“Winter weather advisory for those considering hiking in the Katahdin area…” Conditions were just right for snowfall, three days before we would celebrate summer. One need only plan a vacation week in northern Maine to understand how little control we really have. My son Miles and I drive for hours, expecting to enjoy time together, catch fish and learn certain things about woods and waters and each year, we forget to bring some things but take back others. We go fishing for large and smallmouth bass and along the way, for perspective in the Maine woods. The way life should be.
Our Old Town Sponson Sport canoe disagreed with a long trailer ride over Maine backroads and gave up a small hole in her antique brass skid plate. At almost one hundred years old, she is entitled to revolt against such rough treatment. So we patched her up, asking for 24 hours of dry air to cure and refloat. It started raining two hours later. Then it really rained. Then it rained for 18 hours more. The canoe stayed on her trailer, coffee percolated and we laughed about packing three pairs of bathing suits while lighting an old Warner woodstove.
Everything seems different in the Maine woods
Each year, for a week, we stay at a small sporting camp south of the North Maine Woods, in old school log cabins built for bear hunters fancying firearms and whiskey more than sleeping and bathing. We used to tell everyone about this spot but then so did everyone else and now people from New York and New Jersey park in my spot which is only my spot for one week and only because I feel it should be. It still feels disrespectful, even if unintentional and has made me question my thoughts of possession.
A thousand feet off a paved road, down a long tote road blanketed with daisies and wild strawberries, my son and I explored land we recently purchased.
Over muddy deer tracks in old skidder ruts, we stepped under the canopy. It was dark, quiet, mossy green and pine brown. Everything swayed gently. Rolling a slight birch branch in my right hand, exposing an instinct for possession and control, I said “I bought all this. This is ours,” but before wet east winds could sweep those words away, I regretted each of them. I regretted passing on such thoughtlessness to my next generation. I knew precisely how new settlers tilled under thousands of years of Native American respect for land, turning harvests from gifts into economies. I remembered, thankfully, that this land is a privilege not a possession. Possession is a demon disguised with tradition.
By tradition, we pack for days. Actually, I pack for days, then repack, having forgotten what was packed after losing my what’s-been-packed list. Despite my excitement to go north, I don’t pack as early as in years past since our beloved family dog once sensed a departure without him, then left his mark of dissatisfaction on each pack and duffel bag.
Packing, fishing, repacking, fishing, packing again…
Now I sneak bags to our garage while he sleeps, understanding who is in charge.
We arrive in town, purchase perishables and beverages, drive six miles to camp, unpack then return to purchase all those items we forget from the list I left back home. We could save twelve miles and unpack in the grocery parking lot then just walk back inside. Even with all that, we have become accustomed to pancakes without syrup, seven days on one stick of butter and cards with no cribbage board. Watching winds shake down rods on the screened porch, we tweaked a small, weak FM radio to hear about vaccinations, riots against democracy and endless racist hatred. All we wanted was Joe Castiglione as bacon sizzled in a cast iron pan older than our ages combined, wondering how long our ice would last. It’s remarkable we remembered the cooler.
Eventually, in the woods, you remember what was forgotten. Over a woodstove, over by a two day rain swept window, remembering how good wool socks feel, even in June, you remember how to cup hands around a warm cup of coffee. We are so insulated now, carrying shiny metal vessels, dinged and stickered, shielding us from such good energy. Two hands and a body easily warmed. You remember perspective. We tried to shut everything off but even up here, as cell towers sprout like white pines, we can forget how it used to be, when signals weren’t even weak and radio was Bible talk or Bible song. That so many calls are important but can be answered later is something we all are forgetting.
On day three, the sun returned, waters calmed, dragonflies resumed their ageless mating dances as bass gorged on low flying, preoccupied partners and we sat in a dry canoe, staring a boxes of lures no bass would entertain.
Casting a red and orange popper, lowering the rod tip, retrieving on a three count to find that perfect plop-plop gurgle sound, we watched a largemouth bass fire up and inhale it. To capture the moment, I reached for my cell phone but I had forgotten in the cabin. Committing the pretty fish to memory, we both laughed and remembered why we drove for hours to be right here.