Summer / Camp Stories: "Baker Lake"

Summer / Camp Stories: "Baker Lake"
"The Devil and Tom Walker", by John Quidor circa 1856

It may be a truism, but every man needs to get away from his wife now and then. So when the opportunity came for camping, I took it.

There was one problem though: I shared a car with my wife. As this was a car camping trip with each guy planning to sleep in his truck if the rain dumped down, I was feeling less manly and a bit more dependent than I wanted to be. But it is good fortune to have good friends, and my friend John connected me with Henry. Henry was driving to the lake the same time and day that I could go, a Friday afternoon. Most others had gone on Thursday but Henry was a contractor and needed to finish a deck job. I was an office drone and couldn't get out before then.

Henry arrived at my condo and it was gray and looking to rain. I packed too much gear for two nights and I silently damned myself as I hauled the heavy backpack into his truck.

"A lot of lead", I told him. "Yeah, well," he replied, and that was it.

Whenever I climb into a near-stranger's vehicle, I get anxious that I'm invading their private space. Henry didn't say anything at first so I stared ahead and sat with it. After a few minutes I asked him about work, his latest job.

"Is the market good for that?" I asked.
"Yeah it's been pretty good."
"You'd think with the housing downtown and so on that the whole industry would be affected."
"Yeah, well, I've got a good niche."
"Are these high-end homes?"
"Some. Most just need a new deck or want a new deck because the wood is rotten."
"Wet climate, yeah."
"That's part of it, also the wood is just cheaper and cheaper these days."
"You using recycled materials at all?"
"Uh no, not any of that particle crap. Pressure-treated wood."

And then a break in words as all men need. After a time he asked about my job and said that he knew a guy who worked there and hated it. I could relate.

The lake was about two hours' drive away and for the rest of the drive we talked about the writer Annie Dillard and logging with dynamite and stocky women such as his girl. But mostly we sat in silence, which I liked. My wife talked too much.

As we were pulling around the lake road I mentioned that John saw shooting as meditation practice.

"That's a rationalization."
I laughed. "There is something about steadying your gaze."
He shrugged. "I like the Sig that he has."
"A nine?"
"Yeah, it shoots well."
"Do you know where the turnoff is?"
"No, something about a paper plate?"
"Ah, it will be orange I think."

I started looking for an orange paper plate affixed to a gate. In about ten minutes Henry saw it and pulled off, down
the gravel road to the thicket of trees by the artificial lake.

"I see John's car."

He pulled up to the edge of the campsite. There were a few guys seated around a good fire. It was 4pm. It was October. It was getting dark.

DOUG MILAM is a short story writer in the Pacific Northwest who has written for The Second Hand, and authored Still the Confusion.

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