Four months ago, I kicked off this blog with a tale about a winter hike, a haunted shed, and an old army truck on the outskirts of “Faerie Camp Destiny”. When I heard about the camp and the history of the mountain, I knew the adventure wasn’t over. Today, I tell you the second chapter.
It all started a month ago, when I logged onto facebook and found a message from one of my friends, Alexander.
“Saturday.” He had said. “We have to do something awesome before you leave.”
I agreed, we made plans, and a few days later I picked him up on my way home from work. We each donned our backpacks and struck out across the valley. The mountain on the other side loomed up before us, its ridge crested with the mysterious white sign which had called so strongly to me in the past, but which was now simply a nuisance hiding the real thrill of the mountain.
We started our hike with a jaunt across the cornfields of the nearby dairy farm. Spring was just beginning to poke its head out of its hiding place and cautiously look around the mud and snow covered landscape. The sun was warm, the breeze was refreshing, and in spite of its damp and slushy nature, the day was altogether fantastic, being both a promise of a bright spring and a fulfilment of the promise that the dreary winter would fade away.
Alexander and I made good time and reached the foothills of the mountain quickly. A storm drain took us under the busy highway, and we found ourselves ankle deep in the mud of Walt Whitman lane. We pushed on, trying to decipher the scratches and marks in the road. Several tire tracks led up and down the drive, and we couldn’t be sure where their author was.
After several minutes of steady hiking, we began to draw close to where my previous adventure had drawn to a close. Leaving the road, we crept closer to the clearing through the trees until we were able to look out over the tent and truck, and all of the other clutter in the opening. We could see evidence of recent activity, but we didn’t see anyone around, so we returned to the road and continued, albeit at a slightly more cautious pace.
Rounding the final bend in the drive, we were about to cross the clearing and strike up the road on the other side when we heard the sound which makes every burglar break into a sweat. We heard the bark of a dog. Alex and I darted into the woods and found cover in time to see a black pickup truck cruise quickly down the drive, on its way out of the camp for the day. After a minute, the two of us walked back to the road and continued, confirming from the tracks in the mud and snow that these were the first and last visitors to the property since winter.
The road led horizontally across the side of the mountain, and we followed it for a half mile or so until we came to an open parking lot with a signboard festooned with faded ribbons welcoming visitors to the camp. We took some pictures of the map on the board and then pressed on. A small bridge took us across a brook, and we were inside the campgrounds. Up to that point, the afternoon felt like an average hike, but as we crossed the bridge, we both felt a gravity on our shoulders as we reached the beginning of the real adventure. This was where we started to find all manner of strangeness.
The first thing we found was a jar sitting alone on a rock, surrounded by patterns of string woven into the trees, and filled with all manner of paraphernalia, including a lighter, a poker chip, and a naked figurine of a woman. We took some pictures and moved on. The trees were filled with old banners and dreamcatchers. The map showed the path leading into the woods and branching off around a yurt. The airborne ribbons led us to the yurt, where we found a strange ball made of welded pentangles, each about two feet across, hanging from the trees.
Everything we found was more or less derelict. As we walked to the yurt, we passed a tree which much have been wrapped with a gay ribbon as a sapling. Now, years later, the tree was growing grotesquely around the faded band. The once cheerful place felt old and foreboding. The atmosphere of the woods screamed “Get out!” Clearly, as reckless explorers, the only choice we had was to enter the close confines of the yurt. A sign on the door welcomed strangers, but we pulled it open with some trepidation. Stepping through the doorway, we found ourselves in an overwhelmingly unusual world.
