I walk every step of what used to be the camp, of what is now Kingsland Bay State Park. Then I sit in a white Adirondack chair with my pen and paper, looking across the bord de l’eau to the Adirondacks. I bring my vision in to the flag pole cemented to the ground. The cement tells me it’s the same one that was here when I arrived for the first time in July of 1970.
Why do I want to come back? For proof I was here. For clues as to who I used to be. I just want to stay long enough to…
I think this place has something to tell me.
I remember friends I made here, but I no longer keep up with them. It’s this place I miss, not the people who were here. Is it this place or the person I was here?
I was my best self here. I learned how to be myself here. It was my first time away from home for a long period of time–eight weeks that first summer, nine the others. Each summer I got closer to me.
The metal rings holding the flag clang against the pole. The water of Lake Champlain laps against the shore. People spread cloths on the picnic tables. A motor boat zooms past a large sail boat that seems to linger in the moment.
Writing about it again this morning for this post, I finally get it. It’s the continuous life. That’s why I’m here–to understand that the girl who was here in 1970 is the same woman who is here now. I’ve been tagging these posts all week with those words without seeing it.
As Mary Gordon wrote so well in The Rest of Life:
Final 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
“She sees that she has before her an important task: to understand that all the things that happened in her life happened to her. That she is the same person who was born, was a child, a girl, a young woman, a woman, and now she is old. That there is some line running through her body like a wick. She is the same person who was once born. All the things that happened to her happened to one person…’I’m trying to understand what it means to have had a life.’”
Oh I love that Mary Gordon passage. So good. I think about this often, about the ways that all of our selves can coexist in certain moments, the past and future and present collapsing into one glowing moment … it’s complicated, and certainly I cannot express it as beautifully as Mary Gordon does.
(or as you do).
Thanks, Lindsey, and thanks again for inspiring me to see this through. I first wrote about that Mary Gordon passage in a post in September 2008. There is also a beautiful Virginia Woolf passage on the same idea but it veers off at the end. Here it is if you’d like to take a look: http://catchingdays.cynthianewberrymartin.com/2008/12/09/something-more/
I guess this whole concept of a continuous life is a little obsession of mine, now that I see how far back it goes–which is years and years, back to when I read these books the first time and underlined all these passages.
Lovely piece, Cynthia. Perhaps we can never go home because we never leave.
Thanks, Darrelyn. Lovely thought.
The pictures of the trees then and now moved me. How much we change, shape, grow, live, and die, and the world continues on without us. Do we leave a trace of ourselves there? It reminds me that every thing I see–every tree, home, boat, person–has a whole past that has contributed to where it, or he, or she stands right now. And we should be mindful of it every now and then.
Erika, I’m so glad you commented on the trees. They struck me as well. And I had forgotten about that 1971 group photo until I was looking through all my photos this week. Probably some part of me remembered…
But also, while I was visiting the camp on this recent visit, I found myself noticing all the big old trees, thinking they were here when I was here. And they’ve been here all this time.
Learning how to be yourself. Epic.
And when we reach the point in our lives that we reach a summit where we can see when/where it occurred, can be magical, transforming.
Also, the wonder over an attachment to a place, wondering if it is the place itself or the person we were there. Much to think on here. Thank you for it.
Terresa, thanks for being interested in this journey of mine. It’s odd that it took three times to bring it to the surface. The first time I went back, I was curious about the place. When I wanted to go back a second time, I knew something was going on, but I didn’t know how to get at it. This third time I did–with paper and pen. Being back at this place definitely felt magical.
Wonderful series of posts on the camp and the importance of place. I enjoyed reading them and thinking about such places from my own life. Thanks Cynthia! I also appreciated the glimpse of Vermont College in the post about your second residency there — another very special place (sort of a writers camp!).
Thanks, Dory. You know I share your interest in abandoned places and things and there was so much of that feeling around despite the fact that the place is still alive as a state park. Several of the buildings are basically abandoned–the stables, the two theatres, the junior playhouse. And of course there were no campers anywhere. My imagination went right to work filling those empty spaces.
Cynthia, This is a lovely series of posts and pictures. Lovely that you escaped residency briefly and slipped into the past and youth and memory.
Thanks, Doug. And thanks for taking the time to comment. I look forward to catching up on what’s been happening at your place.
I was at Ecole Champlain with you.
Today I was thinking about the Operetta in 1971, “La Fille de Madame Angot,” and I found a recording of one of the songs and, to my great surprise, found myself tearing up. So I googled “Ecole Champlain” and found all the pictures you posted on facebook, and thence to your website.
I was a Junior in 1971 and a Moyenne in 1972. When I heard that the camp closed down I was devastated, couldn’t bear to think of it not being there and so stopped thinking, wondering, what it had become. You were brave to go there and confront the change and muse back to who you were in a world that’s no longer there. I preferred to keep my memories intact. For the same reason, I’ve never gone into a dorm at Bryn Mawr after it’s been renovated; I want to remember it exactly as I lived it.
Have you read Christa Wolf’s great autobiographical novel *Patterns of Childhood*? The best piece of writing I know about what it means to confront the strangeness of that person who was once you.
Oh, Elizabeth, I remember that operetta. I hated drama, and the drama guy had to scream at me to force me into my part. I’m so glad you found me and the facebook site. I have not read Christ Wolf’s novel but will check it out. Your description sounds wonderful. I hope you’ll come back to the blog!
I too was at Ecole in 1972 – in the junior camp. I learned how to do the breast stroke that summer in the freezing lake water! I even remember my teacher’s name – Jill! My brother went to the”boys” camp that summer. My mother was very good friends with Babe. So happy to hear it’s a state park and not a condo park! I remember the awards ceremony at the end of camp near the flagpole and being given a medal with EC on it for swimming. It took me at least 4 weeks to jump in! I still have that medal! Thanks for your story and the photos! Oh, and that long dirt road to the stables I’ll always remember!