'Sounds nice, but whatever do you do?'
The inside joke is that if they have to ask the question, they'll never understand the answer, which is that there's so much going on in small-town and rural America that it's hard to keep track and find time.
The same thing happens once in a while when talk turns to hiking into a remote camp that has nothing in the way of what today's frenetic and allegedly civilized world considers amenities. “Your camp sounds nice,” comes the question, “but whatever do you do?”
Half of the answer is the same, in that the questioner will never understand the answer, but the other half has nothing to do with frenetic activity or lack of enough time. It has everything to do with exactly the opposite, which is no schedule, no clock-watching (in fact, no clock), and plenty to do, if and when you get around to it.
I decided to say to heck with everything that supposedly matters and instead play hooky at the end of May. I went into camp four times in 12 days, something of a record, if anyone cares, which nobody does.
The first trip included camp chores, reading, fishing, philosophical discussions, a little homemade music and thinking about what to cook for supper and breakfast. The next trip's non-agenda featured a four-way split between cooking, bird-watching, cribbage and reading. On the third trip, I went in alone to give what passes for my brain a rest and delve into a good book while the rain pounded on the roof. The fourth trip included a longtime friend from Clarksville Pond. That trip featured an ill-advised scouting expedition for a new route through, or maybe around, a fetid swamp. (With me, by the way, it's always “fetid swamp,” and I noticed that some other demented soul sneaked the phrase into a recent story in The New York Times.)
Somewhere in all this (a) I lost two straight games to the female side on an outlandishly large cribbage board given to the camp shortly after its construction by Jeff Fair, who used to chase loons around New Hampshire and now chases them around Alaska and, for all I know, Russia, which he claims he can see from a nest near his house or something; (b) poked a hole in a new screen door yet to be installed, which I'm going to hear about from fellow camp denizens; (c) looked up while writing a note on a paper plate on the porch for sleeping campmates to see a moose regarding me intently from just beyond the steps, and (d) after much experimenting involving deep primordial ooze, decided that the old way through the (fetid) swamp is better Just needs two or three more bog bridges to keep us from being sucked into eternity.
While I was in there alone, by the way, I heard artillery fire, or heavy gunfire, or some kind of explosions, or what I thought maybe was a squadron of black helicopters dropping Ninja-type warriors down ropes to drag me off for interrogation or maybe just straight to the loony bin. But closer listening from the porch revealed it to be fireworks being sent thundering aloft by some unknown camp-full of oafs over in the direction of Labrador (the swamp, not the Canadian territory), bless them, perhaps jumping the gun for the Fourth of July, or maybe just because.
Probably just bored, the poor souls, stuck up there in camp, with nothing to do.
John Harrigan's column appears weekly in the New Hampshire Sunday News. His address is Box 39, Colebrook 03576. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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