A thunderstorm and hungry raccoons conspire to make an island camping trip a night to remember.
By Mark Gartside
Illustration by Sue Smith
It began with a comment from a launch driver at Paul’s Marina. “You know,” she said, “you can camp out on some of the islands in Casco Bay.”
I was on my way back from a fishing trip on my boat, The Money Pit, which, in the finest example to date that she deserved her name, had recently been fitted with a brand new outboard. Having paid for the engine, I took every opportunity to use it — sunset evenings with my wife, fishing trips with the boys, outings with my two sons — with the result that the launch drivers at the marina had taken to suggesting new things we could do.
And camping sounded perfect. Falling asleep under the stars after a meal cooked over a camp stove, the taste of s’mores still on our lips, the gentle swell of the ocean like a lullaby. It would be a romantic getaway right on our doorstep. A true Maine experience. And best of all, given the cost of the outboard, it would be more or less free. My wife was going to love it.
As soon as I got home, I suggested it.
“Why don’t you take the boys?” she said. “I think they’ll like it.”
Spurned but undaunted, a week later my four-year-old son and I pulled up to a deserted island and clambered ashore. We were with a friend and his son, and we were living the dream. This was it! We were camping! On an island! And best of all, we’d gotten there by boat. My boat.
It started well. No fires were allowed, but we cooked hot dogs over a camp stove and melted marshmallows and chocolate in a pan, which we poured over graham crackers in a sticky approximation of a s’more. Then, with the sun setting, we explored the island (incredibly, we found evidence of pirate activity), called home to tell Mom we were okay, and got ready for bed.
Way past their normal bedtimes, the boys were asleep in seconds. My friend and I sat on the beach looking out at the water.
“I hope the weather holds,” I said. “The guy at the marina said he thought it might rain.”
My friend, a recent import to Maine from Los Angeles, looked at the weather app on his iPhone. “No,” he said. “The weather forecast’s okay.”
He was right. The elements were being kind to us. It was warm, but not hot, and there was a gentle ocean breeze blowing over us. We had nothing to worry about. And there was no way some old guy at the marina knew more than the weather app.
I’d been asleep for an hour or so when I was woken by a loud rumble of thunder. Minutes later, rain was crashing down and the wind was howling through the trees. I was wondering whether the noise would wake my son — it didn’t — when my friend unzipped my tent.
“Is it dry in here?” he asked.
“My tent’s leaking. A lot. Can we come in yours?”
With two adults and two boys in a small tent, it was pretty crowded, but, wedged against the canvas, I eventually managed to go back to sleep. But not for long. I was woken for the second time by the high-pitched squeal of animals fighting. I grabbed my flashlight and peered out of the tent. My friend joined me. “Raccoons,” he said, and pointed the beam of light on a group of three raccoons, who were devouring a dozen doughnuts. “They found our breakfast.”
We went out into the wind and rain and shooed them away, but the doughnuts — along with the bread, cheese, and ham we’d been hoping to eat that morning — were gone for good.
We tidied up the mess, then, cold, wet, and yawning, got back into our one functioning tent. Gradually I warmed up and, as the noise of the storm abated
and the sky lightened, I started to nod off. Just as I fell into the arms of Morpheus, the god of dreams, the rising dawn woke up my son.
“Hi, Daddy,” he said. “Can I have some breakfast?”
“Don’t you want some more sleep?” I said.
“No,” he said. “I want breakfast.”
His breakfast had disappeared, a nighttime feast for the island’s raccoon population, but I dug around in my bag until I found
a banana. I gave it to him, and we went to sit on the beach, the horizon a mingling of pink and purple and red. I held a coffee in my hand; he held the banana in his.
“Daddy,” he said. “I love camping. Can we come every weekend?”
I looked at the placid water and put my arm around my son. It was, despite my exhaustion, a magical moment of the kind that Maine specializes in.
“Yes,” I said. “We can.”
A native of Warrington, England, Mark Gartside lives in Brunswick with his Mainer wife and their two sons. He is the author of the 2012 novel What Will Survive.