The day was very windy, with an occasional snowy blizzard that would hit at irregular intervals and sometimes give way to a weak sun through the gray skies. Very cold and damp with a windchill factor much below that displayed on the thermometer.
In the early morning I drove to Camp Dodge in Pinkham Notch, New Hampshire. It was here I spent the summer after graduating from high school, working for the US Forest Service.
At that time (1979) the housing at Camp Dodge consisted of six large rectangular cement bases onto which metal frames held giant canvas army tents with woodstove ports, possibly dating from World War II when troops of the 10th Mountain Division trained here.
Each tent held about 10 or 12 cots in two rows, one row against each wall. Males resided in half the tents, and other half held females.
In addition there was a building containing mens and womens showers and restrooms, and another building that served as the mess hall, and a small tool shed.
In all some 70 to 80 people lived here, mostly young people age 15 to 17 (I turned 18 a few weeks before the camp closed for the season), as well as some college student staff and a sprinkling of older US Forest Service personnel.
We were divided into co-ed crews of about eight or ten each, with our own small school bus and older crew leader. Every weekday we worked on trail maintenance and construction – hiking and snowmobile trails – as well as wildlife habitat improvement. On weekends we went on group hikes and other outdoor activities.
There was a dedicated cook and the food, to me, was excellent.
Having grown up in depressing circumstances parented by a single mother with a poverty mindset (product of the welfare state, which has created soaring poverty and children without fathers), my daily diet had generally consisted of oatmeal, milk, potatoes, peanut butter or tuna sandwiches on crappy fake white bread, cheap hamburger patties (sometimes leavened with oatmeal to lessen the amount of meat), and canned string beans – green or yellow, your choice.
Often I went to school with no lunch.
That was my diet, day after day, year after year with little variety. I kid you not, for no good reason living in poverty in the land of plenty.
The food kept me alive. I am pretty sure I had signs of light scurvy and vitamin B deficiencies. I was told people in China were starving.
So suddenly at Camp Dodge the smorgasbord horn of plenty opened up. Real food in a wondrous variety, three squares served up each and every day and much as I could eat!
What’s more, I kissed my first girl here. After work and supper we would sneak off into the woods and make love.
The Horn of Plenty.
It was the best nine weeks of my life, the summer of 1979 working for the US Forest Service at Camp Dodge.
Every year I like to make a pilgrimage to Camp Dodge during the Fall after the camp has closed down for the season.
The camp has changed a bit over these last 37-years since I lived and worked and loved there, so long ago. It is now run by the Appalachian Mountain Club though still owned by the US Forest Service.
Tents have given way to wooden buildings built over some of the cement slabs where once stood the tents. Additional small domiciles have been built where the volleyball court once stood, and another set of living quarters on the edge of the playing field.
Today as the wind blew a small gale at times, with off and on blizzards of spherical snow, I explored the area around the camp as I like to do. In these tall mountains and thick forests a person will find new discoveries simply by varying the route he takes by just a short distance.
To start, I visited the spot where my bunk was located at the end of the first cement slab at the corner of the camp. It is now in disuse and overgrown with grass and weeds.
Then I walked up to the doorway of the mess hall, where a girl named Paula took a picture of me those thirty-seven years ago when I was nearly 18.
She gave me a copy of the photo and I have it to this day. Lean, long blonde hair. I was immensely strong.
I had already lived a hard life in these mountains, the strenuous life working at camp was a cakewalk to a guy like me.
Heading eastward uphill along Cowboy Brook on an old logging road, on the slopes of Middle Moriah Mountain, I came upon the remains of one of the old World War II vintage canvas tents.
Most of the tent is hidden underneath years of leaves and forest debris. The fabric is shredded to pieces and rotting. Amongst the carnage I found a square rubberized flap that appears to be the opening for a stove pipe. The ring that forms the stovepipe hole is made of a very thick rubber-like substance that I presume is fire resistant.
