How did I celebrate my 30th birthday?

At our Seboomook triangle cabin. Which sounds like there was some sort of tribal sacred symbols ritual goin’ on. But it was just another Memorial Day weekend upta camp.

Growing up sharing a Memorial Day weekend birthday with my dad, my nana, and my older sister Jan, I got used to not having a special “just Joy” day. Birthdays were wedged into the start of the summer/fishing/first long weekend after ice-out trifecta, celebrated with Jan and Joy opening their presents just before the car got packed. But who really needed to be singled out for presents anyways when we were headed to Moosehead Lake or some other place way better than hanging out in our backyard eating barbeque like “all the other families?”

In my late 20s, I began celebrating my grab ‘n go birthdays at my very own cabin on Moosehead, built by Tom and his dad Lee. Memorial Day weekend was a quick turnaround—just barely enough time to drive to our water-access-only spot on the northwestern shore from southern NH, sweep out the critter clutter, make sure the roof was still intact, eat some birthday cupcakes, and head home.

“How old are you?” Tom’s brother Jon asked. It was the weekend of my Big Three-Oh trip and he was dropping off some fishing lures and donations to the beat up but still camp-worthy pile of stuff we were amassing in the back of the truck. “I’m 30,” I said, taken back a bit by how it sounded saying it out loud for the first time. “Holy crap!” he said. In a good way. (I’ve always looked younger than I am, or so people say. And if memory serves, I was still getting carded to buy liquor back then.)

“Goin’ to the triangle camp,” my first daughter Helen, then 3, said as soon as she was able to point to a picture on the refrigerator and put a name to the home-away-from-home where Daddy didn’t have to leave for work every morning and life was one continuous picnic. It definitely stood apart from the more Moosehead-esque cabins around it with its distinct A-frame shape and cobbled-together construction. A big buck and brook trout-fueled flight of fancy, Tom and Lee pre-assembled it in our garage out of recycled timbers and whatever else Lee could dicker off his cronies, then trucked it eight hours over logging roads and floated it across in our 16-foot-boat for final assembly. We did rent a U-Haul, once, on my 26th birthday weekend. But otherwise, every stick and pane of that funky little cabin was loaded and off-loaded a bunch of times. Lee was proud to have purchased the only non-leased one-acre lot in an area surrounded by Great Northern Paper land. For about $4,000! In doing so, however, he’d spread his search parameters way beyond Rockwood where I grew up vacationing. And anyone familiar with Moosehead knows that’s a pretty big spread of way beyond.

As it turned out, turning 30 in the triangle cabin was more than just a milestone. It was the beginning of a big transition, a season of passage for all birthdays to come. “It’s just too damn far and too remote,” Tom said. We’d finished half of the birthday cupcakes and were on our third glass of dusty trail “attitude adjustment” bourbon before he admitted what we’d both been thinking for weeks. We wanted a place to raise a family beside a lake that was a bit more practical, rustic without being so primitive. We wanted Clough Camp 2.0. And so did Lee. But he’d just started shifting his search parameters for good hunting and fishing with water and road frontage when he passed away that winter at age 63. By Labor Day, the end of my 30th summer, we’d sorted out the stuff that was still camp-worthy enough to get hauled south, left behind enough to list it as furnished, and closed up the triangle camp for the last time.

By the next Memorial Day weekend, we were planning our new camp on Mooselookmeguntic Lake, now our fulltime forever home. I was about to turn 31, was pregnant with Helen’s soon-to-be sister Becky when we saw an ad in the Rangeley Highlander for our perfect lot—wild and woodsy but close enough to town via a road connecting to our driveway! We drove up, scooped it up, and never looked back. Lee almost did, too, we found out much later. Going through his paperwork, we discovered a real estate map of this same slice of shoreline, marked with notes about “good access” and possibly dickering over it by next summer.

I turned 32 upta camp again with my two young daughters, hauling brush, feeding the ducks, and getting a birthday cone at the Pine Tree Frosty. And that’s when my birthdays started going off the actual calendar day when I was born…and off the chart.

For more autobiographical Q&As than you’ll have time to read, see
Building my life story one question at a time