By Lenny Ackerman
Dipping My Toes in the Water
At the end of my recent column, Camp Beginnings, I dipped my toes in the water off the dock at camp and drifted into a blissful state of mind, a quiet moment absent of the stress of everyday life as I know it. My old friend and dutiful reader, Jay, a retired surgeon living in New York City, commented after reading the column, “Why do you find happiness in the wilderness of Maine?’ What motivated me to spend clips of time over the summer months at Camp Kabrook, going back and forth between there and New York, to a place that was remote and often complicated and time consuming to get to? Why was it worth it? I must look back for the answer, back over my 82 plus years, to a starting point in time in the early 1950’s, when I begged my parents to sign me up for two weeks of sleepaway camp at Camp Seneca on Seneca Lake, a day’s bus ride from my hometown of Rochester. It was there in nature, in the beauty and the challenges I faced in the woods and the waters of upstate New York that I saw clearly what life could and would be—to come of age and to be “my own” person. I was no longer Marty’s kid brother but an individual–albeit still a youngster and a pimpled immature kid, but it was the start of something. Being on my own in the woods in a tent with new friends and young girls not far off was thrilling. The water activities at Seneca Lake drove me to push my physical effort to new limits. I felt a new excitement for adventure. The most exciting adventure was a trip to Seneca Falls in a war canoe—a vessel big enough to hold 12 kids and supplies—several miles away. It was the ultimate physical challenge. To qualify for the trip, I had to swim out to a dock anchored in the middle of the lake. The level of endurance required was beyond anything I had felt before. In terms of physical activity, my only basis of comparison was summer softball at the Kodak Park Athletic League. Only a handful of us campers were able to qualify, and I was elated to be among the chosen. This experience instilled in me a deep sense of confidence and accomplishment, both inextricably linked with the outdoors. Thus began my lifelong love of the water and wilderness.
Later in life, after college, everyone moved into apartments in the city. I never felt completely settled, a sense of wanderlust always churning to live beyond the concrete and glass. I needed grass and sunshine upon waking. My motivation to move to East Hampton with my young family, although driven by my wish to control my own destiny, was also in large part to experience the ocean and open spaces.
In later years, my passion for fly fishing was, now in hindsight, more about the journey and not the destination. It was less about catching fish and more about getting back to the wild. My camp was not a destination initially. I stumbled upon it, on the way to a fishing trip in Canada with friends Lori and Ted, who happened to have a family camp on East Grand Lake, where we stopped en route. It was that sea plane ride, landing at the dock of the camp next door to theirs, with a turned over For Sale sign, that hooked me on the idea of my own wilderness camp in Maine. I had read a lot about fishing camps and have a slew of design books on camp design and architecture. In fact, I once had an architect design a camp for a waterfront site on the West Branch of the Delaware that I wanted to buy, but never did. Later, after visiting Blueberry Farm outside of Knoxville, Tennessee, I had an architect draw plans to replicate a fishing camp for my property in the Hamptons. Neither of these camps were ever built—my destiny it seems, was Maine. I suppose it has always been my desire to recapture some of the magic of Camp Seneca. I only needed the right place, and I found it on East Grand Lake.
Camp is more than a place to fish the morning lonely. I share the love of the water with my family- my girls and my grandchildren, my Patti, friends Lore and Ted and numerous others who drive the distance to walk down to the dock and dip their bare feet into the quiet waters of East Grand Lake and dream like I do.