This camping experience had poured new spirit through her veins. Never had she known life as she had lived it in the past forty-eight hours. Two nights she had slept on balsam boughs with the fragrance of pines and the smell of a wood-fire stealing into the window to drug her to dreamless sleep.A Certain Crossroad
Emilie Loring used real experiences to create her stories, so when I read this passage, I wondered, “Where was this?”
A row of log cabins with brand-new tin water-pails glittering like family plate on their porches rimmed the lake at a conservative distance from its pebbly shore.A Certain Crossroad
In one of the Loring family albums, I found a collection of photographs, and one rang a bell–a row of log cabins with small porches.
I looked more closely. At the top of the photo was a sign… “BALD MT CAMPS.”
This was the information I needed. I reminded myself that “camps” are what I grew up calling “cabins.”
The Bald Mountain Camps were–and are–in the Rangeley region of Maine. They lie along the shore of Mooselookmeguntic Lake, “a sportsman’s paradise brimming with big landlocked salmon and trout.” Then as now, Maine guides showed visitors the best places to fish and the best tackle to use.
Victor Loring is pictured here with three such guides. If you look closely, you can see that the man seated on the ground is Herb Welch.
Herb Welch arrived at nearby Haines Landing in 1903, a skilled guide but not yet the legend he would become. In a season, he might catch over 250 fish, all of which he released, but his fame was secured when he created the Black Ghost streamer fly in the 1920s and guided celebrities like Ted Williams and President Herbert Hoover.
Victor fished from a boat with his guides, but he and his sons, Robert and Selden, fished from a T-shaped dock. (I walked up and down the shore but failed to find one like it.) This was a family vacation, so the boys had their dog with them, as well as their nurse.
The famous “Rangeley Boat” is a wooden boat with swiveling seats to allow guides and fishermen to adjust their positions as needed. But for women from Boston, proper chairs and a man to row the boat served as well.
The Lorings enjoyed their vacation so much that they returned several times to the area. I must see it for myself, I decided.
I drove up on Highway 17, the “Oquossoc Road,” stopping along the way at “Height of Land,” a scenic overlook. From early postcards, I was somewhat prepared for the view,
but in full color, it was spectacular!
The last portion of my drive ran along the abandoned rail tracks (in yellow below) which once brought the Lorings to the area. When I reached tiny Oquossoc (pop. 119), I turned west, toward the lake, then took one more turn, south, to arrive at the Bald Mountain Camps.
Of course, I knew my destination, and I followed the route as planned, but still, it was a thrill to see the sign, “Bald Mountain Camps.” I was really here. What would it be like? Would I recognize anything that Emilie had seen? Would anything be left, well over a hundred years later?
The lake was calm and the exact same blue as the sky. The gravel path crunched underfoot as I walked. To my left was a modern dock with motorboats, kayaks, and canoes at the ready. On my right were the cabins–“camps,” I must remember to call them.
Mine was “Prosperity,” and I smiled. “Patti of Prosperity Camp!”
“What shall I name the place which has a lift to it? I know! Prosperity Farm! Grand!
… Prue of Prosperity Farm salutes you!Hilltops Clear
I ate a carryout dinner from the Oquossoc Grocery, then enjoyed a glass of wine on Prosperity’s porch as the sun sank beyond the western mountains. In the morning I would investigate!
I awoke to a change in the weather. The air was chilly, and a stiff wind whipped the lake to white peaks. I walked directly to the water and tested it with my hand–yes, most definitely “icy cold.”
In the early morning she had plunged into the icy water of the lake. The cold had set her teeth chattering, her eyes shining, the blood leaping and glowing through her veins.A Certain Crossroad
By morning light, I could see the name of the camp next to mine: “Camp Sturtevant.” The twig sign looked a lot like the one in Emilie Loring’s photos… no, wait. It looked exactly like it.
It was the same sign. After more than a hundred years, a hundred Maine winters, a hundred summers of renters, the twig sign remained.
I stepped to the side and took another photo, which I placed side by side with Emilie’s original.
Not only had I come to the same resort, I had found the same camp. Maybe some of the Loring party had stayed in Prosperity, too. The interior has been renovated with heat, electricity, and real mattresses–no more balsam boughs–but I still had that “in her footsteps” feeling.
Several of the Lorings’ photos were taken at a particular place on the shore, in front of some small birch trees. I could tell it was the same place because of the slim, twin-trunked birch to one side. I scanned the shoreline… In front of the camp to the other side of Prosperity, there it was, thick, tall, and strong. I double-checked the lake and mountain background against the photos. Exact.
I found myself feeling proud of it. Good little tree, you made it.
I retreated to Prosperity’s warmth and set up my computer in front of a small window, but I didn’t feel like working. I watched the waves, watched as chilled fishermen arrived at the dock and hurried to their camps, looked through Emilie’s photos again, and smiled with satisfaction.
It was chilly again the next morning, but I bundled up and had my hot coffee and Oquossoc Grocery donut on the front porch. The lady next door walked by with her dog and said good morning. The fishermen to the other side of me came out with their to-go mugs and ambled toward the dock. Reluctantly, I packed my bag, left my key on the desk, and closed Prosperity’s door for the last time.
At the first corner, I was supposed to turn right, toward Oquossoc and the highway, but I couldn’t resist one last glimpse of Mooselookmeguntic. I turned left.
Hey, wait! I recognize those. They’re the Haines Landing camps.
And… oh, no, could it really be? One more discovery on this last day?
Yes. It was the T-shaped dock, the mountains in the background perfectly aligned, as they were in the Lorings’ photos. Why hadn’t I thought of it before? Herb Welch’s shop was at Haines Landing; how natural, that Victor would have brought the boys there to fish. And with that last discovery, I turned back toward the highway, still smiling.