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Bringing cultural uplift to Caucomgomac

The 21st Annual Grandfathers' Retreat was the usual ever-better success, but it ended with a bit of a pang. When we locked the door on our ancient camp at Caucomgomac Dam, we knew it unlikely we should open it again and an era had gone its way. It will probably not be there when we return next July for our 22nd. So we locked the door and drove along home with some memories to the fore.

Caucmogomac Lake is far up in the Maine woods, almost to Canada, part of the headwaters of the great Penobscot River. When our son married Bill's daughter and we faced the imminence of co-grandchildren, Bill and I first packed our trout gear and went off into the wilds to get acquainted, and we have been under no illusions about our preferment among people - the use of the dam tender's camp at Caucomgomac has been at the willing sufferance of corporate timberland owners, an exclusive privilege. The camp is far beyond the chains that keep others off the private logging roads of the region.

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Long years ago a wooden dam was built at the outlet of Caucomgomac Lake. It had no wheel for generating electricity, but was meant for holding water, to regulate the flow of the Penobscot. It did have a sluice, through which unremembered quantities of logs were sent downstream to mill on the spring freshets, and about 1910 the Great Northern Paper Company built a lumber camp near that dam. When Bill and I first learned that Caucomgomac is pronounced cock-m'gommick but is shortened to Cauc, we were invited to stay our happy week at that lumber camp. It was still intact and in fairly good shape, although abandoned since the 1930s. The camp stood, a complex of buildings, something of a museum of old-time logging, which was and is no more. There was the cookshack and dining hall for maybe 150 men, with its storage dingle and attached bedroom. Then a boss's camp, horse hovel, blacksmith shop, store (wangan), a filer's camp , some other buildings, and finally the ''cockshop,'' or office. Only the office had been kept in repair over the years, and was used to shelter workmen who came by at times to attend the dam. For 21 summers Bill and I have accordingly brought cultural uplift to Cauc Lake. Nobody else within 75 miles.

Meantime all the other lumber camp buildings are gone. Perhaps they should have been reerected at a museum; at least a model, for this was the last of the old Paul Bunyan kind. The office remained and the roof was kept tight. But three years ago Great Northern ripped out the old wooden dam with its sluiceway and built a concrete structure that will endure. There is no sluiceway in the new dam, because the days of river drives are over. And need for a dam tender's camp passed. The corporate decision that allowed us to use the office camp has been repealed by a corporate decision to make no more repairs.

All is not lost. The tremendously salutary effect William and I have had on the whole North Countree is recognized, and one and all agree we must continue our program of gracious inculcation of virtue and probity. Arrangements are already made for a full program of seminars and conferences on our 22nd visitation, but at a new campus by lovely Lake Kwanoksangamack - which we have not yet learned to pronounce. The word is said to mean ''place of the wise old loon.''

So things change, and the grandfathers must adjust. As we locked the door of the Cauc Dam camp a raft of sheldrakes came paddling along the shore and bade us farewell. Bill counted 18 and I counted 19, all in orderly formation. We settled for 181/2, and were amused that birds who can fly a mile a minute will take the time to swim across a lake. The old wheeze is that they swim across to get a drink of water. Then, over in the cove, ol' Charlie Moose lifted his head from the water, lily stem pendant, to look and see if we had taken all the snapshots we wished. He was close enough so we heard the water drip when his huge horns came up. Charlie's a brute, but friendly - he looks in our camp window to watch us wash dishes. A red-tailed hawk flashed by, maybe with an eye to the sheldrakes, but he's not much of a threat because each sheldrake has his own special hole in the water for escape. So we locked up, and we left the cribbage board. I made it 18 years ago, and letters on the side say, ''This cribbage board was stolen from the Cauc Dam camp of GNPCo.'' Nobody has stolen it, and we felt we shouldn't, either.

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