Thursday, May 21, 2015

Dave Gibson: Opening Camp

Slides038I was traveling with a friend recently and she spoke about opening her seasonal Adirondack camp this month.

Having a workable, effective routine over the 50 or so years she’s owned it makes a very big difference, she said.  Actually, if you close camp properly, she opined, opening it becomes a lot easier.  I worked summers at a boys’ camp. I can relate to the importance of a comprehensive “closing camp” routine that saves much effort come the following May or June.

That led me to think more about opening an Adirondack camp. There is a lot to be done, especially if there is running water, waterfront, and a dock or two to be concerned about. But one must not forget the most important step on the list – to breathe deeply and to proclaim out loud “great to be here”!

Our Adirondack camp is rustic, with no waterfront; running water comes off the hill, disappearing and reappearing, with various efforts over the years – now rotten – to create small dams and settling basins from which to dip a pail. Opening camp usually takes the simple forms of sweeping out the Norway Spruce cones brought in by red squirrels, shaking rugs, airing out, maybe shoring up the front porch, bucking up some downed trees.  The skilled effort was on display last fall by the hunting party who shares our camp. They replaced the brittle wood stove pipe that sticks out from the kitchen. In earlier falls, the same club dug out the outhouse (or little house out back), and put steel roofing on the shed. Beautiful work.  Like my friend said, if you have a good fall closing (and fall friends) opening is a lot less work.

Back to the most important step. Wilderness conservationist Paul Schaefer owned this camp and in his later years was fond of arriving, sitting on his rocker on the porch and saying “great to be here.” Then he might direct someone else to do the things he would have done 10, 20 years earlier, like cleaning out the settling basin and getting water to run freely again to camp by gravity feed.  “Liquid gold,” Paul called it. Or finding the last apple on an old apple tree that Paul remembered from many decades ago, long since shaded out. Mostly, Paul just wanted to talk, and we were ready to listen.

By far the most important tradition in opening camp, actually on every camp visit, is to read the camp log or journal. A visitor who takes the time to contribute to the camp journal tells us that those who visit value their visit. We are on our fourth journal since 1994. Volume 1 begins with some of Paul’s final entries until July 1996 on his final trip. Paul would typically write practical notes and diagrams to help those who joined him at camp: location of the electrical outlets, where the kindling is found and where to get more, admonition to make some for the next visitor.

After 1996, there are some great entries.  Paul’s and our friend Don gets an A for his writing and expressiveness, as do members of Don’s family and Tom,  Ken and Dan.  There are plenty of humorous incidents to recount, but mostly there is the fireplace, the stove, the wind and the weather.  The Englishman Paul, who liked to use camp in the dead of winter, split wood at negative 10, and left us the best Scottish malt whiskey as thanks.

Members of the hunting party are typically good about signing in. Writers include whatever comes to mind – the raven protective of her next who objects to a visit, the wildflowers, the mountain, the weather. Then, there are one-time visitors, who may never to return, youth who may have never visited an Adirondack camp before. They are very expressive. It’s so quiet here, wrote one. I hope to return, writes another. Not being at camp, I don’t have the journals to quote from. Maybe in a future post, I will. Meanwhile, I encourage other writers to dust off their camp’s journal, or start one. When you’ve finished with the water line, the dock or repairing a window, sit a spell and read from it. Remember, it’s great to be here.

Photo: Paul Schaefer at camp, c. 1995.


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Dave Gibson, who writes about issues of wilderness, wild lands, public policy, and more, has been involved in Adirondack conservation for over 30 years as executive director of the Association for the Protection of the Adirondacks, executive director of Protect the Adirondacks and currently as managing partner with Adirondack Wild: Friends of the Forest PreserveDuring Dave's tenure at the Association, the organization completed the Center for the Forest Preserve including the Adirondack Research Library at Paul Schaefer’s home. The library has the finest Adirondack collection outside the Blue Line, specializing in Adirondack conservation and recreation history. Currently, Dave is managing partner in the nonprofit organization launched in 2010, Adirondack Wild: Friends of the Forest Preserve.

4 Responses

  1. Joe Hansen says:

    Long live Rule #1!

  2. Paul says:

    We draw our water by pump from the lake. It is always fun to see that start working again each year. It is really amazing how the place seems like you just left it last fall (if you are lucky). Nice article.

  3. Bruce says:

    I don’t own a camp, but wish it were possible so I could indulge in the little nuances and sometimes hard work involved with having one.

    This year will be our 6th year in a row renting a camp for a week on Sixth Lake. The camp is owned by a life-long resident who’s father started building it before WWII. We like to visit towards the end of June, before the main tourist crunch hits the region. Being a bit early, we get to see some of the opening procedures first hand…extending the permanent dock with a wheeled section, completing the flower beds, putting out the summer furniture and picnic tables, marking the swimming area with float lines, painting, repairs, etc.

    We’ve developed close relations with the owner and also a lovely gentleman and his wife who started by going there on vacation, and are now permanent summer fixtures who both work there. After our first year, we discovered that same camp was popular with one of my relatives when their children were growing up in the 60’s. A few years ago, the owner purchased a winter home near where we live, so we occasionally get together in the winter for dinner or a visit. I’m going to suggest to him that we start a camp journal each visitor, many of whom are “regulars” like us, can add to.

  4. Bill Colucci says:

    “Remember, it’s great to be here”.

    Amen to that!!

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