The Universal Notebook: Once more into the well

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This may well be the last year I climb down into the well to turn off the water at the camp.

Not only am I almost 40 pounds heavier than I was 30 years ago, when I first started lowering myself through the two-foot square opening atop the cement well casing, but I’ve got cranky legs, a bad back, a stiff knee and, anyway, a man my age shouldn’t voluntarily bury himself.

“Do you want me to hold your wallet?” Carolyn offered as I prepared to descend the wooden ladder into the cistern. I guess she figured I might need the added clearance. Had she offered to hold my cellphone, too, I would have suspected her motives.

Turning off the water involves turning a valve at the bottom the well housing, a maneuver I could only manage this fall by kicking the valve handle with my foot. Five other camps share the well, so we would have had some unhappy campers had I managed to kick the pump out of commission.

Just about everything about the camp is shared, an exercise in family and community that has its challenges, but is worth it for the lessons in cooperation it teaches. Carolyn and her sister own the camp together, so the two families, now with six adult children and seven grandchildren between us, occupy the camp, which was once one-third of the dining hall of a girls’ camp, kind of like a big summer barracks.

First come, first served. All are welcome. But if you’re planning to have a bunch of buddies up for a weekend of fishing, cards and booze, you might want to check to see if there will be any babies present and vice versa. We have thus far blessedly managed to avoid the scheduling of assigned weeks to which some families have had to resort.

We also share the beach, a scrap of sand that was probably illegally trucked in before Carolyn’s mother bought the camp back in the 1980s. Twenty-odd camps around the cove use the beach, but even on a gorgeous August day it is rarely crowded.

There was once an agreement to keep all canoes and kayaks beyond the big pine at the end of the beach, but over the past decade the lake off the beach has become a flotilla of moorings and a couple of families (not ours) have erected kayak racks behind the beach. I’m guessing no one sought permission or even knows who to ask, but if we all built boat racks there might be an issue, so we don’t.

One of the first chores when closing up camp is to haul the big white canoe up from the beach and store it under the front porch with the little silver canoe, which no one uses because it is so unstable. Then we carry the two kayaks inside and lay them across the living room furniture. This year the kayaks were joined by a pair of stand-up paddle boards. The little ones seem to enjoy them, but they just give Grampy cramps in his calves and thighs.

We bag up the bedding against mice, though each spring we inevitably find a mouse nest somewhere we didn’t expect it – the stove, the grill, a dresser drawer, the pocket of a bathrobe hanging on the wall. We clean out the fridge, lug in the two picnic tables, and, finally, we tackle the big job of turning off the water, which has been made measurably more difficult these past few years due to the (unnecessary in my opinion) installation of a water heater.

To drain the pipes under the camp, you just loosen a few clamps and pull the couplings apart. But to drain the infernal water heater, you have to attach a garden hose and run it out into the woods. The infernal part is that in order to attach the garden hose (righty tighty) you have to remove the heater drain valve (lefty loosey), so it is nearly impossible to get more than a trickle of water to run out of the heater even when you tip it up.

This year, the ritual draining of the darn water heater took almost an hour and was accompanied by a great deal of cursing and complaining, all on my part. My profane temper is why it occurred to me, albeit fleetingly, that my lovely and long-suffering wife might prefer me locked up in the well.

Next year, one of the kids can do it.

Freelance journalist Edgar Allen Beem lives in Brunswick. The Universal Notebook is his personal, weekly look at the world around him.

  • Queenie42

    Thanks for the chuckles. : )
    Seriously, there are so many chores to do before winter sets in. Seems like every spring we forget all the stuff that has to be stored, shut off, turned on or insulated. But, oh, those two weeks of summer makes all the effort worth it somehow.
    Really enjoy your columns, Mr. Beem.