Camp weekend: Ruled by fish


Father, son, and holy fish

Father, son, and holy fish

The faux fur raccoon hat had a tail with stripes, and the young boy wearing it assured me it was fox, real fox, that had been dyed to look like raccoon. And fake raccoon at that. I looked at it closely, and agreed with him.

It is March, and a winter weekend at camp. Sometimes these weekends are solitary retreats, sometimes, like this one, it is open door policy. On these weekends we keep a pot of stew on the stove, and a counter full of cheese, clementines, bread, hummus, devilled eggs, and whatever anyone else wants to contribute.

At home, I’m a bit fussy about ironing napkins, and having place settings lined-up and neat. At camp, we toss out a pile of mismatched cutlery and everyone takes what they need. Standards slip a bit, but no one minds.

It’s a busy weekend; four families and assorted kids come and go. There is no schedule–we are ruled by fish. According to lore, the minute you stop tending fish and take off your gear, the fish start to bite. This doesn’t sound likely, but this is camp and many things are true which would be fantastic elsewhere.

After hours of no fish biting, we filled bowls with stew, made with potatoes and carrots from our garden and pork chops from my brother-in-law’s pig. Boots were lined up by the fire to get warm, and we squeezed around the table and spilled over onto the couch.

Sure enough, “Flag,” Carson, the boy with the coon hat, shouted. He had been keeping an eye out the window. The scramble to pull on snowsuits and grab one more bite before heading out was a frenzied blur. Several flags had gone up.

We got a perch and a salmon, and while we were out my husband decided to check the depth at one of his holes. He pulled out the tip-up, or trap, and set it on the ice, the bright orange flag waving. He attached a weight to the line and when it hit bottom he marked the spot. His grandson, Duncan, came over to help, but hadn’t really seen what was going on.

He had not pulled in a fish yet, and was excited to do so. Taking the line from his grandfather he felt the slight resistance of the weight at the end of the line. He was sure it was a fish. “It’s a big one,” he said. He gave a yank to set the line, and slowly, with great attention, began to pull the lump of metal in.

“It’s a weight,” my husband said. Duncan rolled his eyes and dropped the line.

That night we played games, something we rarely do at home. Apples to Apples was the choice, sometimes it is pick-up sticks. As we sat around the table, the door gave a rattle. “Someone’s there,” I called. “A raccoon,” my husband said. The wind was most likely. But there is a shift in credibility at camp; I am ready to believe in anything.

Duncan was looking for a word to describe the place, “a house-shack,” he suggested, then “a shed cabin.” It is pretty primitive. But he ended with a getaway. Camp is more than the building. It is more than the ice and the beauty. It is also the absence of regular, daily life. Take that away, remove the constant checking of the calendar to see what appointments or social engagements are coming up, forget about bills to pay, or reservations to make and suddenly there is a big space in my spirit that is wide open and ready to believe

Is Carson’s raccoon hat tail really fox? Yes, it is.

We are at camp, let the weekend begin.



Karen O. Zimmermann

About Karen O. Zimmermann

Karen O. Zimmermann savors chance encounters with people throughout the state of Maine, and is endlessly delighted with the tales they have to share.