing isn't like escaping to a tropical isle. But I'm not complaining. Really. For every lost quiet meal or hour of sleep, there's much to be gained with vacationing with children, and after marrying Dave, staying at camp has become a family tradition.

Madeline has been talking about Maine for weeks now. Everything is high adventure in her mind. She can't wait to go looking for frogs (something her daddy loved to do as a boy), to sip hot cocoa by a fire and to venture into the Maine woods. Then there's the whole excitement of riding on an airplane. I've told her she gets the window seat and can watch the world below shrink before eyes. "The houses will look like dollhouses, the cars like toy cars and the trees like tiny bushes," I tell her.

"Oh my gosh!" she exclaims at the wonder of it all.

Then I describe the rustic camp we'll be staying at that's situated on a patch of land overlooking a lake. There are cots to sleep on and marshmallows to feed to a huge fireplace that yawns like a gaping mouth in a large open room. I've only been going to Maine for five years now (since Dave and I were married), but this is where Dave spent every summer as a boy, doing the same things Madeline will do.

So even though there's a part of me dreading things like getting up at 4 a.m. for our morning flight and relying on an outhouse for potty time, I can't wait to see Maine through the eyes of a child, to explore all its beauty and to make memories that will last a lifetime.


For those of you who want to know more about our destination in Maine, read on. I wrote this essay for a women's publication called SASS after we took Madeline to Maine for the first time (she was only 9 months old). This trip, we plan to add two more footprints to the camp's historical log - Madeline's size 7 clompers and Baby Rae's minute feet.

The Maine Attraction
By Kate Wicker

A steady rain is pelting me in the back as I make my way up a slick slope laced with wet leaves and spiny roots that look like snakes emerging from the ground. It’s late August, but it feels more like November or even December. That’s because I’m far from the South in the woods of Maine.

I’m walking in the sheets of rain because I have to use the bathroom and there is no modern toilet at Camp Loseekum, a rustic cabin, my husband Dave has been visiting since his childhood. I find my way to the Georgian House, the affectionate name Dave’s family gives the wooden box. I push the creaky door open and take a peak. Two ordinary toilet seats are situated over holes carved into wood. I don’t look in the holes. I already know what’s there. Despite the ashes, which are supposed to help absorb the stench, it smells.

I hold my breath, squat, pee, stop peeing when I see a hairy spider dangling above my nose, swat the eight-legged freak away, continue peeing, grab a piece of toilet paper from a roll that’s propped on a nail and shovel in some ashes to cover up my dregs.

I walk to the camp with my head high. “How’d it go?” Dave asks.

“Wonderfully. I love roughing it,” I reply.

Of course, I’m not being completely honest. I mean, I love Maine and all, but peeing in a pine box where tarantulas hang out isn’t my idea of paradise. Dave knows it, too. He grins and offers me a Smores he’s carefully baked in a big stone fireplace. I gobble it up and think, See, this isn’t so bad. And it isn’t. It’s just not what I’m used to.

I grew up taking beach vacations. We stayed at nice hotels because my dad traveled a lot for work and always had vouchers and frequent-flyer points. We ate out at nice restaurants, soaked in the sun and washed off gritty sand in warm showers. We never did the whole camping thing.

I knew when I married Dave that Maine would become a family tradition for us, and we made our first trip to Camp Loseekum a few months after we married.

Despite my trepidation, I was determined to brave the elements and to enjoy the trip. I gave myself several pep talks before departing.

I’ve backpacked through Europe for over a month; I’ve run a marathon through the Alaskan wilderness; and to top all that, I’ve shared a dorm bathroom with a hoard of messy college girls, I kept telling myself. I’m ready for this. I will not be the camp cream puff. I will pee in the woods. I will take baths in the lake, and I will not scream when I see spiders, bats, snakes in the woodshed… or whatever creatures lurk in the corners of camp.

Camp Loseekum proved to be the perfect retreat from the craziness of everyday life. There was no T.V., no Internet connection, no modern plumbing (that means not only no toilet, but no shower either), and no microwave. Just a log cabin, rustic and unassuming, nestled in the woods with an expansive view of a quintessential Maine lake with its Hemlock-lined shores.

I quickly fell in love with the pristine beauty of the place – hearing the mournful call of the loons at night, seeing my very first moose swim across the lake and taking long walks in the woods. I loved sitting in an old rocking chair and watching flames devour kindling. When I wasn’t getting in touch with my inner outdoorswoman, I was absorbed in a good book. It may have not been an oceanfront condo, but it felt like a vacation.

Ah, but all good things must end. I’d handled the Georgian House like Laura Ingalls Wilder handled the prairie. But resolve quickly vanished when I dipped a toe into the frigid lake water.

You’re telling me I’m supposed to bathe in this freakin’ melted polar cap?

I sat outside staring at the water, feeling silly clad in a bikini made for the beach, wondering why I was such a big wuss. I ran my hand through my hair. It wasn’t too greasy yet (this was just my second day without bathing). It’s not like I could fry up a batch of McDonald’s fries with my body funk yet.

I’ll just wait until tomorrow and I’m sure it will get warmer.

Tomorrow came and a cold front moved through. My bikini came off and a sweater and a pair of faded jeans came on. I sat by the fire and pouted, feeling like such a sissy. I finally gave in. “Dave, do you think your uncle and aunt would mind if I took a shower at their place?”

Dave’s relatives live up the hill in a “real” house with all the modern amenities. They welcomed me with wide arms, but I couldn’t help but notice their smug looks, which seemed to say, Dave’s wife can’t cut in the woods. Whatever. So sue me. Bathing in 60 degree water isn’t a day at the spa for me.

We’ve been back to Maine two times since that first trip and I admittedly still sneak up the hill to shower, but I’m beginning to see why Dave’s family keeps coming back to this sanctuary in the woods. The camp has been in the family since the late 1800s and what the camp lacks in modern amenities, it makes up for in souvenirs of the past. There’s a family log with entries dating back to the 1940s that sits on the cabin’s bookshelf. Dave’s infant foot is traced in it and this summer we added our 9-month-old’s imprint to the pulp pages.

Not much has changed. You have to boil water to make it safe for cleaning (and drinking, although we buy bottled water). There’s a collection of furniture that was tenderly made by calloused hands, not by machines. Bright stars glitter in the sky as they did a hundred years ago because there are no blinding city lights for miles. An ancient woodstove stands in the kitchen. The smells of summers past – smoldering embers, Coppertone, tattered army blankets gathering dust, toasted marshmallows and fresh-picked flowers – linger, as do all the memories made here.

My summers here have just begun, but I am thankful that I have become a part of this tradition where simple pleasures rule. And while it’s not your typical posh getaway, there’s something comforting all the same about a place to which our children and their children can always return to and know that, long after the summer has passed, the memories live on.

No comments: