This past weekend held some firsts for me.
For nineteen years, friends have been inviting me to stay with them at their family camp in the Adirondack mountains. And after nineteen years, I finally made it. Each summer past, something has come up that has prevented me from getting there. Competing vacation plans. Hurricanes. Flooding. Power outages.
This year, as it turned out, there was nothing to save me.
Each time, it’s been the same. Exclamations commence at Christmas time: “Now, this year, you absolutely have to come with us up to camp! It’s so beautiful and peaceful! The sunsets! Very cozy…”
And just as regularly, the exclamations give way to a sudden biting of nails and a recitation of the same disclaimers.
“Just keep in mind, it is very small and rustic.”
“There’s no running water, so you’d have to bathe in the lake.”
“And, of course, it’s an outhouse situation. But you don’t mind, do you?”
“Oh, and there are bugs. Lots of bugs. Are you OK with spiders?”
To hear them talk, one would assume I was made of the most fragile glass, liable to shatter at the first strong breeze. And this coming from two women in their fifties.
The truth is, while I have always wanted to go and share this experience with them, I have had a certain amount of apprehension at the thought, surely to blame for the list of cautions.
This year, as the time approached with no natural disasters to save me once more, I did begin to feel increasingly anxious. Was I really that much of a lightweight that I couldn’t handle camp living for a few days? I began to think through each possible reason for my misgivings; and one by one, I crossed them off the list.
Sure it might be small, and there would be eleven of us in a 200-square-foot space. But these are all close friends, and I enjoy their company.
I’ve bathed in lakes before, having white water rafted the Colorado for days. And an outhouse is a step up from what that trip offered by way of bathroom accommodations.
Bugs? While I’d rather not have them cuddled up with me in bed, they really don’t bother me and I have no fear of them.
So what was it? Where was this anxiety coming from?
As the complicated ride situation to and from began to be put into place, I found my answer. I realized that, since I’ve had a license, I have never traveled more than an hour-and-a-half or two tops in someone else’s car.
The camp was more than five hours away.
Yes, that was definitely it:
my car + me at the wheel = freedom and control
In my car, I can pull off the road any time I like for a break – for as long as I like. I can change routes at will, or even turn around and go back home if the mood strikes me. Understand, it’s not that I would do these things – it’s just that I’d know I could do them if I wanted to.
It leaves choices. I like to have choices.
As it was, there was not enough room for my vehicle, even if I had wanted to take the chance, driving a car with 280,000 miles on it that far. So, if I were to go, it would mean placing myself at the mercy of another person. Once I committed and we were on our way, there would be no turning back. I’d be stuck until the appointed return time.
It was all very suffocating to think about. I am not lying.
Now, this all rather bothered me – this realization that, at my age, I was still susceptible to such silly fears. While chiding myself about it did little to relieve my apprehension, I decided once and for all that I was going. I constantly encourage others to step out of their comfort zones and take risks; to wimp out would make me a hypocrite. It was me against the beast, and I would tame it, by sheer force of will if necessary.
And so I got in that car. I buckled myself in the back seat. And I laughed in the face of fear (silently, so no one would make fun of me). And after those five-plus hours of winding roads and ramshackle towns in the middle of nowhere and a deluge of a rainstorm pounding the car, we arrived at our destination in one piece.
The camp seemed even smaller than it had been described. One could not open the front door and step into the tiny square of a “kitchen” if anyone else were in there at the time, and a system not unlike a revolving door was devised.
Inside, the small main room was a hodgepodge: a small table with four camp chairs; four more camp chairs in a semicircle around a stone fireplace; a sofa-couch-bed strewn with pillows; a refrigerator; bookshelves laden with old and classic books, like tomes in a castle library; lanterns hanging; pictures and memorabilia covering every inch of wall; journals hanging from twine, in which were a century of visitors’ handwritten notes; various and sundry items everywhere, each with a rich and interesting history of how it came to be there.
To the side was a closet posing as a bedroom, in which were kept two small beds and an equal amount of “stuff” hung and leaned and balanced every which way, and in every available space, from floor to rafters. And beyond the main room was a narrow screened porch, overlooking the mountains, lake and decks.
Outside was “Kim’s Cabin” – another building no bigger than a shed, which presumably would sleep four. And a tent had also been erected to sleep two more.
We arrived near ten at night, and immediately food appeared from seemingly nowhere. Spaghetti and homemade sauce. Salad with garlic and garden-grown tomatoes. Bread. Ginger cookies. Caramel brownies.
The nerves of the trip already a thing of the past, the weekend had begun in earnest. I was there with the best people all snug around me. Eating. Talking by the fire. Laughing. Planning our adventures.
Later that night, sitting out in the aptly-named Adirondack chairs on one of the decks above the lake, some of us watched for stragglers from the Perseids. After a few quick glimmers here and there, we were rewarded with the most brilliant specimen I’ve seen to date – bright and blazing, its tail long and slow in a sky extraordinarily clear and star-filled.
All was right with the world.
By mid-day Saturday, we were all remarking that the cabin – which had seemed so tiny and cramped the day before — seemed to have grown and become quite comfortable and roomy. There was even an impromptu dance party in the kitchen, which had miraculously gotten bigger somehow, as well.
Time slowed down just for us, with plenty to spare for snacking, reading, swimming, chatting, hiking, napping. Twenty-four hours felt like a week.
By the second night, camp life had set in. Even the resident chipmunk, who tenaciously managed to find his way inside despite our best efforts, was more a welcome guest than a cause for irritation or alarm. “Chippy’s back,” someone would say nonchalantly, before continuing unperturbed with their reading or a game of cards, leaving the little rascal to scurry around our feet and eventually find a door.
And I began to realize on a deeper level than even my everyday life affords, just how little we really need, in order to live and be happy. Bigger doesn’t necessarily mean better. More isn’t always more.
When the time finally came, I was a little sad to go. This adventure – these moments – would never be repeated. They were their own. And while I enjoyed a hot shower and a queen-sized bed with seven pillows in an air-conditioned room upon my return, these things all felt different somehow.
They felt extra – bonuses in a life already too generous.