When you're nine years old
, it takes quite a lot to really do a
properly. Salty Acres Campground, in Maine, is the kind of place where it all just clicks. It's massive
. It's massively massive. Big empty spaces all over the place,
hundreds of acres of woods, endless trails... for kids raised in the suburbs of Boston
, it's a naturalistic
In 1995, I was there with my brother Dustin and my cousins, Jason, Jenny, and Josh. They're a sick family,
naming all their kids like that. Josh was seven, Jason was eight, and Jenny was ten. Being a
girl meant that even if Jenny was older, she was regulated to
strictly-eight-year-old status, making me the big boss of the group. My brother, Dustin, was
there, too, age six.
The first big landmark on the campground for us was the lake, where all of the rocks were
pink sandstone that exploded like fireworks when thrown at other, harder rocks with
sufficient force. The lake was the end of an irrigation trench that ran for miles into
hectares and hectares of boring farmland. At best we had only the vaguest idea of
what irrigation was, but we had seen a dam once. So when the water level moved up and down,
we knew that it was being regulated by some outside source.
This knowledge aside, it almost certainly did not occur to us that our next action would be
"Hey," I said, "let's cross the river."
So we did. We threw big rocks into it to make stepping stones when the water was low, and
ran right across it. The other side had a cranberry bog, which, if you've never seen one,
is remarkably like a trampoline, for a piece of dirt. We bounced up and down on it for
upwards of an hour; tiring of this, we decided to go back. We walked down to the trench.
The water was at least seven feet deep.
"Oh, shit," I almost certainly would have said. However, I was nine, so I probably said "Oh
no!" as Tom and Jerry would if they could talk. (Outside of that lousy movie, I mean.)
"What're we gonna do?"
What were we going to do? We didn't know how to deal with this. We were four-foot tall city
slickers. My cousins, however, had read The Adventures of Tom Sawyer.
"Let's build a raft!" Jason shouted, and he was right.
At this point, it should be mentioned that the lake was the crossing point of
the trench with itself; one could not simply walk around it.
So we tried it. We found some old picnic tables
and tore apart the rotting
wood, then tied them together. I still marvel at the fact that we found rope and wood, a
ridiculous prospect when you look back at it. But we did make a sort of raft
, complete with
a rope to anchor it to shore. We walked down to where the river was perhaps ten, fifteen feet
wide, an endless abyss to our young eyes.
Now was the time for decision making. As our inevitable leader, I had to decide who would
forge the mighty river and call for help.
"Dustin." "What?" "Get on the raft."
We put him on it and shoved it into the river, where it promptly sank. At this point, I think
somebody really did say "Oh, shit." We screamed at Dustin to grab the rope
and pulled him back to our side of the shore.
"We're never going to get out of here!" Sheesh. Never bring a girl on a camping trip.
We sat dejectedly in the bog for quite some time. Jason decided to find an alternate route and walked around exploring.
"Guys! Guys! The river's gone!" We all ran and looked. Naturally, it was; the water level was
back to a respectable three inches. We ran across it and headed back to the campsite.
At this point, it should be noted that our parents had no idea we were even missing after
these three hours or so. It should also be noted that women weren't traditionally brought
along, and this time was no exception (minus Jenny, who was one of us). So they naturally
didn't pick up on it.
* * *
There were more frontiers
to be found, though. We wandered out of the camp after a
longer while, since we had again become bored out of our minds. We decided to walk along the
fence that was the boundary of the campground
(on the trespassing side of it, of course),
which led along all these fascinating rock cliffs
. Nothing too dangerous; the cliffs
were perhaps seven feet high. Cuts and scrapes
were the worst thing that could
happen to you, even if you fell.
But, as kids do, we lost interest and started wandering deeper into the woods. We knew the
part of the forest that was close to the site, because we ventured out there to clandestinely
steal firewood with our fathers every night. This time, though, we went further. Jason, Josh,
and I were all armed with Swiss Army knives and the will to conquer. As we
walked, we applied our former-Cub Scout knowledge by carving a secret mark into every tree
we passed. "Now we can retrace our path."
We walked for miles before Jenny started getting tired and sitting down. I decided we ought to
head back toward the campsite. I looked around for our secret marks.
"Do you see any?" said Josh.
"I'm looking, I'm looking." I stalled for time. I had no idea where we were anymore. "Alright,
I don't but it's okay. The campsite was south. Now," I squinted, "the sun rises in the west and sets in the east, and the sun is over that way. So
south must be this way, which is back toward the campsite."
This was ill-fated. Not only were we actually heading east-by-northeast, but the campsite
didn't lie to the south, either. We walked and walked and walked, and didn't seem to be
"Where are we?" said Josh, looking around viciously. "I've never even seen this
"No, no, I know where we are. Let's go this way a little bit." I changed our heading
forty-five degrees, to show that I knew what I was doing, and kept leading. "Look, the woods
are ending!" We walked out of the woods, and examined our surroundings for familiar
We were standing by the edge of US Highway 1, without a building, automotive, or
sign in sight.
"Okay, okay. This isn't a big deal. The highway runs to the campsite, so we can't be that
"How do you know it's the same highway?" Jason, rather petulantly. "You don't even know which
way we're going. We're following me now."
Jason's system relied on another Cub Scout mantra, that moss only grew on the north side of trees. We followed this theory for awhile, but it
got us no closer to the campsite that lay somewhere in the east.
We stopped to rest. Dustin said, "Hey, didn't Dad say that some lumberjack owned this
"Well, wouldn't he be mad that we're on it? This is Maine. People have
"Nobody's chasing us around with a shotgun. It's just a big empty forest."
Naturally, we'd only walked a little further before we heard a chainsaw somewhere. And
started running like mad.
Eventually, we made it back. We found the fence about a mile west of our site, and followed it
carefully back until we were in our respective tents. No crazy lumberjack shot us. We didn't
even drown, although lord knows we deserved it.
Excitement is being nine.