Way up in northern New Hampshire, on the Maine border and close to Canada, is a stunningly beautiful lake that hosts several wilderness campsites. Campers can only reach the sites by water – canoes, kayaks, or hiring the pontoon transport. Originally, it was a privately owned camp area. Now the campsites are part of a state park and the lake is a national wildlife refuge.
When you camp at Lake Umbagog, you take everything with you…your living room, kitchen, bedroom. They furnish a picnic table, fire ring and a chemical toilet hidden out in the woods. It is one of my favorite places to spend time, although I haven’t been in a few years.
My friends and I have been known to paddle out in canoes and kayaks, ladened down with gear, food and other supplies (read wine). We could wedge it all in because we had backpacking gear, although the coolers with large blocks of ice from the store in Groveton took up a lot of space. Still, we did that for a couple of years.
Then we got smart and paid for the transport. We loaded all of our gear, our canoes and kayaks, and ourselves and were motored out. Then we just paddled when we wanted.
Over the years, I’ve camped with several friends – Barbara, Ron, Kathie, but almost always with Paula and Tom, and later, their daughter, Eliza. When we were still transporting ourselves, the summer that Paula was pregnant, she and Tom and I were going back to the base. Paula wanted to try Barbara’s new ocean kayak, so Tom and I took their canoe. We had so much gear, we were running about two inches out of the water. And the head winds were fierce. At one point, we had to put in at one of the islands just to rest. It took several hours to get off that lake that summer.
Lake Umbagog always challenges us. But it also offers up some stunning wildlife moments. Striking black and white loons glide and dive just offshore from the campsites, their haunting calls soothing through the night, as though saying, “We are here. You can rest now and be safe.”
Often, we camped out on the main part of the lake on rocky points that jutted out, but in the distance, we could see other campsites, oh, not close, but we knew they were there. And power boats came by close, interrupting our solitude.
My favorite spot became a lone site in a shallow cove where we couldn’t see another site, so shallow that power boats never entered. There would be the occasional one or two kayaks, but even they were rare.
One summer morning, Tom, Paula, Eliza and I were camping in that cove. I was sleeping in my tent when I heard the probably 5-year-old Eliza tapping on the back of my tent, whispering, “Auntie Cissy, Auntie Cissy. You have to come see.”
I slipped on a sweatshirt (it’s chilly in the early morning in northern New Hampshire), unzipped the door on the tent and stepped out. “E” and her mother were there. Quietly we walked to the water’s edge, where Tom was waiting. “E” pointed to the end of the cove.
There, a young bull moose was frolicking in the shallow water. A mist hung over most of Lake Umbagog, but our view of him was clear. He stood up, walked carefully across the rocks to the opposite shore and lumbered out of the water. He shook the water off like a big old dog. Really.
Then, he threw his head back and called out. We held our breath. From a distance, there was an answering call.
We had just witnessed a magical moment in the wilderness. And all of us, including “E,” knew it.