Terry Marotta reminisces about a summer of drought at her parent's overnight camp and a close encounter with wildlife.

You can't always see a thing clearly till you get some distance from it.


That’s how it’s been for me with this summer just ending ­­–– as dry a one as most folks around here can remember. The trees wilted, the grass turned to shredded wheat and a bear appeared in the woods around our summer cottage.


It reminds me of another summer at the girls’ camp called Fernwood in Berkshires, Mass., which my family owned and ran for more than 40 years.


Normally, summers were as cool as a mother’s hand in those hills. Living there was an idyll.


Not the year I was 16.


That year the heat tracked us down.  Skies glared white at noonday. Brooks fell silent. A drought settled in and stayed for one, two, three weeks running.


Folks said that was why the bear came down out of her sanctuary in the forest. All we knew was that, one day, she was there –– her dark face slowly appearing in a stand of bushes, her shoulder turning slowly back towards the woods.


My mother and aunt ran this camp together, and for eight long weeks were charged with the safety of 80 females, sleeping in cabins with the flimsiest of screens. Their one sentry: our sweet old golden retriever Penny, who had barked only once in her life. She ate fruit salad and napped, and dipped her long muzzle into people's coffee cups when they weren’t looking.


When the bear first appeared, Mom called the county officials, who in turn sent two rangers to stake out the lake for three nights with binoculars and firearms.


Still, they came up empty.


Time passed. The drought held. The bear continued to elude us. We almost began thinking we’d imagined her.


And then one day she appeared -– not to the Rangers, not to the campers, but to that sweet dumb dog Penny, trotting towards the lake with my sister.


Each froze at the sight of the other.


Penny, who generally carried herself with goofy abandon, lifted one cocked paw and pointed like a champion.


The bear squinted out of dim and looked like someone who might have had trouble with subtraction. Then she just looked hot, and sick of having to foodshop every day, and weary with wondering where the cubs had gotten to this time.


The two approached each other cautiously, pausing some ten feet apart. They seemed to speak telepathically.


Penny may have mentioned that her kind were all pacifists. The bear may have said hers were all vegetarians. There may have been some talk about a cache of berries to be had just over the next hill. We'll never know.


In a minute, the whole thing was over. The tame animal wheeled, grinned cheerfully and shambled back toward my sister. The wild one turned back into the woods.


That was the last we saw of her. The next day the weather changed and a month's worth of rain fell in 48 hours.


Times changed, too. Almost overnight, people stopped wishing to send their kids away for eight whole weeks in summer.


We kids left that Labor Day weekend and were never brought back again. Our folks sold the camp that winter, and I saw too late that my childhood had ended; that I had turned a corner and passed forever out of Eden.


Write Terry at terrymarotta@verizon.net or c/o of Ravenscroft Press, P.O. Box 270, Winchester, MA 01890. Google her name and the phrase “Exit Only" to read her daily blog (www.terrymarotta.wordpress.com) and look at pictures.