The night before leaving Maine, I became a bit wistful. As another year’s visit to “Camp Schechter” came to an end, I wished we were staying longer.
My wife is right: I am more relaxed there than anywhere else.
The setting is idyllic: two simple cabins, in a woods, just steps from a lake, in an area less frequented by tourists. What makes this place special can be found in photographs displayed in the larger, green cabin — successive generations in the same surroundings.
That history began some eight decades ago, with my paternal grandmother and great-aunt. My brother the rabbi now holds the title. His maintenance and mechanical skills make it possible to live in a cabin where the inner wall is the outer wall, room partitions stop short of the ceiling, the kitchen is functional, and one does not luxuriate in the shower.
Having no such skills, I cut brush and paint; this year, the exterior of the smaller, white cabin, which I joke is held up by coats of paint applied over the years. As a boy, I painted the same boards with my father.
Nine summers have passed since his death, but memories of my father are ever-present. I can sit in his rocking chair and watch the sunset from the same vantage point that he enjoyed.
Dad considered any day spent on the water to be a good day. In the canoe, the Navy veteran steered from the stern while I sat in the bow. “Put the wood in the water” was his way of telling me to talk less and paddle more.
I like to kayak early in the morning, when the lake is quiet, before a bugle call over a loud speaker rousts the nearby boys camp. On a really good day, I go out again as the setting sun shimmers on the water.
Each time, I hear Dad’s exhortation, “put the wood in the water.” And each time, I lift the paddle out of the water, let the kayak drift, and talk to my father, about the family and the beauty of the lake.
Seeing loons and hearing their distinctive call is a special treat. As many times as I have ventured out of our cove and into deeper water, I had never seen more than three together.
Until this year.
We — my wife, our youngest son, and I — arrived mid-afternoon on a Sunday. An hour or so later, after getting ourselves settled in the green cabin, we unchained the kayaks and unlocked the shed holding the paddles and life jackets.
There were five loons, identifiable by their black-and-white plumage. They seemed not to regard our kayaks as a threat, unlike the motor boats that churn the water. We approached within a dozen or so feet, lifted our paddles and watched. After a while, marveling at our good fortune, we went our way and the loons went theirs’.
Beyond the charm of exchanging our routines at home for the less harried life at the lake — and swapping Atlanta’s swelter for Maine’s cooler temperatures — we began the trip with a special occasion.
We usually fly to Portland, then drive the 75 miles to the cabins. This year, for a variety of reasons, we flew to Boston, where one of my sisters lives. That decision was one factor that made possible a reunion with my two brothers and two sisters (I am the oldest), and our 93-year-old mother, who traveled from Chicago with my other sister. We were last together at a niece’s wedding four years ago.
My mother was delighted, seeing not only her five children, but also four of her 11 grandchildren. I genuinely was surprised when presented with a cake to celebrate my birthday a few days early.
A hard rain fell the night before we left Maine, but ended in time for one last morning outing on the lake before following my brother’s checklist of duties before locking up.
My antidote for stress is to think of myself in the kayak, taking in the sky, the woods, and the water in a place where, admittedly, I am more relaxed. So, after pulling shut the door and turning the key, I walked to the water’s edge and took a lingering last look at the lake and the cabins.
That will have to sustain me until I return to Camp Schechter.