I learned how to swim at Toddy Pond.

A mile and a half down a camp road in North Penobscot one enters a whole different world. The drive is along a looping dirt road through blueberry barrens, past a huge split rock with white birch growing in a cleft and up to high ground. If one stops and turns back, some of the village can be seen in the distance. A brown house, two streetlights winking on if dusk is approaching, a white Methodist church with its steeple pointing to the heavens. As some would say, it’s “the way life should be.”

Then the road descends, winding again. In places, trees grow over the road and form a tunnel for the road before it runs past an old dump. Look down a power line and one catches a glimpse of the water. Everything slopes downward until a last turn and there it is.

Peaceful waves gently lap a turf shoreline. The haunting wail of a loon hardly disturbs the stillness. Deep businesslike croaking of bullfrogs in a swampy niche adds local color. Our camp slouches beside the water like an elderly relative who pauses on a long walk to catch a breath.

What were the attractions back then? Kerosene lamps, a wood stove, an outhouse. No phone, no TV, no radio, no electricity.

I loved it.

Hot dogs and hamburgers. Kool-Aid or “soda pop.” Fishing with angle worms using an alder pole and twine. Sunfish and shiners and yellow perch. It seemed the summers lasted for years.

I learned to swim in fresh water – we all did – to an island 200 feet out, “Little Island.” If you could dog paddle to it, you could swim. Expert swimmers could make it across the half-mile width to Surry. The pond stretches nine miles and begins in East Orland. Our camp is on “Third Toddy.”

I do remember my younger brother. He was perhaps 3 years old and I was around 4. We walked and talked, but not much else. He was extremely inquisitive whereas I channeled my curiosity into books. On that particular day, funny books.

My brother screamed.

I ran to the side of the camp and saw him holding onto a small bush as he dangled in the water. I quickly grabbed his arms but couldn’t pull him up onto the turf bank. He was acting as if he feared drowning, and the panic infected me. The depth of the water lay hidden beneath the trees’ shadow. I, too, yelled for help convinced my grip was soon to fail. It seemed no one heard, no ever-present adult would appear to save him. He would drown!

“Hollis, stand up for gosh sakes.”

An older girl hovered over us.

My brother stood. The water came to his thigh. We didn’t know it was so shallow in that spot. Hmm, the stuff parents don’t tell their children. His curiosity hadn’t taken him that time.

Well … it was scary just the same.

Edward M. Turner is a freelance writer living in Biddeford who has published stories, essays and poems. His novel, “Rogues Together,” won the 2002 Eppies Award for best in action/adventure.

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