A Lesson in Camps And a Peek at Percy's Place

No great lesson is to be learned from this one, but a few odious comparisons will be offered anyway. Bill and I, sharing two grandsons, retreated annually this time of year (July, as I write) and endured each other stoically for a week in a remote woodlands camp fairly up the map in the unnamed wilderness townships of Maine. Now we hover at home, look at our snapshots, and write each other good letters about many things. And I am writing today to tell Bill that Percy has completed his camp. Bill doesn't know who Percy is.

Bill and I would go to Caucomagomac Lake, hereinafter referred to as Cauc Lake, in Township 6, Range 14, a portion of paradise Thoreau called St. John Lake because he couldn't spell Caucomagomac. By canoe it's three good trout pools upstream to Loon Lake, and then you can be in the Hurd Ponds, so-called, and Percy's new camp is on a Hurd Pond. The Hurd Ponds are Big Hurd and Little Hurd, and Hurd Pond Stream flows into Look Lake.

So Percy's new camp is just about the next township over, more or less, except that by road you can't hardly get there. Bill never met Percy, but Percy's wife was daughter to my best man, so long ago now. Since Bill and I know that country so well, we were much excited to hear Percy had acquired a lot and would put himself up a "camp" on Hurd. He would, you see (and even if you don't see), be something of a neighbor, or maybe 12 miles away.

Somewhere in the vicinity of 1600, my great-grandfather bought a piece of land in the Maine wilderness, cleared it, built a home, and brought up a family. Other people came to do the same, and by my time his surrounding wilderness was a thriving bustle in the midst of population.

He chopped down trees with an ax, yarded logs with oxen, hewed his timbers, adzed his boards, burned his bricks, and mixed red ocher with pogey oil to make his paint. His fireplace was for cooking and warming, and the flat rock balanced on the chimney top was to keep owls from coming down into the log house. (Some years later, the flat rock would be dislodged by a stiff wind and fall down the chimney to take the bottom out of his big pot.)

But Percy, as well as being brought up woodswise, was also a contractor in many specialties. As the owner of a wilderness lot, he moved in by Big Hurd Pond with mechanized equipment. Come to think of it, Percy is the only man I ever knew who owned a working rock crusher. He could take a stone wall and make macadamized roads.

He also had machines to harvest forests, trucks of all sizes, tin houses and tents, portable sawmills, food-service equipment, a twitchin' horse, a couple of float planes, and I don't know what-all. I think he also had a house job on wheels that had a pipe organ and would sleep six. I think Percy had things in his back field he'd forgotten about.

The pictures Percy showed me of his camp at the Hurd Ponds are about what I expected. Logs with mitered corners present a rustic, if splendid, beginning, and the staircase ascending to the bedrooms suggest Louis XIV achievement. To refer to Percy's Versailles as a "camp" is to emphasize a down-east persistence with understatement. Anything in the Maine woods with a door on it is a camp, whether it's made of splits and tar paper or is a residence as fine as Monticello. Percy's place is a camp, but both those places somewhat resemble it.

I haven't been on the Allagash River watershed since it was designated a preservation area and taken over by the State of Maine. Just before that dubious honor I made the trip, and at a place called Churchill Depot we found interesting leftovers of the days when that region was logged off by the Great Edouard Lacroix of prodigious deeds to rival Paul Bunyan. Paul is a fictional character, but King Lacroix loved and performed.

AT Churchill Depot, then, you could see the "boss's camp," a domicile I was told was built for Lacroix himself, or for the "boss" he installed there to supervise his vast operation, which included a railroad. This house, built in the 1920s, is a very full-size Victorian mansion with every known convenience of the day. The place sits there majestically in the deep woods completely far from anything. It is as out-of-place as would be a sailing-yacht in Times Square.

Unused now for decades, it is a magnificent home, unexpected on the Allagash. But, being where it is, it's the boss's camp, and even if the Great King Lacroix slept there with his millions, it was still a camp, and still is.

So when Percy broke out his pictures and showed me the splendor and magnificence he has erected in Township 9, Range 12, Hurd Ponds, I responded in the correct manner of the Maine woods. I said, "Hully gee, Perse, that's considerable of a camp!"

Percy said, "Yes, it is. Nice and comfittable."

I said, "How do you go, by Silas Hill or through Seboomook?"

"Oh, no," says Perse. "We go the Golden Road and up Ragmuff to Cauc Landing, and then by Russell Mountain."

"You do?" I said. "Seems to me I'd go Pittston Farm and then Seboomook."

"Well, you can," he said.

So that's how you get there, and if Bill and I were still going up there this time of year, we'd drive over and call on Percy to see his camp. He's up there now, and Bill and I aren't.

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