It is July and my monthly trip to camp in Maine unfolds. This time Patti and I decided to break up the long drive north at the halfway point with a three week stay in Kennebunk, home of the summer residence of President Bush. I thought we should alert the Bush family that we were coming but given that I have never met them Patti wisely talked me out of it. Maybe we’ll bump into them. The gossip about the Hamptons being overrun by post-covid traffic proves true. The trip from home in East Hampton to the cross-sound ferry on the North Fork at Orient Point usually takes less than an hour. The lines were so backed up for the ferry at Shelter Island it added an extra hour to the trip. By the time we got to Orient Point, we were the last car onto the stern of an old, rumbling, rusted behemoth aptly named “New London,” also our destination port in Connecticut.
The New London was packed with vacationers, so we made our way to the upper deck to escape the unmasked crowds. We found a vacant bench and took in the water views, serene but for the noisy stream of dogs and youngsters running the around the perimeter of the deck and up and down the stairs. The brisk winds kept me from opening the New York Times, as did the heaving of the ship in rough waters. At least there was no traffic. As we moved closer to shore, we could see the shipyards of General Dynamics with submarines in the process of completion. Pretty cool how they manufacture a submarine. They start above water then submerge the hull while they work the interiors. As the ferry pulled into port, we navigated the crowds back down to our car, finally making our way off the New London ship, into the New London traffic. The busy roads were a clear indication that people are traveling post-covid. Patti said perhaps next year they will drive to Europe. She is so observant. So far, it was a four- hour trip that should have taken less than three hours. Oh well–its vacation not work I guess.
Now I had lunch to look forward to which for me is as important as getting to the rental house in Kennebunk. But then things took an unexpected turn. On Rte 490 near Worcester, Mass., we heard the sudden and unpleasant sound of metal dragging beneath the car. Could it have something to do with my backing up the car this morning, turning around in the driveway and feeling a bump? Whatever it was we had to pull over. I spied an exit with a sign for a body shop and headed for it. We parked and I went in nonchalantly, pretending I needed a restroom— which I desperately did. A young man pointed toward a door in the back among the shelves of tools and car parts. “By the way,” I asked, “do you have a minute to look at my car? We ran over something in the road, and it damaged something underneath. I’m concerned it may cause an accident.” He agreed to look at it, but we would have to wait–and so would lunch. Seems something rather large got caught under the tail pipe and tore it clean off. Well, an hour and a half and $100 dollars later–and a piece of the bumper in my hands–the car was repaired and, most importantly, we had directions to a diner up the road.
The best part of the trip so far was beginning. The diner was a throwback from the 1950s. Not a replica but the real thing. Six wooden booths and a dozen vinyl covered stools at a counter. Behind the counter was a small grill used for everything from breakfast through dinner. It was the kind of place I recall from my youth in upstate New York and during the 1960s in the Hamptons. All are gone now, replaced by either fast food or fancy gourmet restaurants. Whatever happened to the great American diner? The crowd in this one was diverse and lively. The woman behind the counter represented the third generation of the same family of owners. Patti’s hamburger and my omelet were delicious and lunch for two was an exorbitant $25. Before leaving I took some photos around the place and the owner didn’t seem to mind. We left Worcester satisfied. Patti was now talking to me after I damaged her car and my stomach was full. Oh – and I can’t forget to mention the French fries. They were the old-fashioned kind-hot and not greasy. These days what you usually get is oily and room temperature. Anyway, the rest of the ride was uneventful and by the time we got to our house on the shore of Kennebunk, I was ready for a nap. As we unpacked, I noticed the tide was out. I took a deep breath of sea air, and it was grand.
