John Harrigan: Wizened outdoor writer succumbs to camp nostalgia

JOHN HARRIGAN February 08. 2014 12:09AM

Denizens of camp:
another subculture for experts to ponder

You get into camp,
a herculean effort, and it's time to go

(But wait: Those are one-column heads from my Death-March days on the front of section B in the print edition. Now, duh, I have a two-column format on Page A2):

All right, back to business:

Finding kindred spirits
in a grocery store aisle

It happens quite a lot, and this is not a complaint, but a pleasure. I was pushing my cart along at LaPerle's IGA in Colebrook when I encountered a couple of guys more or less wing-plowing down the aisle, raking stuff into their cart.

"You guys look like camp material," I said, and they stopped.

"You're the guy who writes the columns," one said. "Where's your camp?" I replied.

Turned out that they were holed up in a camp somewhat to the east, Aker's Pond I think, and had emerged, like woodchucks from a burrow blinking at the sunlight, to get some grub and no doubt other absolute essentials before heading back to camp.

"How long are you staying?" I asked, and got an indefinite look that more or less said "As long as we can." They were from the southwestern end of Winnipesaukee.

"It takes you a couple of days to get into your camp skin," I said, a line I use to ascertain whether camp people are really camp people, and there was instant recognition. These guys knew all about that. "You barely get into your camp skin and it's time to leave," one said.

Of course "camp skin" entails a certain grubbiness, the epitome of the Great Unwashed.

We stopped there in the aisle, visiting about this whole subject of camp people and the camp culture. Like a snake shedding its skin (probably an undesirable analogy, from the snake's point of view), when you go into camp for, say, a week or so, it takes you two days to shed your Other Life Skin and assume your Camp Skin, a whole other attitude and demeanor. And having achieved what you've worked so hard for, you don't even want to think about leaving.

At this time of year, some camp-dwellers work extraordinarily hard to get into camp. For these two guys, it was quite a trek from Lower Winnipesaukee. Other equally demented souls make the trip regularly from Manchester and Nashua and Portsmouth and all around the southern tier. "It's a whole subculture," someone said, maybe me. "People who've never experienced camp life don't get it," one of the guys chimed in.

The only time we can get to our high-country camp by any sort of gasoline engine is in early March when the snowpack settles and the pond's ice is (theoretically) safe to cross.

This is a glacial-bowl pond with abundant and obscure springs where trout go to stay cool in July and August and rise to feed on never-ending insect hatches in the waning light of dusk - when you can barely see your fly - which is why aging casters, and that would be me, tie on a white fly, the only fly they can see enough to fish with when those last rays back-light the pond, when supper back at camp is all but forgotten for the die-hards who pursue fish rising all around, taunting them (a line from Monty Python) in a last feeding frenzy before morning.

Springs move water and the ice over them is often thin. In a mid-winter foray you have to remember where the spring-holes are, vital information when crossing the ice, but sweet information when fish will be hanging around the springs in late summer.

On one expedition we had a man fall through the ice, although in that case it was near a beaver lodge, so we blamed it on the beavers.

I thought about all the effort it takes to get to camp in winter, when there is no groomed trail and so snowmobiles are out of the question on account of getting buried in deep snow, and when getting to camp means a snowshoe trek of between three and five miles, all uphill, dragging sledges, depending on who's logging where.

So on freight-hauling missions we get to camp when the snowpack settles in March and shovel the porch off and take the storm door down, and I rush in to build a fire while other intrepid trekkers do their unspoken jobs. We have been together for so long that we move as a dance team, no words needed. And we get the camp-opening jobs done and finally, after an hour or so, can take our heavy mitts and gloves off and begin to warm up as the camp creaks and groans doing the same. Quite soon we're in our camp skins, totally immersed in camp life, dreading the unspoken words coming all too soon, "Time to break camp."

John Harrigan's address: Box 39, Colebrook NH 03576, or

John Harrigan

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