As much as I pride myself on being the “unplugged girl,” I really don’t care very much for camping. I love the idea of camping–being outdoors, immersed in nature, sleeping under the stars, hiking, finding swimming holes–but unlike the rest of my family, the camping part itself just isn’t my cup of tea. Maybe that’s because it rains without fail every time we go, leaving us with wet towels and muddy shoes. Maybe it’s because of the grit and dirt that inevitably gets tracked into the tent. It may be because it’s such a pain to cook on the camp stove and then wash the greasy dishes under the cold spigot. Or perhaps it’s because it’s just a lot of darned work.
So when friends of ours returned from a few idyllic days in a cabin on a pond deep in the Maine woods–a cabin without electricity or modern plumbing–I was intrigued. There would be a roof and kerosene lanterns. There would be an oven and a stove and a refrigerator powered by propane. There would be comfy beds with handmade quilts and a wood stove if it grew chilly. This destination sounded too good to be true. All the fun of camping without all of the the hassle. No soggy butter from the ice melting in the cooler. No shucking and jiving to string up a tarp over the picnic table when the rain came. No schlepping of pots and pans and sleeping pads and everything else one needs to set up housekeeping in the woods. A sparkling pond would be just steps away. We booked the Cricket Cabin for the first week in July. None of us could wait.
Unplugged in the Woods of Maine
Spencer Pond Camps, owned and operated by Christine Howe and her husband Dana Black, is home to six, charming “unplugged and off-the-grid” cabins situated along the shore of Big Spencer Pond. 34-miles north of Greenville, Maine and 14-miles along dirt and gravel logging roads from the tiny town of Kokadjo, its location is remote in the truest sense of the word and the cabins are the only ones on Big Spencer Pond. One morning during our stay Christy told me that years before when working for the EPA she surveyed hundreds of ponds and lakes in New England, New York and New Jersey. She said that it is incredibly rare to find one that is so completely undeveloped. Big Spencer is one of those undeveloped jewels. The lack of nearby neighbors contributes to the sense of peace and tranquility you have while staying at camp, truly allowing you to relax, slow down, and reconnect with your family.
Six Cozy Cabins
The Cricket cabin, where we were staying, was quaint and cozy and just right for the five of us. It had a wide, screened porch with two rocking chairs, a small dining table and a comfortable porch swing with cushions and pillows where our oldest daughter spent hours reading. Inside the cabin was a snug living area with easy chairs and rockers, a wood stove for cool evenings and a dining table where we fit comfortably for dinners and one rather gut-wrenching game of Monopoly. At the far end of the room was a small but well-equipped kitchen complete with an old-fashioned water pump, the aforementioned propane-powered stove and refrigerator and plenty of dishes, cutlery and cookware for all of our meals. The kitchen and living room each had overhead propane lamps which gave off quite a bit of light. Off to each side of the common room were two inviting bedrooms with comfortable iron beds dressed in colorful linens and bedside tables with kerosene lanterns that glowed invitingly when we lit them each evening.
The other five cabins are similar in decor and range in size, accommodating from 2 people in the tiny Skip Wiley cabin to up to 12 in the Main Lodge. My husband and I kept talking about how fun it would be to spend a week at the camps with a group of friends–each family could have their own cabin yet we’d all be together and the kids could be totally free-range. All of the cabins have a lovely view of Big Spencer Pond which is perfect for swimming, fishing, kayaking and canoeing. The camp offers kayaks and canoes for guests to use along with providing life vests in all sizes and paddles for each cabin.
Peace, Quiet and Keeping House
Our days were spent paddling on the pond or floating in the cool water in inflatable tubes we brought from home, rocking on the porch with our books, playing UNO around the porch table, and attempting to keep our dog from attacking the camp’s ducks and chickens. My husband caught two fish totaling about 8-inches and we roasted plenty of marshmallows around the campfire while marveling over the star filled sky. We did set out on a couple of outings, to hike nearby Mount Kineo and what we think was called #4 Mountain Trail, however, a wrong turn or two on the endless maze of unmarked, gravel logging roads and one unfortunate episode of getting stuck in the mud (from which we were rescued by a friendly trio of ATV’ers) kept us from reaching our destinations. We were treated to a brief moose sighting on one of these outings, thus christening them “wild moose chases.” Our failed efforts prompted us to stay put and enjoy the beauty of camp for the remaining days of our vacation.
We all truly enjoyed the homesteading aspect of staying at the camp and I must have said, “I’m SO glad we’re not in a tent right now!” about one hundred times during the week–while washing dishes, while listening to the rain fall on the cabin roof lying in that big, old-fashioned bed at night, while cozied up to the wood stove reading my book on a misty afternoon. We quickly got the hang of setting the big kettle of water to boil when we started cooking each night so that there would be hot water to get the first batch of pans washed and the girls loved pumping the big, iron pump to get a cool drink during the day. We enjoyed fresh eggs from the camp chickens each morning and our eldest baked up a delicious batch of chocolate chip cookies one afternoon. Swimming in the pond stood in for showers and aside from a few cat baths with soap and a washcloth at the basin, we didn’t bother rigging up the solar shower bag provided in the cabin. And the “plumbing out back” was it’s own pleasant surprise where a bucketful of sawdust was kept to keep everything fresh and clean and a pile of birding books and an old map on the wall kept us entertained while visiting our private privy.
Christy and Dana were lovely hosts and we enjoyed the company of the other families we met, sharing bug spray, marshmallows and ice with our neighbors. Dana works as a lobsterman and, after making arrangements prior to our arrival, we were treated on our second day to 4 gorgeous lobsters he’d pulled from his father’s traps just that morning and delivered to us on ice that afternoon. Of course the cabin had it’s own giant lobster pot in which we steamed the fresh crustaceans before devouring them gleefully with lemon and drawn butter.
Our week at Spencer Pond Camps was all we’d hoped it would be–a time to slow down and reconnect, enjoying nature, good food, good books and one another. The perfect recipe for a family vacation.