Category Archives: Camp

Camp Listening to the Dew: Nature Log Maine destinations

Fog travel

As night paled the outlines of the trees across the pond became more distinct. It wasn’t sunrise yet, but the dark had yielded. This is camp, where my toes at the foot of the bed are about twenty feet from the water’s edge. It is January, and the water is hard.

As smoothly as the horizon of trees had appeared, it disappeared. A white cottony mist obscured everything but a short stretch of ice in front of the cabin. I knew there was a cove across the pond, but I could not see it. I recall an old Rogers and Hammerstein musical, Brigadoon, where a traveler comes upon a village in Scotland which appears only once every one hundred years. I could not see the cove, and so had no proof it was there. It might have been carried off to join that fabled village, or something entirely different may have replaced it.

The mist became thicker, not moving or swirling, but waiting motionless above the ice.  I put on my creepers and headed out.

My husband joined me, and a few minutes from the camp the only thing visible was the bright fog and each other. Keeping the sun at my left shoulder, we cross the ice. The camp, the ice shacks, and the shoreline were all hidden. The sun was the only indication of direction, and even so it was easy to find ourselves walking first to the left, then to the right. We paused somewhere near the middle of the pond and did sunrise salutations, awkward in our snowsuits. Cobra, with my face lifted to the brighter patch of haze that hid the sun, brought me down to the ice, but the fog went right to the surface. There was no looking below it or over it, or around it. It was everywhere, and everywhere else was gone.

We are alone on the planet. A raven calls but other than that all is still, except for the occasional groaning of the ice. We are not on a pond in Maine, we are nowhere. The fog goes on forever, there is no other side of the pond, and the camp where we started has ceased to exist. We have been here days, perhaps centuries.  There is just white. No time, no space.

Driving along back roads on dark foggy nights we use words like pea soup to describe the intensity of the fog, or, here in Maine, the phrase dungeon thick.  The foghorn wails on those nights. That fog is a dense layer of cloud lying close to the surface of the ground that reduces visibility to a very specific number, less than .62 miles. One tenth of a mile more clarity, and it becomes mist.

Carl Sandburg describes it:

The fog comes
on little cat feet.

It sits looking
over harbor and city
on silent haunches
and then moves on.

But that is not this fog. This fog is eternity, and we will be here forever. We walk slowly, we run, it is all the same, we make no progress.

We stand, perhaps somewhere near the middle of the pond and decide to walk back toward the sun. The fog lets us go, and we hear voice shouting, ”Flag!” Stumbling and laughing we run to the tip-up, with its orange square of fabric bouncing gently. We pull up a perch, and head back to camp, a grey silhouette on the shoreline.

 

 

 

Camp Maine recipes

Another year, another camp tale

Snow patterns on Toddy Pond

Arrive in heaven, forty minutes.

The GPS gives me a countdown to arrival at camp; it is our first visit this winter, and a last-minute decision. Maine was hit with several feet of snow, the first snow of the season, and we knew the next several weekends were filled with family and trips. There was snow, freezing temperatures, and the only free weekend in sight, so off we went. Sometimes we make quite a production of going, planning menus, shopping, remembering the books, chess board, thermal socks, tea, and countless small details. Today we simply filled a box with whatever was in the fridge, and since that included a couple of lobsters, we were feeling pretty good.

At camp the sun is blinding on the ice, and while there may be work piling up at the studio, and contractors to deal with at the house we are finishing, here it is sun on ice, nothing else matters, or is even thought of.

We perform the rituals of opening camp. The door is unlocked, and I carry Drosselmeyer, our tough, solid Maine coon cat into the cabin. We start a fire, fill the wood box, and wear a path with our snowshoes as we bring in our hastily packed duffel bags, provisions and fishing gear.  At this point Dros is ready to explore, and he bounds out into the eighteen inches of powdery snow.  As he is only twelve inches tall, the snow confounds him. He leaps like a weasel, his back legs splayed out sideways as he humps his way up the hill. He’ll be back in an hour or so. I melt snow on the woodstove for him, and strain out the pine needles and moss using a coffee filter.

