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Vermont View Photo by Cedarose Keeley

Cedarose Keeley

Long-time staff member Pam Linnell shares contemplations from her summer road trip.

August 1, 2016
Salisbury, VT
Waterhouse’s Camping and Marina, Lake Dunmore

“Camping the way it used to be.”

The campground logo becomes a road trip contemplation. What is “camping like it used to be?” The Waterhouse’s website promises tenting grounds with water, electric and internet, which is not how camping used to be for me. Maybe they mean the onsite pub will offer 6 kinds of beer, but no prosecco? This does turn out to be true, alas.

Day 1. My solo expedition sets off into soft pearly gray skies just as the threat of rain intensifies from mist to splatters – now that is camping as I remember.  All morning as I head deeper into west central Vermont the rain comes down with increasing earnest and the passing semis toss it around in bucketfuls. My rule is that I’ll be a good sport about rain as long as it’s dry while I’m putting up my tent. Internet weather predicts a break in showers mid-afternoon at my destination, so I’m timing my arrival at Waterhouse’s for then. The irony of the campground name is not lost on me.

Along scenic and still controversial I-89 clouds settle on the mountain tops, blurring the boundary between earth and sky. The famous green is deep and muted. As I leave the interstate for Vermont highways, the roadsides are thick with Queen Anne’s lace, their white flowers almost translucent against the sodden landscape. Hey, the rain has diminished, and the clouds are releasing their toehold on the peaks. The heavens brighten. I cross a line on the pavement, wet on one side and dry on the other.  On the dry side is Lake Dunmore where the sky is bright with sunshine and the water is sparkling.  My tent is up and dry. Perfect.

To “Vermont Camping the way it used to be” is now added “but with today’s amenities.”  The Paddler’s Pub has fresh knotty pine, vintage canoes, an interesting menu and an outside patio. A singer/guitarist sets up the evening’s entertainment. He makes everything – from the Sweet Baby James to The Stones to The Dead – sound like Margaritaville.  A marina of small pontoon and motor boats makes a lovely slapping sound as the water rocks with human passage. A tidy beach with a row of cheerfully painted Adirondack chairs overlooks children at water play. The number of young ones is perfect – enough to add interest, but not enough to dominate the scene.

Waterhouse’s tenting sites can be deep woods, riverside or grassy. I am next to the clear, shallow river with its quiet voice. I’m not sure if it’s because of “the way it used to be” or “today’s amenities,” but the bugs are happily minimal. Perfect. Later, as I hike back from dinner at the pub, I see the sign I missed the first time across the river: “Danger – Water level rises rapidly without warning.” Yikes. When I wake in the night I listen for any dangerous changes to the river’s sound as rain falls on my tent. But the water, too, is perfect and remains as one would wish, tamely within its banks and humming a gentle lullabye.


August 4 – 7, 2016
Salisbury, VT
Waterhouse’s Camping and Marina, Lake Dunmore

Day 4, and so on. Another perfect day in a perfect place.

Sitting by the river, summer afternoon
Lazy waters murmuring an old familiar tune
The humming birds are humming a sweet melody…

…and the Kampersville store is now stocking the perfect drink – single-serving size bottles of Prosecco. Just right for a single-serving size gal. Under its influence, the perfect contemplation continues. I’m considering when“camping is the way it used to be.” Two of the old photographs I’ve been seeing keep coming to mind.

An 1890s Adirondack scene shows fur-clad men standing next to the rustic wood shelter they have built in the clearing they have made next to the canoe they have paddled by the fire they have built from the wood they have gathered where the supper they have hunted simmers. Wow. They must be really hungry.

A 1950s brochure shows a mom in short hair and short shorts cooking breakfast over a camping stove on a picnic table next to an Airstream mobile home in a KOA campground. Inside there is a portable TV where Dinah Shore is singing to her audience that they really should, “See the USA, in your Chevorolet.” Ah, escaping from everyday routine.

This is what Martin Hogue, William Munsey Kennedy Jr. Fellow in Landscape Architecture at the State University of New York, Syracuse, must have had in mind when he wrote:
“Modern campsites embody a peculiar contradiction: They are defined and serviced by an increasingly sophisticated range of utilities and conveniences, and yet marketed to perpetuate the cherished American ideal of the backwoods camp…”

“No wonder that the daily repetition of chores once associated with survival has now been so fully recast as a series of almost spiritual rituals intended to reconnect the camper with what has been largely lost; for by now most of the old necessities — hiking to and clearing the site, hunting for game, collecting water and firewood — have given way to such less arduous activities as parking the car, pitching cable-free pop tents, buying cold cuts at the campground store, hooking up electrical and sewerage conduits, setting up patio chairs, etc. Serviced by networks of infrastructure and populated with trailers and $100,000 RVs, campgrounds celebrate a unique form of American ingenuity in which intersecting narratives and desires (wilderness, individuality, access, speed, comfort, nostalgia, profit) have become strangely and powerfully hybridized.”

That it is standard, says Martin, “to send emails wirelessly from the campsite picnic table … bespeaks the near total elimination of boundaries between the home and away.”

Yikes. Where do I fit into all of this? At the intersection of motorcycle (the myth of the rebel, cheap transportation, a particular way of being in the landscape) with that most American of curiosities (what’s over there and beyond that and beyond that). More caravanseri than backwoods, I think. More the romance of the Silk Road, that carrier of ideas and commerce. A conduit of way stations from the familiar to the exotic and back – safe, serviced, and supplied with material for a memoir (or blog).

The senior member of the current generation of Beaches operating Harbor Basin Club, in a video memoir about his grandfather who founded the club, included a nineteenth century print showing the view from the lodge porch onto Lake Champlain. Next to that he put a photograph of the same view today, remarkable in that it was, save for type of vessel moored in the harbor, the same. His point was not so much that nothing had changed in that time. After all, Vermont chopped down a state’s worth of trees and grew them back again, to mention only one impact our landscape has survived. His point was that his family lived their todays with an appreciation for their yesterdays and without fatally mucking up the environmental infrastructure for their tomorrows. For all our tomorrows.

As for the Waterhouses, I decide they follow another American pursuit: finding profit in myth and making what you are an asset. They are what they are – so much beachfront, so much woods, neat and well maintained buildings and grounds – un-mucked-up landscape with enduring value and no need to be anything else.

“Camping the way it used to be.”

My beautiful picture

Pam Linnell is the Director of Finance and Chagdzö for Karmê Chöling. She has worked at the center for nine (mostly) joyful years.



  1. caroline demaio says:

    Thanks, Pam. This was a delightful read. Made me want to camp again, something I would have thought would be impossible!

    • Thanks, Caroline. Something about the stimulation of travel plus sitting by a river with no deadlines makes writing fun. Having others enjoy it makes it even more fun. Pam

  2. Yes, took me straight back to vt and camping! Very evocative.

    (Nine years!)


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