Our family hunting camp has been one of the pillars of my life. Some of my earliest memories are from there, as well as some of the strongest. I grew up there, in one way or another; learning things that have applied across many facets of my life. As a place, I always thought if the world went to hell, that is where I'd head. While it is hard to tease it apart, the place takes on importance because of the people I'm with there.
Established by my grandfather in the early 1980's, camp was just a few miles from his house. Gram and Gramp bought the ten acre lot at the start of the decade; a year or two later an old girl scout camp was moved there. A single room, no running water or electricity, just bunks, a wood stove, a table and chairs and a few shelves. Slowly, as the family grew, so did the camp. A bunkhouse, a porch converted to a kitchen area, then a new porch. Across the road they bought a lot to sugar on, then he added a sawmill and a shingle mill. I could find Gramp there through my high school and college years, work through whatever issue was at hand by clearing slabs, bundling shingles or wandering after a partridge along his woods roads. If it rained, we'd sit on the porch and listen to patter out a beat on the tin over our heads.
In the last decade or more, with Gramp declining and then passing, work on camp crawled to a halt. While never high on upkeep, things got worse - though part of the charm of being there was the general lack of responsibility for cleanliness and the slight state of disrepair camp existed in. The pop of burning wood in the stove along with a gentle chewing in the walls, accompanied by the smell of stale beer and mouse urine can put you in a contemplative mood.
Thankfully, the crew that goes there has many talents. My balding, graying-hair young cousins, some of whom have youngsters of their own, decided it was time to do something. Not having skills in the trades like they do, it has been amazing to watch. Work is done side by side with uncles of varying degrees of blood relation. New sills under the camp, lifted out of the dirt. A new bunk house. A new roof. Level. Square. I show up to hold things and pound nails where I'm told. A funny thing has come along with the renewal of the physical structure. A sense of place and importance has returned to camp. It was never really gone; it had just sunk into the dirt a bit, drifted out of plumb, perhaps. On our beer breaks (which become many on weekend afternoons), I watch kids run up and down the road, listened to them holler at each other, playing some game or another. Joyfully reminiscent of my youth, it strikes me that I'm about the age my grandfather was when he started the whole thing.
We stand in the yard, often three generations across, stretching to four when my great uncle cruises by, sharing stories of the past and visions of the future, mingling. I can feel my own roots in the ground and, as the kids climb dangerously around equipment, learning self reliance and independence under the distant eye of mildly concerned adults, watch them grow under their dirty bare feet, too.
Change is always hard, but this, a renewal, seems easier. The work, ongoing, feels refreshing. In my mind, I can see my grandfather squatting back on one heel in the shade near the driveway, cap tipped back and cigarette trailing smoke around his fingers, smiling. I suspect he saw this 40 years ago. A pretty good place to be when the world goes to hell. And great people to be there with.