Before you think the title is a typo, please allow me to clarify.
‘Upta’ is a Maine-ism. It is used by locals when they want to tell you they’re planning to go upta camp. Even people with very modest means might eventually acquire a camp. It depends on whether you want to be close to Portland on Casco Bay or up north, near Caribou and the Canadian border. It also depends on how handy you are at fixin’ things up, if you got a way with tools (and have tools), and if you’re willing to face the black flies.
If they’re lucky, the owners of a camp or cabin can rent it out when they can’t go upta themselves. You might be interested in a more official version, from The Forest Society of Maine, because it is also much more complete:
Ever heard the phrase “Upta camp”? It refers to one of Maine’s cherished traditions—spending time at camp. It’s such a pervasive part of Maine culture that even if you don’t have a camp, chances are you have visited a friend’s. There is an allure to being in the woods away from everyday life, and being at camp provides time to relax and “just be.” Often just enjoying the surroundings—the great outdoors—is the main activity. But make no mistake, there’s a lot that happens at camp: exploring, paddling, swimming, fishing, hunting, playing games, cooking, making memories with family and friends, and more.
You might wish to keep this definition in mind for the duration of our ‘Upta’.
This story, which might be two stories, is about a group of friends who rented a camp. It wasn’t an ‘upta’ tradition for them, but they’d heard about it from families or other students in Maine. Because they’d never been upta, but especially because they’d promised one another to spend a weekend together after graduating from college, they decided it would be great to rent from from a guy who surely could use the cash. Maybe he no longer had anybody to go upta with.
The weekend was long overdue, because graduation had been over three years ago. They had made a promise and had to keep it. That was the type of friends they were.
They had been such good friends in college. They’d never given much thought to how the group had formed. Yes, they had gone to countless classes and parties together. Yes, it had been a small college town and they ran into one another everywhere on campus and off. The frequent contact, going out together, running into one another - well, nobody ever needed to plan anything. So much so that they never thought to plan anything for the weekend in the cabin. It didn’t seem necessary and might be kind of a hassle. After all, didn’t they know each other really well? They would just want to relax, hang out, chill. Talk about old times. That was the whole point, right? Food always happens when it needs to happen.
Yes, the weekend was way overdue.
Meet the seven members of the cabin adventure:
Anika is an artist. She works with acrylics and her painting is abstract, for the most part. She also does monoprints and eco dyeing. She hopes to find a lot of new leaves and several flowers, only using ones which are not endangered. She slips them in a notebook to preserve them until she gets back to her studio to use them. She needs some good inspiration because there’s a show in early September and she’s committed to submitting three pieces on the theme “The Languages of Nature.” She is planning on working on sketches of the birches and pines surrounding the cabin, if there is time after the leaves and flowers have been placed in the press she uses to preserve them. She knows these specific trees, pines and birches, are growing near the cabin because she saw them in the email everybody got from the proprietors. It had been in Maine Tourism, or perhaps on Craig’s List. Probably the latter.
Anika seems not to know that there are pines and birches all over Maine.
Brent, who has smartened up and no longer allows anybody to call him Bubba, is an expert beer drinker. His real job, however, is as a draftsman. Maybe that’s why he likes beer. I say this because I have the impression that draftspersons don’t get to do much of what they like; they have to satisfy clients. Anyway, in Maine nobody needs an excuse to drink beer, really, because the number of exceptionally good craft beers is growing so rapidly. (May the Gold Rush never end… )
Brent’s three six-packs represent three new flavors by Baxter Brewing. Brent might do well to look for a career change, set up a brewery or a distributor.
Carlos is a composer-singer whose dark hair and eyes have always had the ability to stop people (women and men) in their tracks as much as the songs he played on his guitar did. Maybe more. He had majored in Music Education, but then discovered he wasn’t able or willing to put up with the structure of schools today. Education K-12 is so restrictive now. They spend more time testing than teaching in schools. For now, he does solo gigs in bars and restaurants. It’s more than enough to get by while he figures out his next plan.
Carlos is the classic free spirit, you might say, among other things you might say…
Deena is a designer of dresses and other apparel. (It’s as if her name determined her career, isn’t it?) She had majored in textile design and hopes to eventually start her own line of fabrics. Her favorite designs are floral and leaf prints, but she thinks a unique fabric pattern might include stones, wood barks, and insects. She knows that requires being around these things and doing close observation. This is the perfect opportunity to do that. She is anxious to create designs that will make an impact as well as bring in a nice income, of course..
Elise is an essayist. She does not at all consider herself to be a journalist, because she does not write any news items. Instead, Elise writes chiefly on travel themes. The airlines pay well for articles on cities they fly to, but there are other places she can publish, like Rural Living and The Old Homestead. She’s trying to complete a long piece on camping vacations, so the cabin idea came at the perfect moment. There are so many options for lodgings, and travelers, visitors, tourists - whatever they called themselves - had to find the ones best suited to this needs. Hers was a much-needed service and expertise.
Dream job for Elise: To become an editor for a travel magazine or blog or publisher and assign herself the travel destinations that need articles written about them.
Frederika is a fern specialist. She had majored in Botany and straight out of college had been hired by Maine Wildlife and Conservation. She wasn’t thinking of returning to Germany in the near future because there were still a few more places she wanted to visit in the Americas. In Maine it just so happens there is actually a study in progress on how the passion for eating fiddleheads, the curled tips of ferns, has been affecting the fern population. The researchers doing the study also want to know whether all fiddleheads harvested were in fact the edible sort or whether some had a dangerous level of toxicity.
It was an extremely complicated project and vital to environmental issues in the state. There were cultural implications as well. Mainers know more than one way to prepare fiddleheads. That results in a lot of cookbook recipes.