Interestingly this square piece is virtually undamaged after all these years in the elements.
Like any area with a long history of human use, artifacts abound and there is no telling what one may find.
Further on up Cowboy brook is an old coffer dam of some sort, now destroyed. Perhaps Hurricane Irene took it out the year 2010, when the water level was several feet above the dam judging from tree damage that is still healing on the trunks of some of the trees.
Having gone a ways above Camp Dodge, I veered northward along the contour, coming upon an abandoned campsite now collapsed. Someone had constructed a hut using saplings and plastic tarps. I first found this site last year, but wanted to see how it has stood up to the elements since then.
Amongst the ruins were two buckets and shoe. The tarps were still hale with a few holes in them here and there. Potentially very useful items and there have been times in my experience when these would have been as good as gold to find when in need.
Continuing northward I came upon a very old wooden construction of some sort, which is gradually rotting into the earth. Various boards, plywood pieces, and supports have been nailed together.
Hunting blind? I cannot say, though it has merged so well into the landscape as to become excellent camouflage. Had I not walked into it I would have likely missed it from 75 feet away.
In fact I have been through here several times and failed to notice it.
Thence I worked my way back downhill, toward the other end of the camp with is also bordered by a brook, this one much smaller and with an unknown name.
Interestingly, this little brook has the remains of an earthen dam and rusted iron water pipes. The old outlet was re-enforced with a large piece of aluminum which was nailed to a frame of boards and beams.
It appears someone has salvaged out of the metal one large rectangular and two small rectangular pieces. Much of the aluminum is buried with one end sticking up out of the earthen mound.
Then back to the playing field, where Appalachian Mountain Club volunteers have constructed a large garden. At the edge of the woods is a three sectioned compost pile with a solar powered electric fence to keep the bears out.
In the compost pile are the remains from this years garden, including several cabbages that look perfectly good for eating. In years past there have been perfectly good vegetables and root crops remaining in the garden. Good to know.
The compost is divided in three sections, one for fresh plants and kitchen wastes, the middle for partially digested material, and the third for the final processing by nature before being used to fertilize the garden.
Protecting the compost piles from bears is a fence fortified by a solar powered electric fence that is intended to dissuade bears by giving them a light jolt should they touch it.
I flipped the switch to turn on the solar powered array and a light began flashing every couple seconds so it seemed to be working. Had I thought of it, I would have tested out the fence with my bare hand.
When I was very young, when I lived on my grandparents farm, my little brother and I would test our mettle by seeing who could hold longest onto the electric fence that kept cows in the pasture. Every couple seconds a pulse of electricity would be sent down the fence with a “click” sound from the box.
In the soft garden soil are the tracks of whitetail deer and black bear. In between the two large garden plots is a small hedge.
Or is it?
Zooming in you can see it is me. In other places I’ve watch people walk by who were quite close but failed to notice me when crouched down in such a fashion. Could come in handy if suddenly caught out in the open – people often are lost in their own worlds and will pass right by.
I then walked over to the edge of the playing field and sat down on some rock steps that did not exist when I lived there.
Overlooking the Camp, facing my living space on the cement slab all those years ago. A youth now an old man. Or so it seems.
I thought of all I have been through, starting with nothing. Little or no family, no skills. Snippets of life that summer in the camp ran through my mind. Then trials and tribulations I faced afterward that ultimately made me a success in life, in business, in my career, and health.
Now I am spending my final days as a Warrior facing the end with strength and bravery come what may.
I had one last place to visit.
I found the spot in the forest where Sandy and I would sneak off to and make love. A secluded place in the woods where two teen virgins found their first love.
Here, as an old man of 55 years, I buried a 300 grain H&H Magnum cartridge solid. Every year when I come back I will add another, then another, until there is a full box of twenty.
But OPSEC!, you exclaim. She may read this post and she knows where that is – your stash is compromised!
Sandy is dead.