The Camp

the-camp-sketch

Written by: Martin James Wood

A 70,000 acre tract up in the big woods. A camp so nestled in, that it would take about an hour walk to get to from the bottom of the hill. If driven in with a four wheel drive, it might take about the same, sometimes longer if the jeep got stuck on the old logging road which was not maintained at all. This road hasn’t been used in years, except from us visitors to the camp.

This was the place that a small group of men from all walks of life would meet that once a year during buck season in Pennsylvania. It was also where other groups have gathered for buck seasons of the past and for other occasions for about half a century.

At the camp, there was a perpetual profound understanding amongst all its visitors, of appreciation for the surrounding forest and wildlife. The camp was a place of where its visitors would come to experience the natural world on a personal level. Whether it was to get away from their secular lives for a short time, hike the hills, or to experience a hunt for food to fulfill a primal extinct and reconnect with their inner self. Wildlife that was harvested from the forested hills at the camp were considered sacred and a food source. Time and activities spent here were innately special and not to be taken frivolously.

It was a small rugged building built by the hands of four brothers during the second World War. The brothers were all soldiers in the war. The three room building was a ranch style cabin, painted boxcar red. It possessed a galvanized roof which has been patched several times as it could be noticed when walking up to the cabin. Above the back door was a gable roof which served as shelter for the wood pile and coolers of food. Over the front door, also was a small gable roof with the name of the camp formed in small rustic timbers suspended from the gable, CAMP WINCHESTER.

Out its front door, you could see the brook that cut its way down through the mountain hollow of rocks and trees which ran its way underneath a wonderful grove of soft hemlocks. Out its back door, was a generously sloping woodland which climbed a magnificent hill of laurel forest with boulders, pines and towering hardwoods.

The cabin sat on a flat shelf which was just about large enough for the cabin and its shooting tower. It seemed that the air was always cooler up the mountain. It was as crisp and cool as the brook which ran beside her. In these big woods, one could walk for miles and not see or hear from any civilization. Some of the sounds that stick out in my memory from the camp, were the mountain winds in the trees, which on occasion would cause the tree tops to knock, the steady rippling of the mountain streams lapping over the smooth rocks, the sound of a first snow in the quiet mountains’ still air as the tiny ice crystals would gently patter upon the forest’s branches and the cabin’s roof. And ohh,,, the silence in between… Silence that would make your ears ring… All of this engulfed this little cabin half way up a mountain hollow in the Alleghenies…

Inside were planked hardwood floors. The main room had a table in the corner with a gun rack which was used to house the many hunting carbines of choice along with the many miscellaneous items to go along with them. On the table, there was always a deck of cards, and beside it, a magazine rack that had hunting and fishing magazines that dated way back to the dawn of the camp. There was a stone fireplace in the center of the room, stone that was found on that mountainside and that was hand laid to form a hearth which warmed the hearts and souls of many guests of years’ past. A date inscribed in the hearthstone, dating back to 1947, told on the age of that magnificent stonework. To the left of this, wood was stacked clear to the ceiling. An old railroad rain parka hung in the corner next to the front door, which has hung there for many years. I don’t recall it ever being worn in recent years of my time spent at the cabin. Perhaps, it had a story of its own from long ago, along with the horizontal scratchings, names and dates on the door jamb of that main room.

Oil lamps hung from the walls and a lantern rested on the kitchen table to provide light for her guests. Pictures of ducks, geese, rabbits, grouse, elk and deer covered the walls along with a topographical map of the camp’s surrounding forest of hollows and creeks… This map was always heeded with high regard as the encompassing beauty was equally matched and mirrored in all directions, which is exactly how these hills could easily turn one around.