Gathering snow to melt on the woodstove

In addition to walking on ice and cooking on wood, my plan was to start developing ideas for the novel that has been festering. Instead I realize I will be writing about camp once again. In fact, I will probably write about camp every year. I hear the rumble as the pond makes more ice, stop writing character descriptions of the great people who seem to want to be in my story, strap on my creepers and head onto the lake. Plan house projects? Work on writing?  Forget all that. I just need to walk on ice. This is why I am here.

The surface is bubbled and lumpy, snow has melted then frozen, and the wind has carved both angular geometric patterns and soft undulating curves. The wind will continue to work its will on the pond until it is flat and shimmering, and ready to invite ice skaters. A loud crack, and I feel the ice tremble beneath my feet. A dry brown leaf taps and skids across the surface, escaping the land for an uncertain trip to the opposite shore. The ice bellows again. I don’t ever recall it being so vocal. I am told we will catch no fish today; they don’t bite when the ice is singing.

A stretch of black ice.

Camp is out of sight, and black ice stretches out at our feet. We can see cracks, and see that the ice is over eight inches thick. In Northeast Creek, Jordan Pond, and other places, the water is clear, and we lie down and watch the world beneath the ice. Here, it is just dark. I peer, and imagine shadowy figures swimming languidly beneath me, but they dissolve as I squint for a better look.

Back at camp we haul out the beach chairs my sister-in-law keeps tucked under the building. We unfold them out on the pond, staggering as the wind tries to grab them out of our hands. Firmly in place, we sip pale white wine, and watch the sun slide behind the trees, leaving the clouds glowing orange and pink like a melting Creamsicle.

End of day

There has been no flag, and no fish nibbled at our tempting live bait. This is the first time this has ever happened. We head into camp to crank up the stove to cook our lobsters. Dros bangs his head at the screen door; he is ready to come in. I scan our odd selection of goods, and plan a meal. Lobsters with fresh limes, focaccia with olive oil I have shaved our garden garlic into, and a cucumber and avocado salad.  We boil the lobsters on the stove, and give the shells to Dros, camp kitty, to devour. Camp games include chess, which we forgot to bring, Gestures and Scattergories. We rarely play games at home, but almost always do at camp, giggling and making up new rules, and tonight it is Scattergories. Then water is boiled on the wood stove to wash the dishes, and fishing gear is checked and prepped for the morning. Dark comes early at camp, and so does bedtime. I won’t say just how early we head to bed.

For tomorrow, there are a few potato pancakes from a family German dinner get-together, and a bit of my sister’s tangy, butter-tender Sauerbraten, to be warmed with a couple of scrambled eggs.

Tomorrow, when I wake, I will walk to a small cove where there is a beaver den. I will walk until I reach the sunlight. The sun comes up behind camp, and casts a shadow almost half way across the pond. When I finally reach the rays of the sun and feel its pale warmth on my face, I will do yoga, bundled and awkward in my snowsuit, which is affectionately called Mrs. Peel.

Will we then leave here and go home? Probably. But I can’t think about that now.

 

 

 

 

Cucumber Avocado Salad

Serves  four, unless you are at camp, where it serves two

 

Four medium pickling cucumbers, peeled, quartered lengthwise, and cut into chunks.

1 Haas avocado cut onto about ¾ inch chunks.

1 T olive oil, fresh pepper to taste

½ lime

1 T red pepper jelly, warmed

Put cuke and avocado chunks in a bowl, drizzle with olive olive, and gently mix together.

Squeeze lime juice over salad, blend in jelly, and season with S+P

 

 

 

 

Camp Maine recipes

World’s best chicken stew

Tomato red dutch oven, perfect for chicken stew

Today I made the world’s best chicken stew. This is a bold claim, and I do not make it lightly. I will never make this stew again, nor enter it in a contest, nor pass the recipe on to others. It was camp food, and like so many moments and parts of life at camp, it was created off-hand and unplanned, and cannot be repeated.

Chicken stew is not something I would typically make at home, but it is perfect food to cook on the woodstove at camp. Camp? The word has become part of my everyday vocabulary, but it is a concept I did not understand when I first moved to Maine. Camp was where I was sent as a kid, and slept on bunk in a cabin with seven other little girls. Camp was where I ate from a mess kit, and wrote notes home because we were told to. Camp is where I began to taste independence, and disappointed my mother by never getting homesick. Camp was for kids, not families.

