After a summer of fun at camp, it's always a bit depressing when it comes time to take in the dock, take out the water, and say goodbye to a special place for another year. Credit: Courtesy of John Holyoke

For my entire life, a tiny camp on a beautiful eastern Maine pond has played an important, nearly indescribable role for me and countless others. My parents built it after purchasing land with money my dad once told me he really didn’t have. He and my mom recognized, however, that if they didn’t find a way to make this dream a reality, they’d live to regret it.

Now, some 60 years later, my siblings and I — along with our children, stepchildren and grandchildren, not to mention generations of friends — are the beneficiaries of that seemingly simple decision.

Maybe your family has a similar place to rest and relax. I hope they do.

Alas, there are limitations linked to our camp. It’s modest in most regards, and though we moved beyond the “go to the outhouse” style of spartan living many decades ago, we still don’t have drinkable water running from the taps — it’s piped right up from the pond.

And in what seems to be a throwback to a previous generation, our camp is not the kind of place you’d want to spend much time at during the winter. It’s uninsulated, like most of the original camps on this lake were, and there’s no heating system, save for a fireplace that tends to produce much more smoke than actual fire.

We call the place a “three-season” camp, but that’s really not accurate. Instead, the bulk of its use comes during one magical season, when the water warms up enough to allow all of us — even the wimpiest — to swim. Sure, the bugs are biting. And sure, the pond gets busy with the sound of motorboats and personal watercraft and chainsaws and lawnmowers.

But for us, summers at camp are still pretty cool.

But then, after the seasonal renters head back to Virginia and New York and Massachusetts, and after us locals decide that it’s time to head back to town for good, it’s time to put the camp to bed before a long, frigid winter.

And while our early June chores of opening up camp are always conducted with an air of optimism as we look forward to the sunny days ahead, closing up camp is the opposite: No matter what the weather on the chosen day, it always seems a bit gray and melancholy as we go about our tasks.

The boats have to be dragged to the camp and stowed, stacked inside like cordwood in the large front room. The picnic table and the hammock are similarly stowed in their spots, as is the large, portable fire pit.

The water is disconnected, the pump packed up for winter storage.

And finally, it’s time to take in the dock.

This, I have found, is the saddest moment of each autumn’s rituals. Up until the dock comes out, it’s possible to imagine a beautiful Indian summer day when the temperatures hit 80 and it seems like a good idea to head to the pond for one last swim.

But after the dock comes out (and, perhaps more importantly, the stairs that lead to the dock are hauled up onto dry land), those summery hopes and dreams finally vanish. Again. For another nine months.

A couple weeks back, my brother and I spent a couple hours completing that depressing chore, swapping small stories and small talk as we hauled the aluminum pieces to their proper resting spots. We brushed aside a random dock spider or two, and fell into a familiar rhythm: He did most of the work. I did most of the talking.

That’s the way it’s always been between us. And that’s the way it’ll probably always be.

On this day, the weather was exactly what you’d expect on such a somber occasion. It was cloudy. Cool. Gray. And not a puff of wind stirred the placid pond.

After completing our chores, we called it a day … or a season … or a year. We packed up, and headed back home.

Vowing to head back as soon as we can. And recognizing that gifts like this are never guaranteed.

John Holyoke

John Holyoke has been enjoying himself in Maine's great outdoors since he was a kid. He spent 28 years working for the BDN, including 19 years as the paper's outdoors columnist or outdoors editor. While...