We Mainers love our camps. Love ‘em. Couldn’t live without ‘em.

(Note to non-Mainers, flatlanders or people from away:  By “camp,” we Mainers are referring to the small lakeside cabins that people in your neck of the urban woods might call “cottages.” Since we’re Mainers, we don’t use the word “cottage.” Unless, of course, we’re talking about that sloppy, tasteless cheese that you eat when you’re on a diet … or unless we’re laughing about the fact that millionaire summer residents use that word when they should be saying “seaside mansions.” See Exhibit A: Martha Stewart, et al).

No, our camps are generally seasonal, though an increasing number of us have more permanently retreated to the lake, and have taken to adding such high-falutin’ touches as (gasp!) insulation … (double-gasp!) hot water heaters. (Another note to our summer visitors: I know those handy gizmos are called “water heaters,” or “boilers.” But we still call ‘em “hot water heaters.” What can I say? We Mainers are redundant, and we tend to repeat ourselves.)

The thing about our camps is, before they’re suitable for habitation by anything other than the mice that avoided all the peanut-butter-baited traps that we laid out back in September (and those that simply showed up to the peanut butter banquet after cousins Mickey and Minnie had already sacrificed themselves to the cause, we’ve got work to do.

Work? you say (at least, we Mainers assume you’d say it, since … well … you’re from away and all, and since we’re good-naturedly biased against your presumably wealthy ilk). Isn’t that something you have your caretaker do for you?

No, it’s not. Not even close, chummy.

No, before we can start lighting off firecrackers and commence to sunburning our collective carcasses, we’ve got to spruce up the old camp and do any number of essential chores.

First up: We’ve got to put the water in.

(Another note to our much beloved summer visitors, who shower us with cash that allows our far-flung burghs to survive the bitter winters: The answer is “No.” We do not actually refill the lake every year. When we Mainers say “we put the water in,” we actually meant to say “we made the indoor plumbing operational.” If, that is, we actually have indoor plumbing).

Putting in water can be tedious. It can be frustrating. It can even be downright dangerous. It all depends on who’s doing what, who’s actually handy enough to perform the task they’ve been assigned, and whether any bees have nested in your pump house. More on the bees in a minute.

At my own family camp, things work more or less seamlessly. My brother does all the work (because he’s handy enough to know what he’s doing). I stand around and hand him the supplies he needs (because I’m smart enough to recognize my own non-handy tendencies, and because I don’t want to be the one who gets blamed if the crapper craps out at noon on the Fourth of July).

After putting the little plug thingies (see, I said I’m not handy) into the long pipe-ish thingies (ditto), and after dragging the longer pipe into the lake and anchoring it to the bottom with old cinder blocks,  we call on dad, who tries to get the pump to run.

Actually, my brother and I … OK, my brother … takes care of that chore now. We do, however, let dad stand around, just in case he wants to try to prime the pump by blowing into the water tank. Why? Because he did that one year (or five). And (ha!) we always grease that opening so it doesn’t rust shut. Therefore, anyone who blows into the hatch, hoping to inject some extra pump-priming air pressure, stands up with a jaunty little greasebeard.

After the water’s running, we’ve got to put in the dock … and the float … and the boats … and the mooring balls. This, too, can be tricky, and potentially dangerous.

The float is our biggest worry. At our camp, it’s a massive, waterlogged beast, and the only way we’ve found to “launch” it is by lining up a pair of 12-foot-long beams, like they’re railroad tracks. If, that is, railroad tracks ever led down a steep embankment, between two trees, and into a lake.

Then, with our makeshift ramp more or less complete, we heave and heft and haul and moan and groan, and eventually push the float down the ramp. The more people moaning and groaning and hefting and hauling, the quicker we get this part done.

Of course, the float sometimes (often) ends up wedged up against one of the two trees … at which point we politely ask my brother to clamber down and figure out a way to free the beast (hopefully without getting himself, as we Mainers will sometimes say, runt over, all stove up, or drownded).

So far, it’s worked out great. At least, that’s the way it has looked from my safe, dry observation perch. Despite the annual threat of potential maiming (or worse), I can’t recall anyone ever bleeding during the much awaited float-launching ceremony.

I can’t say as much for the not-nearly-as-spectacular launching of the mooring balls. And I’m nearly embarrassed to tell you who did the bleeding. Nearly … but not quite.

The steps to the dock were slippery that day. That’s all I’ll say in my defense.

And I learned that a well-worn pair of Crocs, when planted firmly on a slimy-wet set of stairs (or, more accurately, planted firmly on the top step, since I never touched any subsequent stair with anything other than my back, butt or head) is not an OSHA-approved activity.

I fell. I bled. I splashed (gracefully, I like to believe) into the knee-deep water. But at least I didn’t get stung by bees.

Which is more than I can say for another pal of mine.

Late one spring, I traded the chance to fish for some Sebago Lake togue for my (limited) talents as a camp-sprucer-upper.

What that really means is that I stood around and handed my buddy tools as he did various things that he’d done 30 times before.

And then we put the water in.

My buddy’s family has a pump house, which, I thought, made his family’s compound pretty spiffy. But as he lay on the floor of the tiny structure (picture a dog house fit for a St. Bernard), he said something like this: “Umm. We’ve got a problem. Ow! OW!”

Whereupon he came scrambling out of the pump house, waving his arms and yelling (or so I seem to think I remember) “Bees! BEES!”

We both retreated to camp and came up with a fine Maine plan.

First, we’d drive into North Windham. Then we’d find the highest test bee-nuking spray we could find. Then we’d give that nasty nest what-for.

Finally (and, for my money, most importantly), we’d go fishing.

An hour or so later, armed appropriately (and wearing whatever protective clothes we could scrounge up), we skulked back down to the bee stronghold, ready for battle.

First, we sprayed.

Then we ran away and hid behind the best bee-proof tree we could find. I know. It doesn’t make any sense. But when you think you’re getting chased by 10,000 angry wasps, you take cover where you can.

Spray … run away.

Repeat. As. Necessary.

Eventually, we won the battle. I know that’s true.

But I don’t think we got much fishing in that day.

Not that we minded, of course.

Because we’re Mainers.

And we Mainers just love our camps. No matter what.

John Holyoke

John Holyoke

John Holyoke has been enjoying himself in Maine's great outdoors since he was a kid. Today, he's the Outdoors editor for the BDN, a job that allows him to meet up with Maine outdoors enthusiasts in their...