Thursday is the Fourth of July and for the next few days, people will retreat to their camps and cottages. Picnics will be packed, hikes will be planned and much use will be made of boats, canoes, kayaks and swimming holes. Grills will be stoked and potato salads will be concocted. Quantities of lemonade, iced tea and beer will be consumed to celebrate. No one in her right mind, not even me, will want to sew a stitch or knit a row. And that is as it should be.
Yet, for those of us who like to create things, the urge is difficult to quell. It can come out in odd ways. For example, in the mid-90s, I spent Fourth of July at a camp on a Maine lake with a large family of folks who were my friends. The patriarch of this family had certain long-established camp rules no one ever challenged. Father knew best, which was pretty much the case, and his reasons for why things were the way they were at camp were always good ones. But that day, one of the granddaughters, whom I shall call Meg, got it into her 20-something-year-old head that she wanted the evening to include a campfire. Her grandfather gave her a noncommittal smile and went on with his conversation with one of his sons. The other male members of the family, including dads, cousins, aunts and uncles, when the subject was broached, didn’t show any interest in having a campfire.
When Meg consulted me about a campfire, I told her that if she insisted on it, there would be much discussion, and very good reasons against having one, including forest fires, would be presented. There would much thinking and deferring, and pretty soon, attention would be turn to other things and the matter of the campfire would be doused.
When it became clear to me that Meg wasn’t about to let go of the campfire idea, I told her to meet me at a spot near the place where the camp lot dropped off to lake, creating a low bank. No grass grew there, it was not close to any combustible trees or brush, it was handy to the lake in case we needed untold gallons of water. We sauntered off to the lake’s rocky shore and began rummaging around as if we were looking for fossils or pretty rocks. We found a half-dozen good-sized rocks — yet small enough for us to lug without any help from the guys. We arranged these in a circle on the spot on the bank where no grass grew and where there were no tree roots. When one of the menfolk asked what we were doing, I replied, “Craft project.” They grinned and left us alone.
After we arranged the stones in a circle, Meg whispered, “Now, what?” By this time, we knew we had entered into a conspiracy. We didn’t want to raise suspicion in grandfather, which would lead to questions we wouldn’t want to answer. “Nothing, except wait. When it starts to get dark, meet me here,” I said.
As darkness fell, I materialized from the camp kitchen carrying old newspapers and matches. Meg drifted toward the rock circle from the vicinity of the wide porch where she and her husband had been sitting as twilight fell.
Meg and I gathered dry twigs and pine cones to lay atop the crumpled newspapers in the rock circle. A few of the guys wanted to know what we were up to, but we ignored them and went about our business. “Do you think Grampa will be mad?” Meg whispered, suddenly nervous and having second thoughts. “Don’t know,” I replied. “Guess we’ll find out. Unless you want to call it quits right now.” She didn’t.
I handed Meg the matches. “You do the honors,” I said. She struck the match against one of the rocks, lit the newspapers and in an instant the pine cones and twigs caught. The campfire was born. I fetched a couple of sticks of wood from the pile and laid them into the brightly burning fire. We stood near it quietly, and within five minutes, several of the guy cousins, beer cans in hand, joined us, then a couple of uncles showed up with sticks of wood in one hand and lawn chairs in the other. Aunts carrying babies appeared. Someone brought chairs for Meg and me, and before 15 minutes had elapsed everyone at camp, including the grandfather and grandmother were sitting around the campfire telling stories and toasting marshmallows.
In the long history of the camp, it was the first time — ever — a campfire had kindled on the ground, instead of in the outdoor fireplace, which stood just beyond the camp door, not nearly close enough to the lake.
After a few minutes, when there was a lull in the talk and laughter, the grandfather, looked directly at Meg and me, said, “Pretty damn nice.” Meg and I glanced at one another and grinned, probably with more than a touch of triumph. The scent of woodsmoke perfumed the air. An owl hooted and the cry of a loon floated from the lake, like blessing on the family gathered around the fire.
That night marked the first of many campfires kindled in the stone circle, which became for me a kind of memorial to Meg, who died of leukemia several years later. I will always carry with me the memory of her happy face illuminated by the Fourth of July fire she brought into being.
The 2013 Native American Festival and Basketmakers Market will take place 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, July 6, on the College of the Atlantic Campus in Bar Harbor. The event is free and open to the public. For information, call the Abbe Museum at 288-3519 or visit abbemuseum.org/calendar/event-details/native-american-festival.html.