In Maine, camp has a capital letter. It is a second home. It might be rustic and primitive, as is my husband’s family camp, or fully fitted with all the mod cons, which I think takes away most of the fun. It is a place the family goes to, together, every summer, and frequently in winter. It is usually less than an hour away, and most commonly on a lake. When my husband’s grandfather bought the lot on Toddy Pond, there was one camp. Today there are over eight camps, and four are owned by family members, including the camp we use, which belongs to my sister-in-law.

We go to camp to walk on ice, sit in the sun, read, ice fish and eat. The intent is to catch fish for dinner, but I always bring food in case we get no fish. When I first came here, I would plan meals, organize them at home, and with delight impose my vision of camp food on my husband. He and his family had opted for canned beans, hot dogs, Dinty Moore stew, and mounds of bacon. I was not convinced. I would bring assortment of condiments along, getting packed to go to camp, unpacked at camp, then packed to go home and finally, full circle, unpacked back at home. My checklist included every spice I might possibly want, olive oil, pickles, cheeses and a selection of cocoa and teas. His grandsons happily joined me wrapping potatoes in foil to tuck into the woodstove, and though skeptical, accepted my spicy Mayan cocoa. It was fun, but a bit complicated. Zip bags of marinated meat were sautéed with seasoned and prepped vegetables. Polenta needed more than its usual tending to prevent sticking as the temperature on the woodstove top fluctuated. Salad greens needed to be protected from freezing, as camp sometimes takes a few hours to get warm. It was a production, but as long as there was plenty of bacon my elaborate meals were tolerated.

The fact that I insisted on using the woodstove to cook on was also tolerated. There is a gas burner at camp, but the large, even, cast-iron surface of the wood stove, which was already burning to supply our warmth, could not be ignored. I learned to regulate the temperature by a combination of adjusting the damper, opening the door slightly, and adding wood in small regular amounts. Opening the door made an instant impact, but also made it impossible to stand right by the stove. If I wore anything with acrylic in it, I soon felt as though my legs were wrapped in fiery blankets, and about to combust.

Camp, fireglow from woodstove in one window, sunset reflecting in the other

Things have gotten a bit more relaxed. Now, I do very little planning. I raid the fridge and root cellar for whatever looks promising. We stop at a market on the way, grab some things, and off we go. A few years ago I made cock-a-leekie soup with my daughter to celebrate Candlemas, and since then a variation on this hearty chicken soup has become the easy no-thought meal that is part of a camp weekend. It is always good. Food at camp always is. It can simmer on the woodstove for hours without harm. The ingredients are never measured and always vary, but it is still chicken stew, and it is delicious. Today’s was outstanding.

I had grabbed a pile of potatoes and carrots from the root cellar, onion and garlic, and pulled a bag of Maitaki mushrooms we had gathered in the fall from the freezer. A few odd leftovers were tossed in the box, we bought some chicken thighs and a green pepper at the market, and that was it. We no longer really plan on eating our fish for dinner, but look forward to the stew. I used to wait and see if we caught fish before starting to cook, but now I just get that stew on the stove and get out on the ice.

My sister-in-law has one of my favorite cooking utensils. It is a tomato soup red Le Club dutch oven. I look forward to coming to camp for many reasons; the sun on the ice, the quiet, the distance from all the responsibilities back home, and for cooking in this pot. It sits flatly on the woodstove, takes heat evenly, and is really easy to clean.

There was no olive oil, so I peeled a few strips from the pack of bacon and let that render in the beautiful tomato red pot. Slivered garlic and sliced onion were added, turned translucent, then slightly brown at the edges. The chicken thighs were cubed, blessed with lots of black pepper, and tossed into the now sizzling pot. We always bring a generous supply of wine to camp, and so there was plenty to pour over the browned meat. I did not wait, but chopped in the carrots, a few pieces of potato, stirred it all up, put the cover on and went out to fish.

I checked it on occasion, adding a splash of wine or a pinch of salt. I only did these things to nurture the stew, it really was doing fine without any further aid from me. We caught fish. Some we gave back, and some, a half dozen white perch, were kept for tomorrow night’s meal. The sky began to darken and I went back to the warmth of the camp. The stew seemed a bit liquid, so the bowl of left over mashed potatoes, intended for breakfast potato cakes, was dumped into the stew and stirred in. The mushrooms, which had been sautéed in white wine with lavender and rosemary before freezing, were mixed in as well.

