Sights and smells of camp life provide refreshing respite

This abandoned camp was discovered along the bank of the Raquette River. It is one of several old camps that were established on leased lands before the river corridor was acquired by the state. (Photo — Joe Hackett)

Camps are not intended to provide a permanent residence. We go to camp to get away from home, phones, computers and the rash of everyday responsibilities that intrude on our lives.

The term is often used to describe a specific physical location, as well as a state of mind. Camp is supposed to be a woodsy place where tradition looms large and memories rarely fade. It’s a place where basic comforts take precedent; and you’re free to cuss, spit, fart, burp or pee off the porch, and nobody seems to mind.

Camp is a term that encompasses a wide variety of rough shelters — ranging from pup tents to full blown great camps, cabin tents, popup trailers and more. The size, location, intended use and seasonal occupancy of a camp remains always in flux. It’s an individual decision.

Camp may be defined by the view, the location, the scent of strong coffee, woodsmoke and even the hint of cheap whiskey. The decor often consists of a few cast-iron skillets, some old Coleman lanterns and a couple of bunkbeds topped with wool blankets and a few old men, who are tired from acting like kids again. There’s no rest more peaceful than being lulled to sleep while listening to the pitter-patter of summer rain on a camp’s tin roof.

Camp offers a getaway — or retreat — where it’s possible to let your hair down and be yourself. Decorum, pomp, titles and ceremony have no place in camp, as we are all equal before the bugs, the spooks, the leaky roofs and the strong coffee. Camp is about traditions that were established by those that came before us.

It is a place where less is more and time passes slowly (when it’s considered at all). A longtime camp owner explained the concept this way: “Our family camp was built in the 1930s, looks like the 1940s and feels like 1950s, and it always makes me feel like I’m a kid again, regardless of my advanced years. It’s a simple shelter that continues to provide our extended family with respite, relief and lots of good memories. It’s where we go to escape the grind of everyday life and get our feet back in the mud.”

Our sense of smell produces some of the most indelible and lasting memories, which may be the reason woodsmoke is so effective in transporting us back to different times and the familiar places where we can escape the hubbub, hubris and sensationalism of everyday life.

It is easy to remain grounded when you have mud between your toes and wet paint on your cap. Our attachment to camp is similar to a relationship with an old childhood friend.

When we walk through the door, it’s evident that camp isn’t just a place; it’s a state of mind. It’s a location that allows us to pursue activities that we first learned and shared as youth. It isn’t exclusive to just family camps, hunting camps or summer camps.

Just about any old camp will do. Just add a whiff of woodsmoke, a star-filled night and memories will surely be made.


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