Thursday, February 28, 2008

Almost leaving

Warm, sunny (mid-50s!)

When I first worked here eight years ago, I never thought the place would grip me. I saw adults who devoted gads of time, energy, and love to a summer camp, and I thought it was sweet, in a way I’d never want to be. That first summer I explored during my time off, following the creek to new, adventure-worthy places. I discovered dangerous trails that weren’t being used but were exhilarating. I stretched my hammock between cedars and relaxed before realizing I didn’t really know how to get back. I hiked in the dark, daring myself to never bring a flashlight. I didn’t think much about how the place was affecting me; I was really only exploring because the rest of my job was unduly frustrating. But now that I honestly look at it, this is where I began to love exploring—that aimless, trailless wandering that now is my favorite thing to do in the woods.

Today I took my lunch to the river, basking in the ridiculously warm sun, and then hopped rocks upriver. I’ve taken this route a few times before, but this time I cut back up to camp a little bit sooner, and found a majestic snag I’d never seen before. Its bark was mostly gone, and its grain whorled, almost spiraled, shades of red-brown striping toward the deep blue sky. Just when I think I know the ins and outs of camp—which toilets are likely to spew, which cabins are likely to have graffiti, which parts of the river are likely to be submerged during which season—I realize I don’t know much of it at all.

I think it’s impossible to spend a lot of time here and not succumb to its grip. Once camp has gripped you, it’s even more impossible to leave without feeling a certain wistful gloom. Driving the road into camp always feels right, and getting out of the car feels even better. There’s a certain energy in the air that makes you hop out and check on everything—the buildings, the river, the little trails you hold dear. Camp is like a friend you’re always happy to see. On the sad occasion you and that friend have been apart for awhile, you stay up late exchanging stories, and you go to bed satisfied, comforted, and peaceful.

I kind of wish these were the only things I feel going to bed in Slanty tonight, for what could be the last time in a long time. The reality is that we’re likely to be apart for a little while. But it has been a magnificent re-acquaintance, a lovely winter in the woods.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Pool supplies

Warm, overcast (mid-40s)

Here’s a scenario for you. It’s 1982, and you take care of a camp. Your camp has a pool, and you want to accessorize it, so you order catalogs from the leading pool supply providers. Maybe you buy stuff, maybe you don’t; either way, you shelve the catalogs for future use. You have limited storage space, so when they send you new ones in 1983, what do you do with the old catalogs?

Apparently, if you’re the previous caretaker at this camp, you keep them. You keep every year of every company until you leave, for some hapless assistant to find in 2008. I found them shoved in several milk crates, mixed with sensitive personnel information and food budget receipts. And I thought, This is hoarding. I kick myself for keeping this dumb little ceramic cat a distant uncle gave me in Sweden, but at least I’m not keeping completely useless pool supply catalogs. Was this caretaker thinking of writing a history of chlorine delivery systems? Did he get a good chuckle every time he saw a cover featuring early 1990s hot pink ad design?

Sorting through this stuff made me seriously think about how much junk exists in the world. For every guy who keeps pool supply catalogs, there must be a thousand people who keep every bank statement they’ve ever been issued, every envelope they’ve ever received. And will these people determine what historians think of 2008? Is history based on the hoarders? Will someone someday find a bunch of pool catalogs and think we were aquatic mammals?

NOPE! Because I recycled them. Ha.

Thursday, February 21, 2008


Warm, unsettled (high 40s!)

Today I walked back to the scene of the crime, and examined some cinder blocks. In one of those cruel twists of fate, I couldn’t even tell anything had gone awry at the site of my finger-breaking. Sigh.

But it’s beautiful outside, and today I ate lunch next to the river, sitting on a big rock on the rocky beach. The sun hit my back just so, and I could have sat down there for hours, watching the water go by and the occasional cormorant flap down the canyon. Life feels kind of rushed now that my finger is broken (I’ve been driving a lot, and everything seems to take longer), so it was nice to just sit back and watch the water.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Back to work

Warm, dry (mid-40s)

Well, we all knew my responsibilities would shift when I broke my finger, but I have to admit it’s kind of weird to be assigned office work out at camp. I’m tackling files and other junk in a basement, poring over old food receipts and employment applications. I’m sorting through it to figure out where we should put all this stuff, but you want to know my honest impulse? Throw it all in the recycling dumpster. Do we really need to know how much money was spent on food during a week in March of 1992? Do we need to see exactly what the cook bought?

