Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Sporting Camps: A Great Way to 'Cabin' in Maine

If you're considering renting a cabin this summer, why not book a week's stay at one of Maine's storied resorts known as sporting camps?

Maine sporting camps are remote resorts built near a body of water, usually comprising several log cabins and a main lodge where meals are served. The name 'sporting camp' has nothing to do with sports like tennis, or golf. A 'sport' is a century-old term for a city person who used to travel to Maine in summer and hire a guide to take him fishing or hunting. There are about a hundred sporting camps left. Most have an 'American' meal plan, i.e. they provide all your meals, so your family cook gets a much-deserved vacation too. (While some camps don't provide meals, others give you the option of cooking your own meals.) The beauty of these sporting camps is that you're in the wilderness, but you're not alone. You can spend your days enjoying the rustic setting, or exploring the water and woods. You can socialize with others, but not have the duties of entertaining. You can make new friends, and your kids can play in a safe environment, unplugged from cell phones, internet, e-mail and texting. Sounds like a paradise! And the prices aren't bad. Most folks book themselves for a week. Check out the Maine Sporting Camps Association Website, or the wonderful guide, Maine Sporting Camps by Alice Arlen from Down East Books.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Cabin Fever... Help!

It's sixty-one days 'til Memorial Day and the official start of cabin season. I'm not sure I can wait that long. This year's strain of Cabin Fever has been particularly resistant to the usual vaccine. And it keeps getting worse.

When I closed the cabin last fall, I brought home a list of cabin-related projects to carry me through my convalescence. I also had an armload of cabin-related books to read. The projects are now done and the books have been read. I guess the only tonic remaining is to watch cabin-related movies.

With over a hundred channels of TV, Netflix and the public library's stable of videos & DVDs you'd think I could get through the remaining 8 weeks, right? While I was watching PBS run 'Alone in the Wilderness' for the fourteenth time, I started making a list of 'cabin movies'. Sadly, most movies that take place at cabins have to do with axe-murderers and the like. Anyway, here's what I found:

On Golden Pond: Who hasn't seen this classic? Both Henry Fonda & Katharine Hepburn won Oscars for their performances. Filmed on Squam Lake in New Hampshire.
Alone on the Wilderness: Watch an eccentric but likable character build a log cabin by hand in the Alaskan Wilderness.
American Values, American Wilderness: A documentary by Christopher Reeve.
Adventures of the Wilderness Family: An L.A. family (the Robinson's) decides to move to the Rockies to build a cabin and live off the land. Might appeal to the under-10 set.
The Lodge: Young lovebirds check into a lodge run by a creepy guy. How many times has this story been told? Skipped the theaters and went straight to video.
Great Lodges of the National Parks: PBS documentary series billed as the perfect remedy for cabin fever. I haven't seen these yet but they're on my list.
Adventure Lodges of North America: This one's also on my list.
Cabin Fever: Some college kids party in the woods where a hermit gives them a lethal virus.
June Cabin: A group of friends has a reunion at a remote cabin. One of them goes missing. One of the worst movies I've ever seen.
Wilderness Survival for Girls: Three high school girls at a remote cabin, a strange man arrives, etc. (Is it just me or is there a recurring theme here?)
Sam's Lake: Following the death of her Father, a girl invites a bunch of girlfriends to a remote cottage haunted by a decades old murder.
Ghost Lake: Following the death of her parents, a girl retreats to her family's lakeside summer house... wait a minute! This sounds just like Sam's Lake!!
Do you have a favorite cabin movie? If so, please leave a comment. Sixty-one days is starting to look like forever.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Eric Sloane, Renaissance Man 1905 - 1985

Bill has a camp uplake from us. Whenever he comes calling he compliments me on the improvements I've made to our cabin. Bill is a retired pattern-maker and is amazingly handy himself. His own camp predated the road so he had to mule his building materials in on his back, on a sled or by boat. Having no electricity (still doesn't) he built his camp without benefit of power tools. I value his opinions and suggestions.

sloaneOn one visit he asked if I'd ever read anything written by Eric Sloane. I had not. He then loaned me his well-read copy of 'Diary of an Early American Boy'. I devoured the book and have since bought every Eric Sloane book I can find.

In addition to his obvious talents and work ethic, Sloane repeatedly benefited from being in the right place at the right time. In that way his early life reminds me of Forrest Gump. Sloane took an early interest in art. He learned how to draw numbers and letters from a neighbor, Mr. Goudy (designer of the popular Goudy font) and started painting signs for money. Living near Roosevelt Field on Long Island, he painted the names and numbers on many planes and got to know many of the pilots. He learned to fly from none other than aviation pioneer Wiley Post, the first pilot to fly solo around the world. He quickly became obsessed with the sky and clouds, themes that would become central to his art. His first cloud painting was bought by none other than Amelia Earhart and another covers an entire wall at the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum.

At age fourteen Sloane ran away to become an itinerant sign painter. He worked his way across America, painting signs on barns, buildings and stores. He studied America from a vantage point few people experienced.

Fascinated by weather, The Farmer's Almanac and the early American farmer's ability interpret "weather signs", Sloane is credited with being the first television weatherman, having come up with the idea of having farmers from all over New England call in their weather observations to a Dumont, New York TV station where they could be broadcast to the regional audience.

Over the course of his eighty years, Sloane wrote thirty-eight books and created nearly 15,000 paintings.

In the early 1950's, while restoring an antique farmhouse in Connecticut, he discovered a boy's almanac, inkwell and diary dated 1805. The contents piqued his interest in the life of early American settlers. By adding commentary and illustration, the diary provided the framework for the book Bill loaned me, 'Diary of an Early American Boy: Noah Blake 1805'.

While he may be best known for his paintings, it's his fascination with the lifestyle and ingenuity of early settlers that appeals to me. He is a recognized authority on Early American rural architecture, tools, folk wisdom and meteorology. Through his paintings and his books, Sloane's spirit lives on today as if he's determined to keep the invincible Early American Spirit alive. For this I will always be grateful to Eric Sloane and my thoughtful neighbor, Bill.

For a list of Sloane's books, go to

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Already There

We all need to escape from our overbooked lives once in a while. What better refuge than a cabin, cottage, camp, or lodge, somewhere in the woods, on a mountain, or near a lake or river? Even if we really can't go to a place like that, we can dream about it. And in dreaming, we're already there.

It's the kind of place where.....

  • the office can't contact you since your cell phone hardly works and there's no e-mail.
  • you wear the same jeans and old flannel shirt for a week and no one notices.
  • you run errands in a motorboat or an old pickup.
  • you can't get any television reception so you start to read, and make conversation.
  • you spend a rainy day tackling an impossibly complex jigsaw puzzle.