We had been warned that our cellphones wouldn’t work once we got closer to the camp and, for some reason, I did not believe them. But sure enough, once we turned off the main road and began the winding journey through a dense autumn forest of golden, green and ruby-hued trees, collectively, our reception was lost. It took some time to get to the Great Camp from this point, and we held our breath in anticipation that at every twist and turn the Vanderbilt’s summer playground would be revealed. We were told how once winter came, these roads would be impassable, too treacherous to even think about trying to navigate, almost as if we were being preemptively chided for the pull that this place would inevitably have on us. Finally stopping the car, I hopped out to swing open a wooden gate that guarded the entrance to the one lane bridge that, once crossed, revealed the Great Camp Sagamore.
We checked in by following a meandering route of handmade signs that lead to reception. I wondered if land lines existed this far out in the Adirondacks (they do, I discovered- but only three, and not in the guest rooms). My room was in one of the lodges on the far side of the property, where, I was told, far enough away from the main house, it was the favored quarters of rowdy bachelor visitors (and their lady companions) in the early 1900s. I crossed my fingers that I wouldn’t wake during my stay to find a ghostly Edwardian dandy peering down at me from my headboard.
I was there for a museum conference, and, uncharacteristically, I woke up early every morning to sit on the dock and watch the sun dissolve the mist over the water, bringing the trees in all their colorful glory into sharp detail. It was quiet in those moments, and often cold; I was relieved I had packed an old oversized wool sweater (normally reserved for winter) and had the foresight to cart out some steaming (but confiscated) tea from the dining hall.
During the day we held discussions, lamenting the honorable plight of the museum, only pausing to take lunch and dinner at the ringing of a great big bell positioned at the end of the dining hall’s porch. In the evenings we were up at the main house, gathered around a large oak table by the fireside, where we sipped on cider that someone had brought from a mill nearby. One of the ladies did Tarot card readings for us and told me how my significant other was The Sun, while another woman’s husband was revealed to be not quite as honorable, a fact uncomfortably confirmed to all by her teary but knowing eyes. Afterwards, alone and in the dark, I walked the stretch across the great lawn from the main house to the lodges, my head full of the future but my eyes darting back and forth, weary of bears.
Late on the final night, (after another few rounds of cider) it was murmured through the group that there was something that we absolutely needed to see before leaving. We piled on our hats and gloves and obediently followed one another, back up past the staff buildings and (myself comforted that we wouldn’t be bothered by any wild animals due to our loud and boisterous number) up even further to the top of a hill where the trees had been cleared into a circle, as if just for us. The woman who had lead us to this point motioned above and we all became quiet, stretching our necks upwards. This is one of the few places left that you can see the Milky Way so completely and clearly and without a telescope, she told us reverently. There were so few lights where we were standing, we were so far away from the cities and everything else, that here, in the middle of the darkness, the stars were allowed to truly shine.