The other day my wife and I were invited to a barbeque at what a friend called his “camp.” Having been to a Maine camp or two over the years I knew all about “going up to camp” and expected to find a traditional rustic place down a long, rutted dirt road deep in the Maine woods, where black flies outnumbered mammals about a trillion to one.
I guess I hadn't kept track of things lately and had no idea how well my friend had been doing or, for that matter, how Maine camps had changed when I wasn't paying attention. The “camp” we arrived at was a modern two-story, 10-room, 4-bedroom dwelling with two-and-a-half baths, two satellite dishes and a sprawling kitchen that must have cost as much as two or three SUVs. I happened to think of the kitchen comparison because my friend, as it turned out, had two slick, new SUVs sitting side by side in the dooryard.
I was too stunned to even notice the black flies.
The whole experience made me think of Albert “Bud” Leighton, our old neighbor back home, who had a camp in Rockwood Township. (You never called him “Al” for short, he was either “Albert” or “Bud.”) When I once asked him if Rockwood was one of Maine's organized or unorganized townships he just said folks in Augusta call it “unorganized,” but to him it seemed to run a lot smoother than the so-called “organized” towns he's dealt with over the years.
Bud would often talk about all the things that happened to him while at camp. He said he was once chased by a bull moose and was lucky to escape with his life. Another time he told a story about the worst thunderstorm he'd ever been through, saying huge, angry, dark clouds rolled in from nowhere to block out the sun, and then the skies opened up and it rained like he'd never seen it before. There were deafening claps of thunder and lightning bolts and while he was crossing from the tool shed to the camp he was struck by lightning and was knocked out cold. Bud said he didn't know how long he was out no one else around camp to time it. “I thought the old lady had hit me with her cast-iron frying pan,” Bud said.
But his wife, Evelyn, as the rest of us called her, couldn't have hit him with a frying pan because she never went to camp. In fact I never got invited up to Bud's camp and I don't remember Bud mentioning anyone else ever going up with him, either. Instead, every year around this time, Bud would load up his pickup and head to camp. He said he had to get it ready for summer. Then he'd go back about every other weekend, saying he had to see how the fish were biting.
Bud always came back from camp in summer with some great fish stories, but as far as I know he never brought one fish back to share with Evelyn or to show some of his skeptical neighbors. He always claimed the fish were too delicate for the overland trip home and would probably go bad before he was halfway there. Hunting season, it was the same thing. Bud claimed he always got his deer up there but shared it with the folks in Rockwood who he said were needier than he was.
Bud never went to camp in winter. He claimed most of the roads up there weren't passable after Christmas and so he'd always close it up after hunting season.
Recently, Bud got tired of his camp, sold it and bought a new pickup. Bud says his new truck is a beauty, but so far no one has seen it, and as far as I know, no one's been invited to ride in it.