Huntington Memorial Camp. Raquette Lake, New York- in the Adirondack Mountains. 2016 has been my first winter in graduate school, and my first winter in quite some time to not visit this special place.
The walk to the church wasn’t terribly long, maybe three quarters of a mile, but with our boots sinking into the heavy snow in some places it was forty minutes before we could see the cross that indicated the church above the clearing empty of foliage. The path wandered through a pine forest stretching across the entire island, with the camp area and the church being situated on the only clearings; the trees reached tall into the sky, a hundred feet perhaps, and many had fallen or had been cut down and laid decaying along the side of the trail. I pulled papa’s knife out of my pocket and thrusted it into the tree bark. I was tempted to carve my initials into the tree, or better yet a symbol of some kind. Why would I ever want to do that? The others had walked ahead of me along the trail and were talking about Disney movies. No one saw the knife as I wedged it out of the bark and back into my pocket.
I took a few long steps to catch up to the girls. A few birch trees were mixed into the pines. I got an idea. I walked off the trail, luckily no one looking back, and scouted through the patch of birch trees to find one peeling naturally, where peeling the bark off could be beneficial to the tree, a servicing of rotten bark.
I found a thin strip that peeled off smoothly when I pulled it. It was thin, about a foot long, and stiff as cardboard. I put it in the pocket of my khaki jacket and rushed ahead to catch up with the group once again.
Before we could see the church the colossal tract of unadulterated blue that was the lake consisting of drifts of whitecapped waves emerged to our eyes through the trees. Two icefisherman sat with fishing poles out, reminding me of fishing with dad the winter before, the time we’d both happened to be sporting mustaches and had managed to get a picture of them together, the only one we’d taken in years.
Some of the nets had tents sitting above the holes and lines wading into the depths of the water. Two dark figures walked briskly across the ice a mile away, two little dots on the horizon below the skyscraping mountains prodigious against the clouds. They stood there, lofted and imposing, dominating the scene ahead of me, the faces peppered with pines and little shelves of desolate white bareness, vacant white trails forsaken of life, barren but of what I knew even from this distance to be snowmobile trails currently lacking in movement.
“Are you coming in or not?” Kate yelled.
I walked up the stone steps onto the church porch. A bench sat at the top, looking out on the water. There were brochures in a cabinet mounted on the wall.
St. Williams at Long Point, they read. The church was Catholic and small and symmetrical; the orange brick hat matched the roof, a series of pillars leading up to one larger middle section, and a tall, thin cross rested on the very top nestled among the pine boughs.
Here I took out the bark I’d found earlier, and began stenciling words to a poem in French to read to the others later. The church smelled of candle wax and old books, and we told stories of the scenes in the stained glass windows until the sun fell and it was time to head back to camp.