The Trip House
We kept it chaotically organized, we cooked there when the lodge served sandwiches, we gathered under citronella candlelight, we used it as a barbershop, and before we left it for an adventure, we presented John Denver’s picture with a kiss. The place that became one of the most unique, special, and sometimes most frustrating places I’ve come to love. It is spoken of as “The Trip House”. The building is one of the oldest on the Birch Trail Camp for Girls property. There are painted paddles on the ceiling from previous staff, names from the past scribbled on the walls, car seats from mystery vehicles, camping recipes collected over the years, words of the wise from past trippers, and large topographic maps on display. My favorite, however, is the hovering white board that offers a canvas for insight to be shared from whomever feels compelled to hold and press the pen.
It’s the place where all the magic happens and where all the pixie dust is stored. Yes, all. The Trip House equipment sits cold and silent through the winters in the Northwoods of Wisconsin, patiently awaiting to return to life in the summer. Tents, maps, sat phones, stakes, tarps, pots, the best camping nonstick pan ever, coolers, life vests, Duluth Packs, and much more are organized and maintained within its walls. Used for the reputable canoe, hiking, and backpacking getaways that camp has offered since 1959. It is amazing to me how longstanding some of the gear is. Some of the Duluth Packs are from 1970 and still managing to carry Dutch ovens, repel water, and have their straps pulled. The food barrels have stuck around a while as well, Big Lady, Thing One, Thing Two, and Juanita. They’ve endured countless late-night hangings from black bears. However, the canoes, named after The Simpsons characters, deserve the most recognition. They have been stuck, dumped, dropped, and dragged across boulders along the Namekagon River for decades. Stacked next to the trip house after each arrival, the canoes return with stories and scars that add to their character year after year. The Trip House has many wrinkles of time spent in the summer sun to proudly own.
The Trip House is where you would find the Trip Leaders when they weren’t on trip. Sure, it is where we coordinated the logistics and the gear. It is where we worked. Yet, there is also a quality about the atmosphere that attracted us to spend our free time too. It was our house. In the middle of the woods. Garage doors give it a natural light, the smell of wood fire emulated from out back, and a plaque overhangs the front door that reads “May the Peace of the Wilderness be With You.” The Trip House is poetry, an old friend, and a warm heart like entering a manifested childhood memory. When it rained, we were beckoned to it for shelter. When it poured, we gathered in it for support. The campers sensed the Trip House’s significance too. They are drawn to it, like moths to a lantern, they lingered and surrounded it until we locked the doors and hid the key. The stories of past trips echo from the walls of the trip house through the trees of their tiers. Maples, Lindens, and Tamaracks whisper to one another the oral histories of the Boundary Water Wilderness, Isle Royale, and the Apostle Islands. Nearby, in their bunks they dreamed for their own unique experiences one day. The Trip House makes those trip dreams come true. Then, the voyagers’ names are engraved next to those of the past and they are remarked upon forever. It wasn’t only the Trip Leaders’s house. Yet, a house of memories and dreams for all to enjoy. All.
When the last day of camp finally raised its bittersweet head, I made sure to spend as much time in the Trip House as possible. It would go through three seasons before the doors would be unlocked for more outdoor adventure. I pictured the house enveloped in orange, red, and brown birch trees. Leaves gently landing on the roof and rolling off, reminding me of a game of roof ball. I closed my eyes and saw it covered in snow, hardly recognizable, but a delight to visualize. Icy, yet still a feeling of warmth. Reminded of Sigurd Olson, I envisioned what it would be like to witness the snow slowly melt. I wondered if there would be pussy willows to signal the coming of spring. I wandered my eyes across every detail of the Trip House as I did the very first day. As though, I would absorb some of its magic to carry with me where ever I go. I believe I did. I still am. I can imagine that, if Peter Pan were to have ever given Never land a formal goodbye, it would have a comparable sentiment. There was a comfort in saying goodbye. I didn’t shed as many tears as I thought I would. I knew our memories would live on, through the Trip House. It would stay the same and I would go back to Texas to enrich my home as the Trip House enriched my heart.