Getting off-island on a holiday weekend is all good, and when you’re going to Camp N Pack it’s even better.
This is last weekend we’re talking about, Columbus Day weekend, the real end of “the season” and the time when we start seriously battening down the hatches for winter.
Camp N Pack is an annual event put on by AMRONE, Alaskan Malamute Rescue of New England. 2012 marked Camp N Pack’s 15th anniversary; it was Trav’s and my 3rd. We plan to keep going back as long as it, and we, exist.
Imagine, if you will, dozens and dozens of people accompanied by dozens and dozens of dogs, most but by no means all of them malamutes. We take over an off-season Girl Scout camp called Timber Trails and live, people and dogs together, in tents, campers, and rustic, uninsulated cabins, most of which have no electricity. Each area of several cabins has a “bathroom.” Each bathroom comprises four lavatories and two rows of sinks en plein air with cold running water. Showers are possible. There’s a trick, I hear, to keep the hot water on more than a couple of minutes. In cool October one can usually survive several days without a shower, so I haven’t taken advantage yet.
Meals and indoor activities take place in the main building, which does have electricity. Outdoor activities take place all over camp. Summer’s riding rings become the Rally obedience ring, the agility ring, and the Playpen, where the post-and-rail fence is reinforced with snow fencing so dogs can run around off-leash. Camp Timber Trails encompasses 1,137 acres, so there are many trails and dirt roads to explore, not to mention Ward’s Pond, a gorgeous woodland lake.
Camp runs hostel-style: Campers sign up to help with prepping, serving, and cleaning up after meals, and for all the chores that need to be done at the end of the weekend. (The dogs are exempt from such duties.) The cooks volunteer their time. So the weekend costs a big $60 per person, including meals. This being a holiday weekend, we had the option of staying an extra day for $20. Trav and I happily stayed over and drove home on Monday.
This is a benefit for AMRONE, however, so there are plenty of fun ways to spend the money you save on food and housing: a silent auction, a raffle, the AMRONE “store” (T-shirts, sweatshirts, fleece vests, and miscellaneous dog stuff), and the live auction.
Oh yeah, and Barry and Moses from Threepairs Photography roam through camp taking pictures. These are shown in a continuous slide show on their two laptops in the main building, and you can buy any prints you want at drop-dead reasonable prices — with all proceeds going to AMRONE. This is where some of my best Travvy photos come from, notably the ones that have both Travvy and me in them. I came home with five great new photos, not to mention six jars of homemade salsa, a pint of Vermont maple syrup, two kinds of dog treats, and a hand-knitted sweater with a big malamute face on the front.
My first Camp N Pack, in 2010, I didn’t know anybody. I’m not exactly shy, but I’ve got your basic New England reserve and introducing myself to total strangers is pretty close to hell in my book. But at Camp N Pack meeting people is easy. You’re sharing a cabin, or helping out in the kitchen together. No one minds at supper or breakfast if you plunk yourself down in an unoccupied chair and start contributing to the conversation.
And the dogs make cousins of us all. We may have nothing else in common, but we’ve got dogs, and many of us have this weird affinity for northern breed dogs in general and Alaskan malamutes in particular. That, it turns out, is a lot. When you talk about dogs, you’re really talking about “life, the universe, and everything,” and when you see people who met for the first time two days ago pitching in together to help make Camp N Pack happen — well, what else do you really need to know about a person, and what else do they really need to know about you?
This is not exactly rocket science, but it being election season across the US of A, we’re being bombarded with the assumption that the world divides neatly and irrevocably into red and blue, Democrat and Republican, right and left, liberal and conservative, people who support President Obama and people who support former (Massachusetts) governor Romney. As I drove north from Woods Hole, Elizabeth Warren’s lawn signs outnumbered Scott Brown’s about three to one. At the other end of the state, as I drove the 20 miles from Southwick to very rural Tolland (which isn’t far from the Connecticut line), I saw exactly one sign for Warren and probably 10 for Brown. Brown’s signs noticeably outnumbered Romney’s, and Nick Boldyga, running for re-election as the state rep from the 3rd Hampden district, probably had more signs out there than all the rest put together.
At Camp N Pack, however, we were in a whole other world. There were no TVs in sight, no political ads or debates or endless commentary about debates or speculation about poll results. I didn’t even bring my laptop.
I have no idea who anyone I hung out with is planning to vote for. Unless they connected me to Malvina Forester, who has a Warren sticker on her bumper but spent the weekend up the road in the parking area, they don’t know much about my politics either.
Our various conversations ranged widely, and though dogs, dog training, dog sports, and rescue figured prominently, we talked and laughed about plenty of other stuff too. The common denominator, if there was one, was that nearly all of the talk was about things we knew first- or at most secondhand. It wasn’t predigested and fed to us by some anonymous mass medium. We all had dogs in common, and a willingness to get along. And we got along fine.
It’s startling, sobering, and all in all encouraging to realize how little the partisan hullabaloo has to surface in day-to-day life. All the same, I have a hunch that the introduction of TV news or lawn signs or other political paraphernalia would have been like tossing a match into a pile of dry tinder. The potential for conflagration was there, it’s there in any large diverse group of people, but it can usually be avoided — if everyone leaves their matches at home and maybe packs a fire extinguisher just in case.