Ponkapoag Cabins: No Electricity, No Running Water and the First Blizzard of the Winter
Upon hearing a snow prediction of 3 to 6 inches, most people tend to hit the grocery stores to stock up on bread, milk, eggs, shovels and rock salt before holing up at home until the storm has passed. Me? I pack the food, my sleeping bag, a few lanterns, some matches, grab the dogs and head camping.
It’s been almost a year since I’ve had true time to myself; no people, no responsiblity, no place to go, no place to be, nothing that has to be done….just simply exist. I’ve had this weekend planned since the beginning of January and I was damned if anything or any act of nature was going to keep me from going. Mom and Dad were safely in the hands of my brother Paul and I was so close that if I needed to be home I could make it in 20 minutes. Where could I have been deep in the wilderness yet only 20 minutes from home? Ponkapoag Campground. Ponkapoag is in the heart of the Blue Hills Reservation, an 8,500 acre forest. It sits on the edge of the 230 acre Ponkapoag Pond. I prefer my camping experiences to be in the off-season instead of amongst the throngs of people who choose the summer months, because it’s a lot more quiet and you can enjoy the sounds of a silent forest. There are less bugs (particularly mosquitoes and ticks), less commotion, fewer screaming children and in general, a more calming, peaceful time.
I had intended to leave Friday night but knew the dogs would never settle in if we arrived in a new place without my exercising their energy out, regardless of being in the middle of the woods with no light, so I opted for leaving shortly after dawn on Saturday. Instead of hitting the road immediately when I woke up, I wasted several hours arranging and packing gear while watching the snow begin to fall faster and heavier, all the while wondering if I should indeed be using better judgement and postponing until next weekend.
The ride through the Blue Hills, Georgia whining and bouncing with anticipation the whole way and Pippin sitting alert and quite (God bless him) in the back seat, was a white knuckle drive with low visibility. By the time we turned onto the mile long dirt road that headed to the campground, it had been covered with several inches of fresh, fluffy snow. While breathtaking, I prayed we’d make it in (and out) without getting stuck or veering off uncontrollably into the woods. I handed the task of plugging along to the car and held my breath. Even without 4-wheel drive, it handled the road with great accuracy with almost no assistance from me on the gas….only on the wheel and brake.
Godfrey, my adorable little cabin, sat at the top of a small hill. I couldn’t have conjured a more suitable place in my imagination and the only thing lacking (aside from electricity and a toilet with running water) was the welcoming song of the animated blue-birds, chipmunks and deer of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. I pulled almost to the top, brought the dogs in and began the grueling task of dragging my gear from the car through the snow making several trips in the frigid weather. It was only after I went for more fire wood later that day that I found the grounds proprietor had sleds for dragging fire wood from her facilities to my cabin but hey, live and learn. Next time, I’ll load the sleigh and put the dogs to work pulling it for me.
After settling in and having a big bowl of Frosted Flakes and fresh bananas, Georgia, Pippin and I hiked two miles in the snow. It was truly amazing. Snow falling, no noise except for the dogs snuffling and chuffling as they jumped, twirled, dug their heads into the snow coming up with great mouthfuls and bounding off again with me at the end of their 30 foot leashes throwing snowballs for them to catch. Fresh water brooks, the only thing breaking a way through the white covered ground, provided thirst quenching opportunities. We played and then paid with stiff and creaking joints later that night. I’m still paying for it now with aches in my back and legs; a reminder that I have a lot of work yet to do in keeping myself fit and a sad reminder that the kids are getting old. Pippin will be twelve and Georgia eleven this year. While a two-mile hike on regular footing is nothing to us, the snow kicked our collective arses this weekend. But we paid with smiles on our faces. What? You didn’t know dogs could smile? Oh but they can….so can cats (only cats do it more with their eyes).
The rest of the afternoon found me at the wooden table by the big picture window writing the day away and looking out on the frosted forest.
Dinner for the dogs consisted of raw hamburger slightly heated on the grill to take the chill out with boiled veggies and some rice. I had the same but subsituted the raw hamburger with well done steak tips. Bellies full and glass of wine at hand, the evening was spent reading by the fire (which took me over an hour to get going when we first arrived and then had to restart when the cold woke me at 2 a.m.), while the kids slept exhausted by my feet. I don’t know of a better feeling than a dog laying on your toes and by your side. Our little family feels safe.
All electronics stayed at home with the exception of my camera and my phone which I didn’t even look at except for the one or two times I wanted to test my skills at reading sky light and guess the time (I was pretty accurate). I shot a little video footage with it too. No Facebook, Twitter, Internet, phone calls, wake up alarms, nada. It was as if the world had disappeared and I had entered a completely different dimension. No wildlife calls either which was disappointing. The forest sat eerily quiet as the snow fell hard and steady. I imagine all creatures, like us, had hunkered down. I could have stayed the week.
I burnt my finger three times in the same place on the wood stove, had to use my traveling porta potty, had no electricity, cooked on a Coleman grill in 18 degree temperatures, trudged through snow to get more firewood so I wouldn’t run out only to realize I got too much and had to trudge what wasn’t used (20 pieces) all the way back to the pile in the morning, got way too hot and then way too cold and once more way too hot trying to regulate the fire, hurt my back and my legs, but would do it again (maybe not in the snow) in a heartbeat because the personal payoffs are incomparable. Matter of fact, already booked for February though in a different cabin. Maybe I’ll try all of the cabins before winter is out.