On Saturday, July 3rd, I took a break from lectures and readings and slid into my rented red Prius headed for the past. Even though Ferrisburg, Vermont, lies directly west from Montpelier, Google Maps directed me north to Burlington and then south.
In addition to my purse, I have coffee, water, camera, paper, and pen. I also seem to have some sort of invisible empty box with me that I hope to fill. I am going on a bear hunt and I want to catch a big one.
I wrote in my last post that Ecole Champlain, the French camp I attended in the ’70s now seemed “mysterious to me, as if it’s withholding secrets instead of holding memories.”
But, as is so often the case with my words, I didn’t get that right. Rather, what it seemed was as if the secret to something was there waiting for me to find it. In more words, the place was with me, not against me. In fact, I could almost see it closing its eyes, concentrating, in order to draw me back.
An old map shows the main entrance has always been the one I come in today, the one along the water that brings me in by MacDonough Lodge, now known as Hawley House. But that doesn’t seem right. I figure out that the buses that used to bring us to camp after we flew into Burlington on Mohawk Airlines always used the service entrance, coming in past the stables and down the long straight dirt road to the lodge.
That sweet smell is still here, a smell I’ve come across only a few times since camp. A breeze will go by and there it is. Ecole Champlain. Vermont. Once I smelled it from a bathroom air freshener. I ask the young park ranger. He says it’s the smell of cut hay. July is haying season in Vermont.
The dining hall is still here. The park ranger unlocks the door, and I enter the space where I once ate 7 grilled cheese sandwiches in a contest with a counselor. Other than a portion of the floor having been replaced, it looks the same–only empty.
The distance between the dining hall and the lodge seems smaller, as I would expect. But as I start down the road to the stables, I’m surprised, and pleased somehow, that this still seems like a long walk.
I peer in the windows of the stables. Then I turn to face the space where the riding rings used to be. When I concentrate, I can see the one across the road where my horse took the jump and I didn’t. And then…the counselors used to call me Strawberry.
What will I discover during this visit? What do you hope to discover when you go back?
I will write more on Thursday…2nd post in 4-part series on Ecole Champlain: Part 1: places that call us back Part 2: hoping to discover Part 3: proof Part 4: writing my way there
I love this Cynthia, the evocation of how it feels, so jarring, to return, confronting the mental images we didn’t know we had. And speaking of images, great photos.
Thanks, Richard, and nice to see you here again. You’ve got some great posts up over at your place.
Great piece. Very evocative. I remember the hay. They used to grow it in that field in between the road to the stables and the road to Jr camp. I can smell it now . . .
Juliet, it’s so fun to find you here. And it’s amazing how fast that smell takes me back to camp. Even when I didn’t even know what it was : )
Memories, I love the sharing of them in this piece.
“In fact, I could almost see it closing its eyes, concentrating, in order to draw me back.”
And you once ate 7 grilled cheese sandwiches in a contest!!!
There is a novel/poetry/short stories here in your memories…I can feel them percolating.
Thanks, Terresa. Yes, as to the grilled cheese sandwiches. They were in halves, so it was 14 halves, and I lost to a very cute counselor named Craig in the left wing of the dining hall pictured above.