One corner of the wall was devoted to tools and firemaking, and the yurt was centered around an old woodstove, which was normal enough, but the rest of the yurt was simply strange. One wall was covered in a rack of womens clothes, ranging from fur coats to lingerie. (Remember, of course, that this was a camp for men and men only.) On the wall opposite was a huge sign announcing “Madam Minska’s Marvelous Menagerie of Misfits”. A huge dressing table took up the fourth side of the room, and it was covered in trinkets and clutter. There were countless religious bits and bobs, ranging from statues of Buddha to mirrors inset with Pan and a deer-headed deity which looked Wiccan or Nordic. There were mirrors all around the room at eye level, with candles between them, and a matching set of mirrors arranged around the stovepipe in the center of the room to reflect the light back. The bright colors of the room had been faded over the years, and the theater was now shabby and forlorn. We left pretty quickly and made our way further down the path.
The next building was marked on the map as the “Old Kitchen”, but there was nothing culinary about it. It was an open gazebo with a huge circle painted onto the floor. There were paintings on the back wall, all normal enough scenes of nature integrated with elements of modern life such as electric lights and satellite dishes. The opposite wall, however, was far from normal. The table on this side was arranged into an altar. At the center of the table was a large painting of an old tree, covered with runes and dancing figures. The table was decorated with pentagrams, and each pentagram had a goblet centered in it. The items in the goblets ranged from twigs and berries to dice. There were more statuettes around the altar, and a copy of The Secret Garden. The sun was getting pretty low, and we still had a lot to explore, so we left quickly, heading deeper into the camp.
The next building we came to was a small cabin, broken up into three spartan bedrooms. It was recently built, which was surprising, considering the state of the rest of the camp. There was a toolshed trailer right next to it, locked with four digit combination padlocks. For some reason, I felt drawn to enter my birth date. The lock sprung open, and we briefly explored its contents.
The final building was the most impressive and the most modern. It was the kitchen, and we could see industrial equipment through the windows. The building was surrounded by cultivated farmland, and the clearing was dotted with all manner of strange things, like a ten foot tall iron figure with long, thick wind chimes dangling from its fingers.
The map showed a few circles further up the mountainside in what was labeled “Ritual Space”. We struck out for them, not really sure what to expect. We found a trail and followed it on until we came to a large firepit centered in a well worn circle in a group of large trees. There was a sign hanging unceremoniously from one of the largest trees, and it struck me as surprising that they would treat such an old relic, a prince of the forest, with such disregard.
The path wound on, and we followed it until it dissipated into nothingness. The map showed a final feature, called the labyrinth, far out at the edge of the property. We searched for fifteen minutes but couldn’t find anything. On the way back, I crested a rise and looked down on a creepy sight. The ground had been mounded up in a series of grooves describing a spiral which was about thirty feet in diameter. At the center of the spiral was a mound, and on that mound was a pale white face. We stared for a half a minute, and then came closer to investigate. The face was a plastic mask with a long jutting chin. It sat on a cairn surrounded by little plastic insects and flowers, as well as some more fantasmagorical figurines. It was the most disturbing thing in the woods, and we felt strange just being near it. We soon decided we’d had enough adventure for one day, and we retreated back down the path.
At the edge of the clearing, near the kitchen, we stumbled across one more circle: a wave of stone benches radiating out from what had been a huge old tree. The hills of Vermont are dotted with old rotten hardwoods left over from the sheep farming of the early 20th century. Not only was this the largest of its kind that I had ever seen, but up until recently, it had obviously been standing erect and healthy, not toppled across the benches as we found it. My questions about the neglected tree from before were gone. Why worship a prince when you have a king?
Our time to contemplate was cut short, however, by wet feet and a disappearing sun. We had no desire to be at the camp after dark, so we hustled our way home, another adventure under our belts. I don’t know whether we were ever in any real danger that day, but the whole camp had such an unfamiliar and foreboding atmosphere that we felt thoroughly relieved when we made it through the storm drain and back into the territory that we knew so well. We left one area unexplored. The summit of the mountain, called the “Grandfather Rock”, was just out of our reach. At least one more chapter remains in the saga of Walt Whitman lane.
You can find Alexander at darknotedesign.tumblr.com.