Libert'e, fraternit'e, and German salad
IT is raining fairly hard here at what the new-day grammarians call this point in time, and as it is but 1:30 p.m. of the Thursday we may have a dark and stormy night. Since this day is also Bastille Day, we shall have guests for supper, because this is the 25th Bastille Day Bill and I have observed at Caucomogommick Lake, and undoubtedly a reader here and there will want to hear more. William, or Bill, sits across from me at the only table in our wilderness camp, and he is dicing the potatoes he will use in the echter deutsche Kartoffelsalat for the sumptuous evening banquet to which we have bidden our friends that France's great liberation may be suitably celebrated. Our retreat to the Maine woods always includes Bastille Day.
Bill, whose only daughter is wed to my only son, makes our annual Bastille Day potato salad because his father came from Bremen and he knows how, and rain or shine Bill is good in camp. He explains that Robespierre and Pastorius were the first Frenchman and the first German ever to agree on anything. Bill points out that an early German settlement in America was closer to Jacques Cartier's time than it was to the liberation of the Bastille and a true German potato salad is good anytime anyway. We come up here into the top 2 million acres of Maine woodlands to meditate and fetch culture to the unorganized northern townships, and while everybody back home wonders if we will once more survive the rigors of the primitive forest, we enjoy the comforts graciously provided by the forest management of Great Northern Paper - a tight camp on the lakeshore with propane gas for refrigeration, cooking, and illumination, foam mattresses, and the isolation and seclusion that would make Henry David Thoreau believe he was in a crowd.
BACK in the 1930s a complex of lumbering buildings here accommodated a hundred or more men who cut pulpwood on the winter snows. Only the boss's camp remains - the cookshack, the dingle, the bedroom, the cockshop, the blacksmith shop, the filer's shop, the horse hovel, and other sheds are gone. Great Northern Paper keeps this boss's camp, should they need a place to house somebody under a roof for a night - and Bill and I for 25 years have been privileged.
Tonight some of our friends in Great Northern management will join us for the exercises - something like 75 miles over closed company roads and through several locked gates. Here at Cauc Dam on an extremity of the West Branch of the Penobscot River we are closer to Canada than we are to the United States. Sort of. But for all the Frenchmen in Quebec, Bastille Day means little. They are Canadians, and their ancestors were living by the St. Lawrence River before the Bastille was liberated.
Our purpose here is to retire for a week so we can congratulate each other on our two fine grandsons and consider anything that comes to our attention. Our routine is simple. After breakfast we exercise our salmon flies in Cauc Stream with matutinal zeal and minimal success, because mid-July is not fortunate in that pastime, and then we go somewhere and have a picnic. This is good angling country, and we sometimes do have a pan of trout if we go to the trouble. It is also good moose country, but we don't go for moose much - it is enough to hear them trot by the camp when the mosquitoes chase them. One moose comes to look in the window to watch me and Bill laundering the dishes. For the most part ours is a vacation subdued by the sober thought that millions and millions of people have no idea where we are. After we return from the picnic we discuss supper, and after supper we do the dishes. Bill washes and I wipe. During the evening we listen to the down-lake hilarity of the lonely loon as the sun sinks slowly, and then we retire to wait the morrow.
It was overcast when we arose this Bastille morning, and it now rains hard. But we had French Toast for breakfast, and Bill whistled ``La Marseillaise.'' I tied the tricolore to the rafters, and while Bill fixed the potatoes I prepared this report. We have candles to grace our banquet and only table and before long we expect to hear the pickups arriving with our distinguished guests of the evening. ``Vive la France!'' Bill and I will call, and it occurs to me that not too many people would care to spend a rainy Thursday in camp with me and Bill. Not unless they can believe impossible things before breakfast.