These days, when I travel, I take one of two rolling suitcases I have. Both are convenient, and either will easily glide between the turnstiles in the subway in Boston or New York. But when I took my first trip to Pemi when I was a kid— for half of a season in 1988—I took with me what might seem like a much less practical item by today’s standards: a big trunk.
Recently, I dug it out of storage in the basement just to take a look at it. It’s three feet long and nearly two feet wide, and heavy even when pretty much empty. It’s dark green on the outside with an even darker trim, and has metal rivet-like things holding it together. Curved and delicately shaped pieces of metal are wrapped protectively around the corners and the edges, and there are heavy clasps on the front. The associations it has for me are all tied to Pemi, for I’m pretty sure I took this big clunker with me each season, packed full of stuff.
This was actually my father’s trunk before it was mine—and he took it to summer camp, too. On the inside there’s a white label with green writing on it that has my father’s name on it and then the words “Camp Zakelo, Harrison, Maine.” My name is literally tacked on over this label, on masking tape, and in my dad’s handwriting, it says “Camp Pemigewassett” now, on the bottom of the old Camp Zakelo label. My family isn’t big on hand-me-downs or heirlooms, but I still love the fact that both my dad and I used this trunk for camp.
Packing a trunk full of stuff for a summer on Lower Baker Pond was a ritual for me, and I’m sure that it was, and is, for countless other Pemi campers. But however you get your stuff to camp (and these days, for storage reasons, Pemi prefers you use duffel bags), there’s something about that summertime ritual of packing that, for me, really captures and symbolizes something essential and wonderful about spending a summer away from home, at Pemi.
Ultimately, you might pack something you don’t need, or leave behind something that you do: and at Pemi, you learn to live and thrive with what you have. For most boys, they’re living away from home for the first time, and it’s a journey that, in the act of packing and leaving and adjusting to life in a new place, is fantastic preparation for all the transitions that happen later in life, like going to college.