CLOSING camp" is a ceremonial occasion of importance in Maine, and this year we drove up to assist our friend Joe as he padlocked his summer retreat and bade farewell to his vacation haunts until next spring. Our more affluent summercaters no doubt have other words for their sumptuous seasonal mansions, but to us Mainers, the Taj Mahal would be called a camp if 'twere located on Lake Umbasooksis.
Some years ago a family from Philadelphia had a seasonal dwelling on Moosehead Lake, in what amounts to the high-snoot region. The place had 48 rooms, with servants' accommodations, a gatekeeper's lodge, stables, a polo field, and a nine-hole golf course. One night the place was struck by lightning, and the Bangor paper used the headline, FIRE DESTROYS CAMP.
Joe, our friend, happens to be the only resident owner in a cluster of camps, and when he closes for winter he has only 60 miles to his urban abode. He usually lingers at camp a week or so after his out-of-site neighbors are gone.
Now and then a cottage is closed at hire, usually by a plumber who either drains or antifreezes the pipes, fastens the shutters, turns off the bottled gas, and hangs the bedding on mouse-proof wires. Boats are taken from the water and stored in the sheds, hummingbird feeders emptied, and refrigerator doors propped open for airing. Some always lubricate the precious Franklin fireplaces so they won't rust over winter. (This gives me a chance to tell again how Flint Johnson always rubbed oleomargarine on hi s stove - he couldn't hardly tell it from butt-tuh.)
Joe had all these chores done and was sitting in the sun waiting for us to arrive for the last picnic of the season and help him in the formalities of closing camp. He had told us not to bring food for him - he already had his lunch packed. So while we dawdled with roasted weenies, we watched Joe maneuver a turkey sandwich which was made of two slices of bread and one turkey.
The day was notably beautiful. We had the place to ourselves. The other cottagers had gone. John and Ellen had departed for England, the Macks for Venezuela. Ted and Gertrude would be with her sister in New Jersey for a week, and then to Tucson for the winter. Yes, Joe had emptied the hummingbird jugs. In full panoply of golden autumn, the West Kennebago Range was ablaze with splendor, and nobody there to look at it save us.
We were mildly amused that Joe has added a telephone and a television set to his wilderness assets. The telephone cable over the mountain from Rangeley explains the one, and more efficient reception aerials the other. A few years back the single telephone available was a "woods line" that amounted to a lightning storm catcher, and television looked like a dish of Campbell's cream of celery soup. Joe tells us the TV proves instructive - the political messages show that the people of America will believe a nything. He said, "Well - think of the millions of electrical refrigerators in the United States, and the owner of every one of them believes the light goes out when he shuts the door." It's hard to answer anything like that, so we just looked at the foliage.
Joe's camp is five miles into the woods beyond a locked gate, so we didn't have any transient leaf oglers to contend with. Leaf oglers take over, and a busload will brake to a halt in the middle of the road on a downhill curve - while everybody boils out to snap pictures. They stand there looking in the view finders oblivious to the howl of tires as we stop immediately at their abafts. Maine drivers thus save thousands of lives every fall.
It came time to close camp. Ceremoniously we stood by the door while Joe said, "'Bye, Camp! See you in May!" and snapped his padlock. Ice and snow to follow.