A loaf of bread was tossed on the hot stove next to the pot to get warm and crispy.
I settled into the couch to read, and heard a distant cry of “Flag” as the orange flag of one more tip-up sprang up-right, indicating another fish on the line.

The creamy texture was smooth, golden, and just the right distance between thick and thin. It was the most delicious chicken stew I ever had, until next time we come to camp.

Taking a break, back in May!

View from camp

Camp

Single Digits

A favorite place for morning yoga

A favorite place for morning yoga


We rarely have days when the temperature drops into the single digits until January or February. We live in Maine, so this is Fahrenheit and single digits are well below the freezing temperature of water. When this cold air arrives, we are ready. We have had at least a month of pre-winter, that nippy, sometimes snowy season that gets us prepared for real cold. This unofficial season is a training period, because every summer long days and a hot sun blur our memory of winter, and we have to learn how to deal with it all over again.

In November, we shiver at twenty-eight degrees, but we are wearing a lightweight jacket and no hat. By January we are tough. We are perhaps even a bit smug. “Look at us,” we say, our bodies sheathed in silk with layers of wool and a windblock topping. “We know how to deal with Old Man Winter.”

Each year when we unearth our winter paraphernalia we need to reacquaint ourselves with all the bits and pieces. There are balaclavas and goggles, glove liners and mittens, ice creepers, snow suits and warm furry hats. There is the world’s best foot cozy, neoprene Stormsocks that will keep the most wimpy feet in snug, dry warmth. We swagger, decked out in our winter wear, and we go out to play. Snowshoeing, skiing, standing on the ice fishing for hours, having an evening cocktail at twelve degrees by the bonfire, following animal tracks, how wonderful winter is we exclaim.

Winter is when we prefer to go to the family camp. We stand on the ice watching eagles and pulling up the occasional fish. If we get enough they will be dinner, but we always have a back up steak. Today we watched an eagle feed on a grey squirrel, saw a herd of seven deer chased onto the pond, and found that the beaver lodge that was active last year has been abandoned. We caught some fish, did yoga on a frozen cove, cooked eggs and toast on the woodstove.

Deer running on ice. Photo by Joyce Carey

Deer running on ice. Photo by Joyce Carey

The day has been long, most of it spent on the ice. It was nine degrees when we went out before breakfast, and was less when we headed in after sunset and a taste of peppermint liqueur. This last was supplied by a neighbor who came by on his treaded four-wheeler. He gallantly plucked etched shot glasses from his pocket as he shared his bottle with the few of us on the ice. We watched the golden orange clouds as the sunset, listened to the eagles chirping, and nodded appreciatively to each other. “Not many people have the chance to enjoy this,” we concurred.

Back in camp the snow that has come in during the day still sits in clumps on the kitchen floor. We have kept the woodstove going, the corner of the camp near it is warm, and soon the steaks are sizzling. Single digits a worry? We are in an uninsulated cabin, spent most of the day outside, and the colder the better. We heat water for washing and think with sympathy of those who live in a part of the world that has no word for ice.

Juvenile eagle at Toddy Pond

Juvenile eagle at Toddy Pond

We will go back to our other life tomorrow, but tonight we will peek at the moon on the pond through windows coated with frost, and recall our favorite cold night here.

There were no year round neighbors on the pond then, and no house lights could be seen when we looked out the window.

We came to camp with two of my husband’s grandchildren. The fishing was tough. We leaned into the wind to get on the ice, and made a wall of shingles to keep the freezing sleet from filling in the holes. It was the kind of cold that reminded you the elements are king, not us. Any mistake on our part could be fatal. This sounds melodramatic, but people die every year from forgetting winter is different. Each fish caught means peeling off gloves to pull it in, and all our hands were red and numb by the time we headed back in to camp for dinner and charades. The thermometer read -12, wind chill was well below that.

The kids tucked into sleeping bags were a few feet from the wood stove. The youngest said he would keep the stove going and he did. The brutal wind and openings in the walls sucked the heat out and he had to stuff more sticks in the stove about every half hour. Camp is at the bottom of a steep, and in winter, icy road. If we needed help it would not have an easy time arriving. By eleven the valiant grandchild was sleeping with deep sweet breaths, and it was our turn to man the fire. We sleep in a curtained alcove, and not much warmth reaches there. Ice on the inside does not melt. Under piles of down we are warm and content, but leaving that steamy cocoon to cross a cold floor to the wood box and back to the stove is not a pleasant task.

