How closing camp stirs old memories

I found the serene scene most unsettling as I gazed out across the lake early Sunday morning. The hundreds of ducks, geese, and other water-loving birds that normally find refuge in our cove were conspicuously absent. Only a lone loon fished lazily off the end of the dock.

The migratory birds have been leaving in small groups for days now, and the last couple of days I’ve watched them with my family and friends. We were closing up camp for the season in the unorganized township in northern Maine where our campers are.

The geese’s calls of goodbye as they instinctively form vees, naturally choosing a leader to take them to less harsh climes for the winter, tugs an urgency out of my own being.

This area teems with water-loving birds during the summer months.

This area teems with water-loving birds during the summer months.

There is a strong need to clean up and put away and batten down in preparation for the cold and the snow we all expect is coming our way.

The calendar officially reflects autumn. The sun is less warming in the day and the winds have more bite to them. This weekend, we dressed in more layers to keep out the cold during these last couple days of camping, and we had our camper furnaces going.

We didn’t need to hear the weather forecast to know there would be frost in the very near future.

It is a season of change, a chance to throw away the broken toys of summer, to repair and put away more beloved or still useful things, and to let the fall season prepare us for winter’s stillness, knowing that under the snow and ice will be the promise of spring.

I have to wonder what broken toys I will leave behind this season. How many of the sadder memories will I be able to throw away? How many can I repair enough to store in a trunk for later remembering? There is no formula for that; no manual that tells me when it’s time. It has to come from my heart.

I have to ask myself what I am willing to let go to make room for new memories — memories that will not include my husband Jim who died from pancreatic cancer in December 2010.

Maybe I can let go of the memory of the phone call I received from a close friend to tell me that Jim had been taken to the emergency room at a hospital in northern Maine while I was at a dog show in Massachusetts. I was to join Jim at the campground in a couple of days after the dog show had ended, but instead, I packed up and headed for the hospital immediately.

Or the conversation I had with the emergency doctor that afternoon when he indicated how grave Jim’s situation was, believing it was an acute pancreatitis attack.

Or the foreboding feeling that I couldn’t shake when we left the campground together that last time. Or the terror-filled trip home when Jim insisted on leaving the campground on his own terms, driving his truck that was hauling the boat, when he was too sick to be driving.

Or the hours in the subsequent weeks of not knowing what was really wrong with Jim, watching him waste away into a physical skeleton and a shadow of the confident, hard-working and fun-loving man he had always been.

Or the fear and uncertainty that still comes with so many sunrises.

Maybe those memories are too etched in my brain to discard, but perhaps their importance can be diminished to make room for new experiences.

I already have made so many wonderful new memories with family and friends, but all of them are slightly clouded by the physical absence of my other half. How do I let the cloud go? How do I “move on?”

I’m not sure I ever will to the world’s satisfaction, but I will continue to make special memories with the ones still here, the ones I can wrap my arms around and make sure they know I love them.

buttoned up camper

On Sunday, as we were all preparing our campers for the winter, one of my friends pointed out a beautiful morning rainbow. We rarely see morning rainbows in this place, so it felt like a special gift — like God was smiling on us with his assurance of good days ahead.

That pushed my thoughts to spring, when we would be reopening our campers and looking forward to another summer camping season.

I think I’ll bring my boat then. I miss fishing.

Julie Harris

About Julie Harris

As a longtime employee of Bangor Daily News, I have served many roles over the years, but I now have a dream job as Community Editor. I live in Hermon with my four Brittany dogs: Sassy, Bullet, Thistle and Quincy, who keep me busy in various dog sports. I was widowed at age 51 when my husband, Jim, died of pancreatic cancer.