ANCHORS & SAILS: Life at the lake

Brenda Kelley Kim
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“The beauty of camping is in its simplicity. You’re brought back to a basic way of living.”

– Brendan Leonard

Is camping about simplicity? Oh please. Have you ever seen the directions for putting up a four-person tent? You’ll need a measuring tape, a hammer, and an engineering degree. Do you know the thermal dynamics and physics required to build a fire without matches? Oh, and don’t forget to study up on your botany, so you don’t eat the wrong mushrooms or wind up with Poison Ivy somewhere delicate and unscratchable. Camping is not simple.

I have friends who live to camp. They’re all about the tents, the campgrounds, hiking, fishing, and sleeping under the stars. It’s great for them; we all have travel preferences, hobbies, and activities we enjoy. I’ve just never seen the appeal of carrying everything I need to sleep and eat in the woods on my back while I hoof it through the trees trying not to get attacked by a vicious squirrel. It’s a real thing; somehow, probably because I used to shoo them away from the bird feeder in our yard, the squirrels have it out for me. Every time I set foot in nature (including the Boston Common), it’s like it goes out on the squirrel network that I’m trespassing on their turf and must be dealt some harsh forest justice, which probably involves them pelting me with their nuts.

For me, it’s about control. If I go on vacation to a resort or cruise ship, and it rains, I can go shopping, for a meal, or to a museum or a movie. If it rains on a camping trip? I’m stuck slogging through the mud or huddled in a tent, freezing my butt off for God knows how long until it stops or I get washed away in a river of boulders and tree branches. That doesn’t sound fun to me. If I’m camping and have to use the bathroom at night, a bear might think I’m a snack. The worst that happens on a cruise ship if I have to get up at night is that I might decide to hit up the midnight buffet for another round of dessert. I can’t make sure that my bed is next to the window if I’m camping because tents only have flaps, and if you open one at night, you’re the midnight buffet for every mosquito in a three-mile radius.

Mother Nature can be cruel, and, also, pro tip: very few forests have Wi-Fi. There is, however, one exception to my no camping rule: Vermont. I have a dear friend who has a gorgeous camp on a sloping lawn with views of Lake Champlain. It’s been in her family for over a hundred years, and every summer, relatives come and bring their pop-up trailers, fifth wheels, and, yes, pup tents to camp. There is a main house with several bedrooms, a communal kitchen, and a bathroom with a shower. The space is shared, and the wraparound porch is where spontaneous games of Yahtzee happen, babies get rocked to sleep, and the bay air provides a welcome breeze. There are just about eighteen glorious acres, with a stairway down from the lawn to a beach, a swimming float, and plenty of sand to dig your toes into. Then, around 4 pm, anyone at camp gathers in a circle of Adirondack chairs near the flagpole for cocktails, snacks, and family gossip. I’ve always marveled at how so many generations get along so well, but the rule is that if someone says or does something you don’t like, you’re only allowed to be mad about it for two days, then you have to get over yourself and drop it. It really works too.

Pretty soon, I get to head back up to the lake after the upheaval of COVID kept it closed to visitors. I always get treated to a room in the house because everyone knows I’m not a natural at this wilderness thing. I’m a fair-weather camper for the few days I’m there; I’m not actually roughing it. I sit by the bonfire, making S’mores and telling tall tales to little kids. I swim in the lake and do dishes by hand in a kitchen straight out of the 1940s. I pick blueberries in the back woods, read real books and stay off the Internet. It’s always amazing, and when I would take my children when they were little, I felt like somehow I was giving them a taste of the wilderness and some good memories. They could roam freely, swing on the tire hanging from a giant tree, and take advantage of my friend’s family members, most of whom are grandparents, aunties, and uncles who hand out cookies and other treats. They got to know who had the Hershey bars and who would slip them a popsicle on a hot day.

While I may not be a fan of wild open spaces, I am glad to be heading back to camp for another visit. Of course, I will be hot, sweaty, and bug-bitten for most of it, but the few days while I am there will be some of the summer’s best, I’m sure. Life at the lake can be both a voyage and an anchor to times gone by. What could be better than that?

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