I have only recently returned from camp after spending Father’s Day week there, with my eldest daughter Kara and her husband Peter. The weather at camp was in and out every day – partly cloudy in the morning and a bit of afternoon rain. Weather notwithstanding, there were plenty of fish—trout and bass. Sharing a 20-foot grand canoe with one of your kids is a great opportunity for communication— neither of you have anywhere to run. But those few moments in time when father and daughter talk to each other looking directly into each other’s eyes are worth all the effort. This floating trip was a first for us both down the Mattawamkeag River from Danforth to the Bridge at Drew Plantation. Kara and I had done a similar float trip in Montana when she was a teenager. Casting to the shore and that instant take on top of the water is very thrilling. Keeping my balance is a bit of a challenge but I did not fall in this time. Greg, our fishing guide, paddled most of the way with a bit of help from the 8 HP motor to get us home for dinner. The day ended with a few casts off the dock and to my surprise I hooked a fat bass right off the rocks no more than 20 feet from camp. The flight home from Bangor was calm and uneventful–the cell turned off and the NY Times in hand catching up on news after a week of
withdrawal. The weather on my return was cool and unceremoniously dismal for July 4 . I thought of making a fire in the library. I went down to the basement and sought out the wood pile that had lain unused during covid, hidden in the corner behind cartons of stored clothes. The warmth from the fire was a charm and reminded me of so many evenings at camp, ensconced with a good book in front of the hearth. I looked among the shelves in the library for something to read. On the shelf to my right was a collection of books on fishing that I had accumulated since the early 1970s. Scanning the titles I came to a small book of poems, Fishing the Morning Lonely by George Mendoza. I glanced through it and fell upon the title poem, which so beautifully captures the serene sense of perspective one gains when immersed in nature.
“Fishing the morning lonely / I’m looking up at the sky / telling myself / why I’m who and how do you do / black and yellow waxwing / why can’t I fly like you…
Fishing the morning lonely / is dreaming in the sky / and looking at your face in a milkweed ball and packing up all your possessions / in the petals of a flower / Don’t look for me
for I’m clear through / invisible / when I’m on the river /fishing the morning lonely”
I often fish the morning lonely at camp, in the very early hours of the day. Before anyone at camp arises, I head out to the dock and cast off among the rocks where the bass rest. Always a short cast with a yellow hopper. A ratty old fly tied by a fisherman of old, handed down to me by his grandkids when they cleaned out the garage for a yard sale. There are plenty of these yard sales in my town now now that many of the old families are selling off to New Yorkers who want a piece of the Hamptons. Grandpa’s old grease-covered fly box filled with handmade rusty lures and some flies—his grandkids remembered that I fish and they dropped the box off at my office. What an amazing gift. I use them all the time. In fact, I am trying to duplicate some of them with a beginner’s fly-tying kit from Orvis. I will fish the morning lonely for as long as I can fix my early morning coffee and walk unassisted down to the dock for the first cast of the day.
I returned to camp for a full week. I try to come up North for a week every month through September. The flight from JFK was unremarkable–on time and a smooth hour ride on a large Delta aircraft. Driving down camp road is always a bit exciting and my heart does a brief skip or two upon reaching 239 Boulder Road. I jump out of the car to run down to the dock to check out the lake and my fleet. This year I added an East Grand 20-foot canoe that is a bit more stable than my old aluminum Grumman that capsized last year with me in it. Next to it should have been the new-old boat that was an 80th birthday present from Lori and Ted last summer. But it didn’t make it through the season this year, which brings me to the bad news.
A couple of weeks ago, after I had already returned to Florida from my trip in May with my grandson, Greg was off fiddleheading somewhere when a tornado-like storm blew in and tore my new- old fishing boat off its mooring and rammed it into the dock and rocks below it. The boat was shattered, the engine destroyed beyond repair. Losing the boat was a terrible blow to all of us, especially Greg, as he is the caretaker of the property and was not on site to get the boat out of the water. He recounted the day’s events to me as they unfolded on that Sunday morning. The temperature suddenly dropped some 20 degrees. Greg and his friend Jimmy were off in the backwoods to get in the last of the season grab on fiddlehead fern, a delicacy of the north country. The guys had set out before daybreak while Katie, Greg’s partner, and Darcy, his daughter, were still asleep in their cabin. There had been no forecast of a storm. It descended suddenly from the northeast, which means Canada and even further north. Waves were reportedly seven feet over the dock. The picnic table was submerged. Greg grew up on East Grand Lake and said he hadn’t seen a storm like that since he was a kid and the waves reached his grandparents cabin, which is still there and next door to mine.
Well, it was a grand slam storm as they say up here. And as they say down in East Hampton, it wasn’t arms and legs. Thankfully no one was hurt, and the water never made it to my cabin. Anyway, I alluded to the good news at the beginning of this column. Sitting in my front yard like a proper Mainer is a new new-old fishing boat all in red with white vinyl seats and a 30 HP vintage Johnson motor. Seems Darcy found it in New Hampshire on some website. Darcy the trooper went for a ride in her F150 and came back trailering my new new-old boat. Today the threatened rain never materialized, and Greg is about to put the new boat in the water. My daughter Kara, her husband Peter and I will go out fishing in Dark Cove where Greg is reporting that the bass are plenty and there are a few trout left. I am eternally hopeful and will report back next week.