I'm not sure what "camp" is like in many other states but I'm sure at their core they're all the same. I'm not talking about where they sit or what they're made of but rather the guys, friends and families that make them up. Here in Pa a lot of our camps have been around for generations and sit in old growth forrest looking down a valley. My camp for example has been around since the late 1800's and has been in my family as long as I can remember. We're now up to about 22 members (all uncles and cousins). Well, about 2 1/2 years ago a very close uncle to me passed away in a tragic car accident. I got to thinking about the upcoming deer season and how it just wouldn't be the same. I decided to write everything I was thinking at the time down into a story. I posted this on another message board but thought you guys may enjoy it as well. I hope you like it.
“Are ya headin’ up”? If you’re anything like me there’s no need to drill through your memory bank trying to figure out what these four words are referring to. To those of us lucky enough to belong to a camp in Pa, we’ve heard this phrase all too often. Grammatically, it’s a relatively simple phrase that to most of the general population means pretty much nothing. To me on the other hand the thoughts and memories it invokes are quite endless.
So what is it exactly that we are heading up to? Is it a building built in the 1800’s handed down through generations, or a camp built last year by a few buddies who have been saving for years? Is it the creek out front where we’ve fished since we were kids or the spring woods out back where we called in our first tom? Maybe it’s the fire pit or the back deck. Then again, as I think about it a little more, maybe it’s actually none of these things. I say that, not because my camp doesn’t have these things. In fact, it has all of them. In truth, I say it because what we’re actually heading up to are the memories that these things spur to mind.
It’s the Friday before deer season and I am the first to arrive at camp. As I open the door and set foot inside I am hit with the smell of the old pine of a camp that has been standing longer than most any tree on the mountain. It still amazes me that even as the thermometer outside reads twenty eight, inside the camp it feels even colder. As I take my first deep breath of that cold pine air it’s not the arrival that makes me smile, but rather knowing that within the next hour I will be joined by my closest friends and family. I slowly make my way to the wood stove and load it with some crumpled up newspaper and kindling. As I light the paper and wood turns to flame, the smoke begins to roll out of the front of the stove filling the room. I sit there staring at the flames as they lick the top of the stove, calling out with their all too familiar crackle. As I close my eyes to take it all in, I smile as I hear the voice of my great grandfather calling out to me “put some more on boy”. I proceed to throw another log on as my uncle’s voice slowly fills my head asking me if I think we’ll have enough wood to get us through the night. Even though I tell him yes, he still feels the need to help and brings one more load in from the woodpile. We sit there talking about old times as I stack the new load beside the stove. Slowly, the smell of the fire begins to overpower all of my other senses. In an instant I’m snapped back to reality, sitting there once again alone, staring at the open door of the woodstove. I smile to myself one last time as I close the door to the stove, for it never ceases to amaze me how one simple stove can give me a few precious moments with lost loved ones.
As I get older I begin to realize that the camps of Pa are more than just wood and nails. They are doorways into our past and gateways to our future. That’s why every time I’m asked “are ya headin’ up”? I do all I can to make sure that my answer is yes. For now I’m lucky enough to be the one starting that fire every deer season, but I know that some day, I will be the one who disappears when the stove door is closed.