A few years back, Rae and I were returning from a weekend trip where we had visited someone who had recently purchased a cottage. We talked on the drive home as the girls nodded off in the back, worn out from the sun and smelling of sunscreen. We talked about the idea of a cottage, what we would want, what we could make our own and where we could form memories. It was a fleeting moment and then swept away when the reality crept in that we were in our early-mid 30’s with 4 children and middle incomes. Our hopes were dashed…or were they?
We started talking about “the camp”. The Camp was our Gunn fishing camp on the water in Eastern Shore, Nova Scotia. It had been in the family for 50+ years and had eras of greatness, abound with nights of happy amateur fisherman, family picnics, brothers retreats and other notable adventures, all unceremoniously recorded in the faded pages of a soft-covered journal.
“We can’t do the camp. It just isn’t comfortable”
So, if we could make this place comfortable, what would it require? It had been largely abandoned for several years as the next generation was in their 20’s and 30’s and were busy with other family duties. We decided to take a trip and have a look at it, determined to figure out what, if anything, could be done to revive the camp.
The Camp is off the main road, accessible by a very rocky driveway, wherein you then discover yourself pulling up to the front deck with a view of a small river. You are greeted by swarms of blackflies between May-July, but also greeted by absolute solitude. The challenge was always how there was no deck, nowhere to sit, little cooking space, the furniture was outdated and dirty, the paint peeling and stark. The kids wouldn’t be able to find anywhere to sit and play and the bedding situation was not family friendly.
We set out on a small budget over the summer and revived the camp. Kids slept by the fire inside as I tried to finish a deck railing with mosquitos swarming my head and a can of beer close by. We scraped, painted, cleaned, painted, cleaned, gutted and then cleaned again. Rae set out organizing the space and ensuring everything was kid and female-friendly. We added new windows, new door, barbeque and some seating that made it more homey.
Little by little, dollar by dollar the place brought new life. Our trips became more frequent. Others started to travel, add their own touch and then document in the journal what they had done at “their night at the camp”. We felt a sense of pride, knowing that this was the place of my Grandfather, Donald Gunn, who was happiest at the camp with his friends early to bed and early to rise to get the first fish. I still remember my earliest days as a boy with my brothers hiking to the fishing pools, sitting around campfires drying my socks, then falling to sleep to the sound of Dad or Grandpa singing or cleaning up around the camp.
The drive to the camp is 90 minutes from my house. The conversations (and treats) I have had with my brothers, wife and kids, father, or friends on the way there are the best ones. My spirit changes once I pack the truck knowing where I am going. I am going to get back to what I am and to what I came from. I know that when I get there, I will not think about any of the things that cause stress. I will walk in, take a big deep breath and it will be as time has not passed. I will be 7, 13, 19, 25 all over again. I will remember everything as if it is happening for the first time. Now, we sit around the fire after a big meal and laugh, talk about our previous trips and together interpret what life has become and where it is headed for each of us.
Two weeks ago, my best friend and I took his son to build new bunk beds at the camp. We had spent many a night at the camp in our teen years and this place has great memories for us. We spent an afternoon working on these bunks, laughing, eating beef jerky, all the while my friend taught his son (and me) basic carpentry. The $270 worth of materials and the afternoon it took us to build the beds is going to provide so many memories for my kids, friends, relatives and myself, I am thrilled we had the chance to get there and create the next chapter.
Our camp is old and drafty. You will find mice, bats, a sagging roof and at times a very smokey stove. You will also find great meals, a day of fishing, music, deep and shallow conversations, and a ton of laughter. It costs us almost nothing but it now brings together friends and family, keeps memories alive and fresh, and is the background for more memories to come.
Over the past years as our lives have become filled with “busy-ness”, my brothers and our friends share the more frequent but important text…”hey man, we gotta get to the camp.”
Yes. We do need to get to the camp.