Cow Camp.

Cow Camp was different this year, different from the way that it was different last year and different from the year before that. It was emptier of people but fuller of the sweet tang of memories. It was quieter then ever I remember, but the gentle song of water rushing through the crick blended with the wind through the trees and swelled to fill the silence. There were frequent pauses where time seemed to slow and it was as if everyone, even the camp-robbers and the mosquitoes, were remembering how things used to be. And each time, it was so bittersweet, as we were filled with both the joy of being back at the cabin for another summer and the quiet despair because of my grandparents' absence.

Every morning, when I crawled out the tent, lured by the crackle of the fire and the smell of bacon, I would glance around, searching for Grammy with her Diet Pepsi and for Papa, with his smirk and "Well, good morning Sunshine" response to the sleepy scowl on my face. And every time that I had to remember that Grammy was gone and that Papa just couldn't make it this year, my heart broke again. This place, these woods, this meadow, this two room cabin by this crick [yes that means creek], next to this same campfire for the past fifty-something years... this is their place. And to be here, without them, is like being out to sea without an anchor. We knew what to do and how to do it and we knew where we were and how we got there... but we didn't know how we could possibly be surviving without them. We all fell into the same routines that have become so familiar over the years but it was with a slight hesitation because Papa wasn't there to give his curt nod of approval or Grammy, shouting directions at us from her lounging camp chair. Somehow though, breakfast got made, the duck boxes got taken care of, fish were caught from the crick, dishes were washed and dinner was ready every night, all without them here... but never without them.

This year, when we turned down the deeply rutted road leading to the cabin, I found myself holding my breathe. Lining the road were the young trees that used to be just saplings, smaller then the car tires, that now reached out to brush the car as we passed by, like desperate fans eager to get a piece of a star. When we stopped at the gate, I could hear my heart beating loudly, remembering every time that we had stopped here before, the anticipation of a week of Cow Camp so exciting, I just could barely contain myself. This time, Joshua was the one to jump from the car and swing the gate open. It groaned loudly, and to me it was like a prayer from my soul to God's ears, wishing that everything could be as it was, but even as I let my breathe out finally, when the cabin came into view, I knew that Cow Camp could never be the same as my childhood memories.

The grass was taller this year. Nobody had bothered to come out and mow it beforehand. It only laid down with the passing of cars until finally the entire meadow was prostrate before the cabin. The mosquitoes weren't as bad as we thought they were going to be but still they were bad enough and we complained all the same. There seemed to be more bats then usual, and maybe that was the reason the mosquitoes were not as prevalent or so we commented, like we knew the reasons of nature. It was hot during the day, warm in the mornings, and cool throughout the night. The crows woke us up too early, the kids stayed up too late around the campfire, and everything was the same... without being the same at all.

On one day, perhaps it was Sunday or Monday, Joshua and I took a walk down to Crane Prairie. Past the campground, down to the bridge. We walked along the shore, following where the fishermen went, along side the Deshutes as it spilled into the lake. It was marshy and muddy, the mosquitoes were thicker here and there was no running from them. We had to walk over a beaver house, I hoped none were home to be irate with us for disturbing them; luckily they were not. Josh took my hand as we rounded the bend and stepped out into the openness. The early evening light was golden, causing the lake to sparkle as ducks made there way from here to there and eagles flew overhead, fishing for dinner. It was picture perfect, with the deep green forest of the hills reflected in the calm water, and for a second I regretted not having my camera in hand. We heard a loud splash behind us and turned to see a young doe making her way through the river. She leaped onto the shore and bounded out of sight in no time, gone in a moment, leaving me breathless with the beauty of it all. 

When I turned back to Josh, there were tears in my eyes and I could no longer hold back all the emotions that were welling up inside me. He pulled me into his arms and I cried; for Grammy, for Papa, for my family, for growing up, for moving on, for letting go and for holding on. I've never really been able to say goodbye to Grammy because there was never a service or memorial for her that I feel would have given some finality to her death, but when that doe disappeared into the woods, I felt like Grammy was saying goodbye and I knew everything would be all right. 

Later that night, Josh turned to me and said "If ever there was a year when the family couldn't all make it to Cow Camp, if for some reason, there wasn't going to be a Cow Camp, I would put in extra effort to make sure we came. Even if it was just us." His words left me speechless and I choked back more tears before I could even tell him thank you. Thank you for understanding what Cow Camp means to me, what my family means to me. Thank you for appreciating this amazing place and all the memories that are kept here. Thank you for respecting the history, the love, the everything that Cow Camp is.... thank you. "I know it's not the same Cow Camp that you're used to," he tells me, "But it can still be Cow Camp. New Cow Camp." Thank you.

Yes. It's still Cow Camp. But new traditions are being made, new meals are being added to the menu, new activities are taking place. New faces come as the cousins marry and soon there will be babies at Cow Camp again. I hope the next generation of the Montgomery clan grows up with one week, every summer, at Cow Camp, where they'll learn how to build a fire, fish, swim, roast s'mores, and wash dishes. They will come to have an appreciation for bug spray, sun block, nature, food, and most importantly family. Because truly, Cow Camp has absolutely nothing to do with cows and everything to do with family and that's why, even though it's different, it will always, always be the same. 


  1. I'm glad I was priviledged to experience Cow Camp.

    Well said Bethany. Very well said.


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