Sit down and let me tell you a tale that started in tragedy and ended in triumph…
This weekend my family and I packed up a Ford Taurus with kayaks, tents, sleeping bags and various other camping accoutrements and we headed off into the Maine wilderness.
Right about here.
Now, it should be pointed out that the Asalone family is not a traditional camping family. My dad hated camping up until about five years ago when we first started camping at Natanis. Before that his camping experiences included mosquitoes, black flies, and a mosquito-black fly mutation that has evolved for the sole purpose of defending the wilderness from young Italian-American campers. My mom enjoyed camping with her family when she was young but she mentioned that they invariably chose the rainiest weekends to camp every single year. One year it rained so hard that the lake they were camping on overflowed and the flood encroached upon their tent. Frantic, they uprooted the tent and moved it further from the edge of the lake. After a little while the flooding lake had caught up to them and they called it quits.
My sister and I had some prior camping experience before we went to Natanis for the first time. Both she and I went on our respective 8th grade camping trips. Both trips were mired by constant rain, and Katie’s trip ended with her bus skidding off the road and crashing into a tree. No one was injured.
So, before the summer of my sophomore year in high school, the likelihood of my family going off into the wilderness and camping for a weekend was slim. Yet off we went, and we had a great time, and I’ve digressed so allow me to get back to the point…
We reach the camp site, we set everything up, we had a great dinner, then we sat around the the camp fire eating delicious hot shmoes.
They’re called “smores” Buzz.
Then I decided to pick up a fishing rod and see if I could catch a fish or two. Fishing is a wonderful thing. I’ve loved fishing for a couple years now and Natanis is one of my favorite places to fish. As the sun went down I cast out my line for the first time that weekend. It was a perfect cast. It was just seconds after my bob hit the water that I got a bite. I reeled it in quickly. I had dreams of catching a 12-foot sturgeon that weighed over a thousand pounds. …Instead I pulled up a tiny 5-inch perch.
As I pulled up the line, the little guy looked up to me frightfully. “Don’t worry,” I said to Nemo, “I’ll get this hook right out of you!”
Well, it was a lot easier said than done. Nemo struggled and I desperately twisted the hook around to get it out of his mouth, but he kept slipping! Finally he calmed down and I was able to get the hook out of his mouth. I immediately put him back in the water.
Be free Nemo. I thought as I let him go. A little tear would have run down my face at the sight of his freedom…
…If he hadn’t immediately turned over and floated lifeless to the surface…
I killed it. The first cast of the weekend, first fish I’ve gotten this summer, and I killed it.
The next two nights I would have nightmares of little Nemo flopping up on shore and fish-slapping me to death.
The next morning I was desperate to get Nemo out of my mind. I proposed to my cousin that we go canoeing down-river as far as we could go. About halfway through the day we could turn around and canoe back upstream and make it home in time for dinner! I packed up some sandwiches and snacks, my cousin grabbed a compass and we were off.
We canoed down river for an hour and a half or so. There were dark clouds over the mountains to our left and we were beginning to get a bit worried that we might encounter some bad weather. We were in the middle of a lake when we heard our first clap of thunder. He and I both began scanning the shore for a good place to land. That’s when I saw this:
Specifically the top right hand corner.
“Let’s climb to the top of that!” I exclaimed to my cousin.
For reasons I still don’t fully understand, he agreed, and we climbed.
We had to scramble up a sharp embankment and then we crossed a road. We then started up what can only be described as a rock wall. I felt vaguely like Spiderman as we climbed up the first part of the cliff face. Eventually the rocks became more flat so that we could stand upright and get a look at where we were.
About halfway up we could see for miles.
We continued the ascent and it only became more difficult. The path we decided to forge was through thick under-brush and low branches. Both he and I dealt with slipping and scarring. At one point we climbed past an outcropping of rocks that held a sleeping snake. Like most young men with a love and respect for nature, we took turns poking the snake with a stick. Then we continued.
Admittedly, the path that we created was not the only way up the mountain. While we dealt with some seriously slowing branches and thorn bushes, we could have take the route that was a little more rocky. Albeit, that path looked a little more treacherous.
A very quick and violent short cut to the bottom.
It took us a long while (the whole time dark clouds approaching) but we reached the peak. We figured that we were the only people nutty enough to try to cut through to the top of that cliff without the slightest bit of a trail, but we soon found that we were not alone in our pursuit of cliff-conquest.
At the top of the highest cliff were three cairn (piles of rocks erected by hikers) one was nearly as tall as myself. I felt an interesting connection with those that had gone before me. Maine has a natural tendency to present a challenge to those willing to recognize it. My cousin and I recognized this challenge, we accepted the challenge, and we succeeded.
As he and I descended off the peak of what we decided to name Mt. Sleeping Snake, I thought back to the little fish that I had accidently ended. The skies opened up as rain came crashing down around us and I couldn’t help but think of the end of The Lion King with the metaphoric new beginning brought on by the rains. (watch that clip in it’s entirety to understand what I was feeling) A camping weekend that began in tragedy was replaced by triumph on a mountain top.
“Well, here I am.”