Frederika had never thought about how beautifully ferns interact with Arches text wove paper, high in fiber content, when simmered forty-five minutes in water with a mordant. Anika could tell her a lot about that.
George is the typical tech geek. He’s stereotypical: has very little personality, but is long on the ability to solve problems people have with technology. He’s generous with his knowledge as well as his time. He loves it all, from video games to building computers. He’s a real wizard. Give him an internet connection and that’s virtually - pun intended - all he needs. Like many people in his field, he interacts better with people in cyberspace instead of real space. Still, he was a good, reliable friend.
George is very smart, but he’s missing something.
It was too bad Macy, who is a mycologist, hadn’t been able to come for the weekend. She might have been able to find some new species of fungi or prepare some foraging classes. She has insisted she wants to do it for sure the next time the group plans a weekend.
Also absent is Will, who works for the state, like Frederika. He studies water tables, which are important to know when a company or an individual is planning any new construction. Maine has so much water beneath the surface. As a consequence, there are also gases that can affect digging a well or putting anything atop an area with radon.
Jill, Iona, Lance, Nate and a few others had not responded. If there is a repeat of the event, it might be necessary to make more sleeping arrangements. Nobody was planning that far ahead, though.
Everybody has arrived for what would be the start of the happy hour, but they hadn’t thought about having one, so that was not an option. More serious is the situation that has arisen now that they realize their incredible oversight. One doesn’t want to think, not even for a moment, that the guys had assumed the gals would run point on that. These are modern times, after all.
All right, yes, everybody now looks to Bubba Brent, who has brought beer, but we must take into account that he only has three six-packs. That means there is only enough for him. After all, this is going to be a whole weekend in the woods, upta. Requires beer.
Eventually, the problem is solved. Good old GPS. George also knows his internet and can locate pizza or burgers anywhere, even in the wilderness. Good thing he was able to find coverage at the cabin, because parts of Maine are worse than sketchy for it. Supper happens.
All the members of the group are settled in at last. One rule suggested by somebody, but readily approved by all, had been that no couples would be allowed. That was the group could avoid ‘issues’ if two people suddenly didn’t want to spend as much time as they should with the others. That wasn’t the point of the weekend.
Everyone has done his or her thing. Mission accomplished, you might say. The farewells begin, and as expected, are slow to end. Everybody is saying what a great time, we definitely will have to do it again. Hey, and the food at the little lobster shack wasn’t half bad, was it? That pizza from further down the road was pretty darn good, too. Better than having to spend time whipping up grub, as they say in the army, eh? Everybody had to laugh at that.
Finally. Pats on backs, a hug or two, and bodies start to separate, wishing for something, or so it seems.
One of the group has written to the others. Nobody can recall who sent out that particular email, perhaps because what it said was on everybody’s mind. The no-shows for the weekend in the cabin were a bit slower to catch on, but eventually they did. The email basically said:
We screwed up, royally. Somebody sketched, somebody drank beer, somebody sang to the pine cones, somebody picked flowers and stuck them in a press, somebody tried to drum up business for a tourist agency, somebody was doing homework for her current job, and somebody was glued to the screen for forty-eight hours straight.
We are pitiful. Didn’t we learn anything in college?
Let’s prove it. I have rented the cabin and another that’s fairly close to it that belongs to our guy’s brother. He seems like a good guy. It’s really obvious he knows a lot about the back woods of Maine.
We should have him and his brother come for coffee,
suggests somebody in a follow-up email.
The ideas was seconded by all. It didn’t distract the group from realizing they needed to prepare the coffee, have milk and sugar available along with coffee and some sort of pot. They had to know who was bringing what, but the brothers surely would have some curious tales to tell.
Once the coffee was resolved, the food was given the needed attention. It was actually quite easy to suggest easy meals and have everybody volunteer to take what was easiest, whether because of budget or because of work schedule. A few emails later, everyone knew they wouldn’t starve to death in the woods and the wouldn’t even need a GPS to eat.
The second time the members of the group are just as punctual as before, maybe even arriving a bit earlier. Each has a parcel, along with a small overnight bag or backpack. In addition, there are coolers and bags from grocery stores, all of which are quickly and easily stowed in the proper places inside the cabin.
This is when they all bring out what they have brought. There are no real surprises, but there are stories. Interesting stories. Stories that are new and add to the experiences from college. Now the friends are talking about what they have done with their lives since graduation. The hours required to recall and relay so much information mean the conversations they had can’t be reproduced here. Plus, one needs to be there, in the real-time conversation, to understand. Zoom doesn’t work for everything, you know.
Other than this, the story-telling, nobody really ‘does’ anything. They are all simply talking and listening. This may create some momentary frustration for some of them, the ones for whom post-college life is more of a blur than in-college life. It takes a bit longer to adjust in those cases.
In a way, this ‘telling’ makes for a less lively ending to my story. By this I mean that we aren’t able to go around and see all the things the friends are doing. Nobody is ‘doing’ art, or drinking, or singing, or using a keyboard. Everybody, apparently, is revealing why they choose to do the things they have been doing since graduation. Everybody is asking questions and trying to give accurate answers.
The conversation pulls from everywhere in the Universe, even if the participants aren’t aware of that. It sends threads to the arts, into science, through environmental issues, then tightens them. It’s a strong fabric.
The friends, in a word, learn and relearn why they met in college, and understand why they had ever made a promise to reconnect after graduation.
The friends learn that it had taken three years to keep that pact, which had been a long time. Too long, because things and people become very complicated over the years. Everybody knows that deep down.
The friends had been in danger of letting the ties that bound them disintegrate.
The friends learn, they all did, not just the sender of the follow-up email, that they had screwed up, big time.
And that there are things in life you just have to fix.
A totally perfect word.