The Fire (1996)

Friday. The end of the week is welcome any time of year, but during the all too short New England nudist season, it is also the beginning of our Renaissance weekends.

We pack the car as quickly as we can, and get on the road. It is a long trip, made longer by Linda's back problems, which requires frequent stops to stretch and walk a bit. These trips are painful for her, but she won't even consider the thought of not going. I've suggested that we might consider closer camps; Solaire is much closer, but we have too many years invested where we are. Too many friends, too many memories. She'll grit her teeth and tough out the ride.

We are always in a silly mood these Friday nights. We joke about a sign that we will pass on the return trip: "Westfield 3, Boston 102". Why does Westfield advertise their losing basketball scores on the Mass Pike? We pretend that every camper we pass contains fellow nudists, silly stuff, childish stuff. The tension of the work week slowly leaves us.

I watch the mileage signs, constantly recalculating when we will arrive. If we stop in Ludlow for a fifteen minute break, it will be 9:15, but then if we stop again beyond Westfield, it will be 9:30. If Linda's foot doesn't back off the accelerator, a uniformed representative of the Massachusetts State Police may affect my calculations very badly.

Eventually we will turn off the Pike, and know that we are a half hour or less from camp. It's usually dark by then, but we've made this trip so many times that we will have no problem spotting Kittle Road.

At some point coming up the road, we will catch our first glimpse of the Ghetto camp fire. Even if hard rains are pounding the mountain, that fire is usually lit. It is a beacon for us, the sign that we are almost there.

The fire is the focal point of the Ghetto, the place where everyone gathers at night. As we pull into camp, and drive toward our trailer, dark figures are outlined against it's flames. People yell "Hello!" and "Hey!", and wave, and we wave back, not always sure who we are waving at, but glad to see them anyway.

We will unpack as quickly as we can, turn on the water, the electricity, swear at the furnace and finally coax it into life. Though we are tired, and ready for bed, we'll get naked, walk over to the fire and after more hello's and hugs and all that, we'll spend a few minutes sitting, talking, listening to jokes and gossip.

The wind usually blows down mountain, and most nights you can sit or stand in one place until the fierce heat forces you to move back. Some nights the wind is fitful, unable to make up it's mind, and sparks and smoke cause us all to constantly shift around the fire in a slow motion dance.

People come and go. New friends, old friends, we've probably made more acquaintances at the fire than anywhere else. Sometimes tent people from the upper fields come down, and unfamiliar faces are always welcomed warmly, drawn into the fire's circle, offered snacks and drinks, questioned as to where else they have been, given hints and suggestions, made to feel welcome and warm. On our very first visit here, when it was Birch Acres, we had wandered down to this fire, and been made to feel like part of the family, like we belonged.

Now we do belong. Our trailer is only a few dozen yards from the fire, and there will be people there long after our yawns have made us go to bed. You'd think that the laughter and occasional singing would disturb our sleep, but it doesn't. Those are happy sounds, safe sounds, and we are not disturbed at all.

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