For some reason I am extremely goal-oriented. All my life I’ve busily set up goals for myself that, more often than not, I have never met. Even on vacation, when most normal people want to lie down on a beach with a good book, I set up goals, things I need to accomplish. The Trail to Blueberry Point from the Camp on Bog Lake was one of those elusive goals.
Back in 1988, after my mother married the handsome, rugged scientist, Henry Sands Slayter, we were introduced to his family’s hidden getaway in Down East Maine. In the 1960s on a whim after reading an ad in The Wall Street Journal, my step-father’s father had bought a mile of lake-front property on a large, remote lake (unfortunately and unfairly named Bog Lake given that there is nothing boggy about it) with acres and acres untouched woods.
In 1970, Henry, my step-father, painstakingly built a little log cabin with bunk beds, wood stove, table, and a porch. He and his first wife, Elizabeth, would bring my two step-sisters, Elspeth and Abby, to this isolated cabin in the woods and would lead a “Little House in the Big Woods” existence during the summer– living as simply as possible in harmony with the wilderness. Henry would fish for bass and white perch, and they would cook dinners over a campfire.
Over the years, Henry finished another bigger cottage that his father had started on the property with a large living room and big windows right on the lake, kitchen, bathroom and a couple of bedrooms. No luxuries for Henry though; he wanted to keep it rustic. No electricity, no phone line and the only water we got was from the lake with two red hand pumps that Henry installed.
Over time my family became attached to the Bog Lake Camp visits– we swam, canoed on the lake, picked blueberries, and cooked dinners on gas burners or the wood stove. Dinners were always at a long table dotted with candles with the moon and the stars shining through the living room windows and the calls of the loons adding eerie background music. Every year we would have one big lobster-night and feast on lobster bought from the Buck’s Harbor lobster pound.
It took my new Italian husband some time to adjust to Bog Lake when we first visited in 1993. After hours in the car from Boston up to Northfield, Maine we drove down the bumpy, curving dirt track towards the house with Gustavo peering around suspiciously expecting an angry moose or a wild bear to jump on our car. When we got out of the car my extended family emerged joyfully from the cabin to greet us. Elspeth says she still remembers the shocked expression on Gustavo’s face as he looked about him and said, “And where is the house?”
The difficulties for a city boy didn’t stop there and it did not take me long to become aware that “urban Rome meets rural Maine” was going to present some challenges. Gustavo soon realized he could not live without his cell phone access. “Hey, I’m off to the telephone tower,” he would call out cheerfully, heading for the car as the rest of us headed for the canoes. He had discovered that by driving out to the main road and then several miles down to the intersection with Route 9, standing under a cell phone tower he could get his daily dose of communication with the rest of the world. Then he could come back and relax in forested isolation. But that didn’t last for long, after all cell-phones are one thing, email and internet another. It was not long before Gustavo discovered that he could drive 12 miles into the town of Machias, and set himself up in the University Library where he would have internet access. And the library had a bathroom too! Ah, he loved that!
Once he established his modern-technology outlets, the transplanted Roman was able to enjoy the camp more. He grew to love canoeing around Tobey Island in the middle of Bog Lake at dusk and joining Henry for early morning swims as the mist was rising off the lake before our customary big blueberry pancake breakfast.
For our three children, the visits to Bog Lake became an important part of their education. The Maine woods are a far cry from Rome. My son Nico was taught to fish by his Nonno Henry and to climb to the highest branches of trees; my daughter, Caterina, learned the joy of catching frogs, and Chiara discovered she loved blueberry picking, and swinging in a hammock with a good book. From walking on cobblestones past ancient monuments these urban Romans learned to silently slip down wooded paths.
Basic hygiene was always a bit rustic at the camp. There was the regular bathroom with the pump to flush the toilet, or the latrine out behind the cabin. Sometimes I opted for the woods. It just seemed easier to expose my backside to a few mosquito bites– and a potential bear claw– than to face the hairy spiders in the latrine or the challenge of the pump. I used to finish off my summer with perfectly toned arms after all that water-pumping.
I seem to have blocked it from my memory but Elspeth remembers clearly Gustavo’s concern over the whole bidet question. There was no bidet available at the Camp. (see post on The Fabulous Bidet) Apparently on one visit Gustavo took my three young Italian-American children into the bathroom and explained to them how they could improvise a bidet with buckets, pumped water and soap. I am sure they really listened to that lesson.
Shampoos, however, were popular with the girls. We always did that in teams of two. Dressed in our bathing suits, we dragged a big tin bucket of lake water into an open patch in the woods and while one was doing the soaping up, the other would be preparing to pour the water onto the sudsy head. This required frequent trips back and forth from the lake to refill the tin bucket and resulted in lots of giggles and silliness.
Gustavo was not the only person to take some time to adjust to the style of the camp. My cousin pulled up for a weekend with a new girlfriend who, after a swim in the lake, came over to us evil sisters and said, “so, where can I plug in my hair-dryer?” We suppressed our giggles before one of us answered, “you will have to drive 18 miles before you can plug that thing in.” Poor thing, I think that weekend pretty much did in their relationship and to this day we still cruelly joke about that “plug in the hair-dryer” chick.
As the family expanded, my sisters enjoyed getting all the kids involved in art projects on a picnic table at the camp– finger-painting, making earrings, preparing a pirate’s night at the camp, complete with treasure chest and hunt.
So, while my children were happily engaged, I launched myself on my mission — blazing a trail to Blueberry Point. Blueberry point was about three-quarters of a mile along the lake shore, a small point jutting out into the lake with a pine tree at the end of it. The whole point was thickly covered with wild blueberry bushes. For years we had all canoed down to the point to fill up bags and containers with sweet, wild blueberries. But I wanted to be able to walk there from the camp and, besides, I felt the place needed a lakeside trail.
So one year Henry provided me with a collection of big, sharp tools and an old work shirt and I started my project. Abby joined me and we threw ourselves into it, chopping, clipping and throwing branches out of the way. After three hours of huffing, puffing and sweating, we had managed to make a path about six yards (meters) long. But Abby and I are not quitters, never have been, and vowed to carry on. Besides, there was nothing better than a swim across the lake, an early-evening drink and a hearty dinner by candlelight after hours of sweating in the woods. Year after year, hour after hour, I plugged away on that trail. I imagined myself as some sort of jungle explorer making my way through the Amazon. My family joked about how I would do anything to get a break from the kids. It is ironic, as I think about it, my husband busy on the internet at the University of Maine Library and me hacking my way through the Maine “jungle” while the children enjoyed the woods, the lake, and their extended family.
Sadly, Henry died last year after a long battle with Parkinson’s disease. My mother, Abby and Elspeth have decided they cannot keep the camp. Only Henry knew how to get the pumps set up and was able to convince us of the joys of living deep in the woods, isolated from the modern world.
So, my trail remains unfinished….the lush undergrowth in the woods will quickly grow up and cover all my efforts. For my apartment-dwelling children, the cabin, the fish, frogs, blueberries, and candle-lit lobster feasts have provided a invaluable glimpse of a different way of life. For me, the trail to Blueberry Point is now just part of a happy memory of a cherished moment in my life.
The Camp is now up for sale, and if anyone is interest in finishing my trail to Blueberry Point….here’s the LINK