An old wood cook-stove and oven sat quietly in the corner of the kitchen. It is obvious from the age of the stove, that it has probably sat there since the first callers upon the camp. A long dinner table adorned the stone wall of the backside of the fireplace in the kitchen. This was where small groups would eat, play cards and talk of life, family and past hunts. The front wall of the kitchen had a window above a spring water fed sink that looked out at the meandering brook which disappeared in the hemlocks farther down the mountainside. Cold mountain spring water piped in underneath the camp to this sink helped aid with awakening from the cool night’s deep slumber; spring water, that was gravity fed through buried pipe from higher up the mountain. This water tasted as pure as it was ice cold…

Four bunks, were all that was in the small bunk room, in that little cabin, which sat on a hillside of lush woodland and primordial sustenance. It was tight quarters in that bunkroom, but comfortable for sleeping. The chamber looked out upon the shooting tower that was constructed of log timbers. Above it, was a galvanized roof as well and underneath that, was a comfortable arrangement for two for sighting in their rifles.

At the opposite end of the cabin a short distance into the woods, an outhouse stood, which was a reminder of the cold winter mornings in those deep woods…

I remember one evening when standing outside of the cabin, and how the deafening silence was broken from an occasional owl in the distance. The treetops swayed and knocked from a light wind caressing the mountains. The back door of the camp opened and the sound of voices grew louder. The sound of a cooler shutting, followed by the door, left the voices sounding faint again along with the sound of laughter, perhaps from another tall yarn told at the kitchen table. The dim warm lights in the windows of the camp were welcoming, along with the therapeutic smell of wood burning. The night air was cool and the hill above black with night. The sound of the rippling stream nearby softened the soul as the world outside drifted away…

…Moss covered boulders as big as a house, was the place I was sitting on a ridgeline during a deer hunt, on one such visit. A flock of turkeys strolled through a crevice below on the ground as I watched between the rocks. Single file, they strolled through, when I realized, two bears were casually following as if they were part of the flock. Bouncing along behind, enjoying the outing with their turkey friends…

Another time while turkey hunting over the next ridge in the neighboring hollow, I was trekking along a very old logging road which was grown in with trees and brush, when I witnessed a moment of my life, in the outdoors, which I have yet to equal or transcend… While fall turkey hunting the old path with my shotgun across the crook of my arm, I noticed a cat’s head a very short distance up ahead of myself, peering out from the side of the overgrown old road. I slowly stepped one last step and stood still, so I could catch a glimpse of the bobcat that I was sure he was. “His head was of good proportion for a bobcat” I thought to myself. It seems I was stopped frozen stiff for eternity. My arms were tiring from the weight of the shotgun. I slowly lowered the gun to relieve my arms, when the cat quickly turned and made an about face back into the brush from which his head was peering out from. The hair on the back of my neck stood up as I noticed his sleek, long, large, brown body and three-foot long tail swing around and disappear back into the thick cover…

I’ve been blessed with many experiences at the camp. The harvesting of my first buck on that hill above; the sightings of bear every time visited for a hunt; the pounding of grouse wings when walking the old logging roads and the feeling of going back in time for a short while. I recall the camaraderie, the friendships, the bond of man with fellow man and the woods. The camp was like a strong thread of stitching that held all these things together.

I was a mere visitor, but a participator in these events. A good friend of mine was of the family that leased and built the camp. I spent many years visiting the camp as a child and on up.

Twenty-two years ago, a major logging company decided to terminate all leases on its grounds. Today, the camp no longer stands in that laurel forest with boulders, pines and towering hardwoods. Instead, the land is unrecognizable as to what it once was and the camp was dismantled and burned many years ago…

The business of the world has caused a lot of good things and traditions to die, a lot of future feelings and experiences to be stolen away, and most definitely, the evidence of destruction left behind.

Far back in the woods, there is a place that has been changed. But,,, not so far back in my memory, there is a place that will always remain the same……

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© 2016, The Wood’s Edge Publications/Martin James Wood. All rights reserved.

About Martin James Wood

Nature enthusiast Martin James Wood is an outdoor writer and blogger for The Wood’s Edge. He has spent his life among the forests and woods, admiring nature with a camera and pen. His writing, artistry, and outdoor photography celebrate nature’s simplicity and beauty. A Pennsylvania native, Martin James is a loving father and husband, and a friend to our nation’s forests who believes in protecting and preserving our wild lands.

One thought on “The Camp

  1. This website is usually a walk-through for all of the details. Glimpse here, and you’ll definitely discover it.

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