I said our turn, but it was not I slipping out from hot coziness every half hour. I did not even awake for many of the stove ministerings but when I did I offered drowsy encouragement, “Hurry up, you’ll freeze!” I called, tucking the blankets about my chin.

Long before light D. again put a few logs in the stove. I heard the stove door close, but he did not return to bed. Eventually, perplexed, I wrapped a blanket around myself and crept out into the frigid air. He was by the kitchen door, which still had snow mounded on the floor, and was pulling on his snowsuit. Shocked, I asked what he was doing. “I need to go out,” he said. This was the darkest hour before dawn. Probably wind chill of minus 30.

“No, no,” I said, “Use the chamber pot.” He looked at me blankly and repeated, “I have to go out.” He does sometimes talk and walk in his sleep. We have some very odd conversations; we call it talking on Channel One, as the first time this happened he said he was going to be interviewed by Channel One.

I tugged on his arm, soothingly, and started to lead him back to bed.

He pulled away and reached for the door. I shook him, “You are sleeping” I said, “Come back to bed.” I tried to pull his mittens off. He pushed me away. “It is minus 20” I said a bit loudly, and then, more loudly, “You cannot go out!”

He looked at me and said, “I started the car this afternoon, just to be sure to warm it up. I forgot to turn it off.”

I opened the door for him.

The Witch's House, an abandoned camp near ours

The Witch's House, an abandoned camp near ours.

More about camp: Why does my hair smell like bacon?

Why does my hair smell like bacon?

Camp

Why does my hair smell like bacon?

The first weekend at camp for the winter is anticipated, looked forward to, and the reality is always even better we remembered. Not many things are like that.

We unloaded our gear, the path was blocked by a huge mound of gravelly snow from the neighbor’s plow, but we hauled our stuff around and down the icy hill. Challenges just make it better. There were turkey tracks all around, lots of droppings, and a number of turkey paths. They have been roosting here. Drosselmeyer, our stout Maine Coon cat rescued last year squirmed out of my arms and was gone some worrisome hours, but came back when he got cold and hungry.

Being on the ice is always more breathtaking and magical than in memory. We started the wood stove, cut holes, set traps, and stood in the middle of this flat frozen field, the pond.

A bald eagle cruised by. We filled pails of pond water for dishes, and settled in. Two flags, no fish. But no cares.

No cares, and no frills. The snow tracked into the kitchen stays snow, but in front of the stove it is warm from knees up, so we curl on the couch and read the first chapter of Call of the Wild. This is our community selection for The Big Read, and while we were not members of the selection committee, it is an excellent choice. Wind howls, temperature drops to an unknown digit, and we warm ourselves by reading aloud. My husband Dennis, his two grandchildren (and my friends) ponder survival, and the stripping away of civilized behavior. How could Buck steal, and let a fellow dog take the rap? His choice to live, over dying, but civilized.

We play charades, and eat lobster bought at the wharf and cooked in melted snow, stoke the fire, and sleep.

It is has warmed up to 4 degrees when we venture out again in the morning. The sun is coming up over the trees. We do yoga, sunrise salutations in the middle of the ice, stretching out brilliant white around us as we stretch into a bulky snow-suited version of downward dog.

Approaching downward on ice

Approaching downward on ice

Then bacon and scrambled eggs cooked on the wood stove. The small cabin is filled with bacony smoke. I never cook it at home, the smoke alarms would be screaming, and it would be stinky there, but here it is camp. And delicious.

Duncan catches a fish. We cross the lake and follow a hare’s tracks in the ice, who foolishly crossed the wide expanse. We see the fox track, following the hare, but do not see the outcome. Survival. Or not.

We pack, and return to a world that has computers and plumbing and hot showers. I would not want to live without them. But I look over my shoulder, and am so very grateful that camp is there, and I can’t wait to go back.

The first bird I saw this year was a raven. I sit outside, in a chaise lounge in the snow, to write about camp, and two ravens circle above my head. Playing, touching and cooing. I swear it looked like courting, but way too soon. Then I realized it is already second week of January, and I have seen ravens starting nests in early February.