Summer Camp Memories

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(Host) It’s nearly summer’s end and tired campers are packing up their gear and heading for home – taking lots of memories with them – like those of commentator Ted Levin.

(Levin) A recent trip to northern New Hampshire reminded me of my summer camp days in the Lakes Region of New Hampshire, where my mailing address, East Wolfboro, suggested something vastly more remote than my home on Long Island. Camp was on
the shore of Lake Wentworth, the clearest, cleanest, coolest body of water I could have imagined, a primordial lake. One morning I watched a mink peer into Lake Wentworth, grab a wriggling perch, and then give it to her kits, who took off four abreast along the shore, teeth fastened to the fish. There were weasels in the stonewalls and the occasional loon on the lake, whose hauntingly, lonely call made camp seem even more isolated than it actually was.

In an effort to prolong my connection to the northwoods, I brought a pencil-size red-belly snake home in a cigar box. En route from from Logan to LaGuardia, the snake gave birth on a bed of pine needles to what looked like a dozen living, breathing pieces of string, all in perpetual motion. Upon safe arrival in New York, the snakes spent much of the evening under the curious gaze of neighborhood friends. The following morning I released them in my backyard.

At summer camp, for the first time, I faced a landscape that seemed to extend to the very edge of the Earth – wherever that was. I had that same expansive feeling on my recent trip, as I stood in front of the Diamond Peaks, a monument to raw forces that once converged across the Northeast. The peaks themselves hosted golden eagles as recently as 1962. A hundred years ago, I might have eavesdropped on gossiping wolves, as their disembodied voices rose from the Peaks; thus far, the twenty-first century belongs to eastern coyotes, whose high-pitched falsetto reminds me that nature abhors a void.

A mile down an old logging road, a bear rushed out of a thicket, then disappeared into the spruce and fir. My sighting lasted just a nanosecond; the big, brown mammal kept low to the ground. It was lumbering but quick, and silent as smoke. For at least an hour I couldn’t seem to think – or talk – about anything else.

At dusk, I cruised a logging road listening to the voices of the night. The amphibian cacophony made me realize that this northern landscape was a mosaic of wetlands that bound the rivers and all their tributaries into a fertile aqueous whole; and that the hills and peaks were merely islands in a sea of saturated earth.

An American bittern called from a weft of reeds: a hollow, directionless sound as though the marsh itself was speaking. A mile beyond the bittern, I heard the faint hooting of barred owls above an urgency of frogs.

The bittern, the frogs, the owls turned the northwoods into a nocturnal jubilee, and took me back to those days of discovery at summer camp on Lake Wentworth, when the world seemed infinitely larger and full of mystery.

This is Ted Levin of Coyote Hollow in Thetford Center.

Ted Levin is a writer and photographer and winner of the 2004 Burroughs Medal for Nature Writing. He spoke from our studio in Norwich.

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