I was rolling my eyes at the futility of this project when I found a folder full of old documents, most of them items of correspondence from 1964. They went back and forth between the head of camp and the regional head of the Forest Service. Apparently the Feds wanted to build a road right down the middle of camp, where the meadow buildings are. I read the Forest Service’s dispassionate letters, and then marveled at the writing skills of the camp director, who moved me near to tears with her descriptions of the power and importance of camp in the lives of young women. It was nice to sit there for a few minutes, lost in the camp of 1964, before moving on.

Monday, February 18, 2008


Warm, sunny (mid-40s)

Today was a holiday! Hooray! Marc came with me to work, and we started the morning on a job I’ve been meaning to do for quite some time. It involved moving cinder blocks from a pretty little wooded area to a more appropriate place for cinder blocks. I was pleased as punch to be doing this, making camp just a little bit safer. I threw away a bunch of broken blocks, and moved a bunch of intact ones to a new, organized pile. Things were great until somehow—and I’m not even sure how it happened—I dropped one on my finger.

Here’s me, an hour later:

So the typing thing is going a little slowly. The finger is broken in two places. I don’t know what the prognosis is, but really? Moving cinder blocks? I suppose I should be grateful it was cinder blocks, and not the table saw.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008


Cool, showery (high 30s)

Heh. I forgot to stock my little woodshed, so now, in my desire to have a lovely fire every night I’m here, I’m slowly burning kindling. Why didn’t I, upon realizing my mistake, simply scoot down in the truck to get some wood? Because I had just been listening to a radio program about predatory cats, and then the program switched to a discussion of the criminally insane, and really, at that point, no way was I going out there. So I’m watching cedar shakes burn, knowing I’m going to have to add more wood quite soon.

Today provided plenty of opportunity for adventure: We started turning the water system back on. You would think that with all that work we did to winterize the system, it would be pretty easy to just turn the valve and let ‘er rip, but ohhh no, there have to be broken bits here and there. We started out fixing little stuff—a valve here, a leaky end there—and then realized there was nowhere near enough water pressure at Raker. So we set out looking for a leak, and it turned out it was, oh, right in front of the dining hall, a fifteen-foot fountain, spewing attractively in three directions. The source of the fountain was a section of pipe that had been forced up and broken by a Bigleaf Maple root. Tractor, pipe cutting, and pipe threading tools later, the pipe was back in business. Now there’s just the rest of camp to turn on… It’s already been a process. I got facefuls of water a few times today. And I broke a toilet tank. Hooray.

I just added more shingles, and a Doug-fir branch. The latter is burning bright, but I’m guessing it’ll only last a few more seconds. When I was searching for things to burn a few minutes ago, I thought of the people in the world who actually need campfires, and how they burn anything, like dung, or tires, or whatever, just to survive. It made me feel more than a little spoiled. I thought I was working exceptionally hard earlier tonight, because I had to peel six apples without a peeler. This thought of having to burn dung to keep warm, or to cook some rotting piece of meat, puts things into a little bit of perspective.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008


Cool, dry-ish (low 40s)

Today I finally fulfilled one of my long-term goals: I took a truckload of nasty old paint, finish, and unidentifiable liquid junk to the Hazardous Materials place in Oregon City. It was a scary thing, driving all this nasty stuff down the highway, with people tailing me and me thinking about all the horrors that would occur if they hit the back of my truck, but it was also very satisfying. I’ve been looking at that stuff in the Stink Shack for years now.

Sometimes, when I’m frustrated by the presence of things like rusted out paint cans and boxes of battery acid, I forget how very important this place is to people. But when I was at the “recycling center” for this stuff, I tried to explain where it had all come from, and before I said camp’s name, the lady in charge said it herself. I don’t know if she went to camp here, or has just heard of it, or if her mom went to camp here, but it was strange to think that this job—which involves getting dirty and doing menial tasks—has real meaning to some people. A lot of my friends have barely heard of this place, but a whole lot of other people have, and still care about it in a way that impresses me.