Discount Camp

What paradise looks like — if you squint



Illustration by Brad Fitzpatrick

Around here you don’t have to be rich to enjoy a getaway on the water. There’s lots of water and lots of shoreline in our bumpy little part of the world, therefore lots of opportunity to buy a sliver of paradise, even if you’re not in the 1 percent. The trick is not to set your sights too high. Think camp. By camp, I mean camp. A camp is not a house. If you want a house on a lake in New Hampshire, as my mother always said, “Bring your pocketbook.” But a camp on the backside of a backwoods pond 50 miles from the nearest Dollar Store, that’s doable for many of us. If you choose the right town or, even better, score a half acre in an Unincorporated Place in Coös County, you might even be able to afford the taxes.

If you’re thinking cottage by the sea, remember we’ve only got the 13 miles of coastline, and that’s pretty much spoken for. If you’ve got your heart set on a big body of water that starts with a W and has been featured in movies like “What About Bob?” or “On Golden Pond,” prepare for heartbreak. You’re sunk.

Unless you’re a multimillionaire like Mitt Romney or Steven Tyler.

Or unless your ancestors bought a cabin on a remote island in the 30s and you split the taxes with 27 cousins. (Which is awesome! Lucky you.)
For the rest of us, affordability means small. Think lil’ lake you never heard of. Think pond, river, brook, bog. Each has its attractions — light on the water ever-changing, fish for catching, frogs for croaking, holes for swimming. Maybe otters. Maybe mink. Maybe a moose stops by for a drink. You won’t find loons on a bog, but you might find a pair of nesting mergansers. You can’t sail on the Smith River or get your power boat up to speed on Lucas Pond. (Can’t even run a motor, by law — the natives like it that way.) You can’t fit a pontoon boat in a brook, but maybe you could find a good-sized hole, float a tire tube, lash it to a bush, cool off your bum and read a book.

As for accommodations, again, think small. Camp. Think one room with bunk beds, wood stove, 1940s-era fridge, and — if you’re lucky and resourceful — attached bath. By bath I mean a composting toilet — a luxurious upgrade from the outhouse. Though some prefer the outhouse view. By bath, I mean a sink that draws water from a pipe in the pond. When one of the aforementioned frogs gets sucked through, apologize and return it to its natural habitat.

The walls might be logs or plywood, the floors slatted, the windows salvaged. Duct tape keeps (most) bugs from sliding through the gaps. Except spiders. Spiders always find a way. Let ’em be, except for the big ones known as fishing spiders, rat spiders or wharf spiders. (I looked it up.) When they bite, they hurt. Trap them in a cup and return them (carefully) to the dock where they belong. Once one of the little ones bit me. My mistake. I was sleeping in the upper bunk. Spider territory. I got hives all over. That particular spider and I no longer speak. No one claimed camp was Disney World.

But it can be your place. Away. A place to watch the water, catch your breath, take a dip, play Monopoly, admire a sunset, battle the mice for the last of the Saltines. You have to admire those cheeky mice. They think it’s their camp. They love it as much as you do. Because it’s paradise. Sort of.

If you prefer to rent, don’t worry. Check the classifieds. If the price is low, and the description includes the words “unique,” “environmentally friendly,” “private” and, especially, “rustic,” you’re golden.

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