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Faith in Vermont: Mom Goes to Doe Camp

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Posted on October 7, 2014 | Blog Category:
By Faith Gong



It started with fly fishing.

My daughters were asking to go fishing. Neither my husband nor I, both suburban kids, have any fishing experience aside from some childhood Girl Scout and Y Camp trips. I've been keen to learn, though, and felt particularly drawn to fly fishing which, in my mind, is associated with two of my favorite things: Norman MacLean's gorgeous story A River Runs Through It, and Brad Pitt's performance in the movie of the same name.

But, as I understand it, fly fishing involves hours of standing in water. It doesn't seem compatible with being the mother of four young daughters. I decided to shelve it for a few years.

Then, on our anniversary, my husband handed me a tiny figurine of a doe. He was sending me to Doe Camp.

Before I continue, you need to meet my friend Courtney. The best kind of friend encourages you to broaden yourself and try new things. Courtney is that kind of friend for me. She comes from a long line of outdoorsmen and -women. Her late grandmother was such a skilled biathlete that there's a memorial trophy in her name. Her grandfather taught my husband to shoot muzzleloaders. Both her parents are passionate hunters and biathletes, and her brother is a Game Warden. Courtney herself, when not working full-time, making art, sewing, knitting, whipping up delicious meals, or caring for two young children and a few sheep, likes to hunt. So it's natural that my husband asked her for advice on how to get me fly fishing.

That's how I ended up in a truck with Courtney and her mother one Friday in September, driving northeast to the tiny town of Canaan, VT, for Fall Doe Camp.

I had no idea what to expect.

Doe Camp is a take-off on the idea of "Deer Camp," which is when a group of men hole up in a cabin during deer hunting season. Now in its 14th year, Doe Camp is sponsored by the Vermont Outdoor Guide Association and Vermont Outdoors Woman, and is billed as "A Backcountry Retreat for Adventurous Women!" It takes place over two days at Jackson's Lodge on Lake Wallace, on the Canadian border (a winter Doe Camp is held in Fairlee, VT), and is designed to encourage women to engage in outdoor activities. Aside from fishing, no actual hunting takes place at Doe Camp, but there are plenty of hunting classes. Courses offered in 2014 included rifle and axe skills, primitive biathlon, kayaking, biking, log rolling, wilderness survival, campfire cooking, drawing and printmaking, birding, and archery.

I was one of 96 women at the 2014 Doe Camp. My fellow campers came from all over the country; I met women from Massachusetts, Connecticut, Virginia, and Washington state. They ranged in age from teenagers to grandmothers, and represented a variety of professions and backgrounds. And everyone was having a wonderful time.

Doe Camp is not a luxury retreat, but it's certainly not "roughing it;" tent camping is an option, but I bunked in a cabin with six other women. The Jackson's Lodge staff served us delicious meals each day -- including "Spaghetti with Mooseballs" and a moose barbecue on the final night (which, a Game Warden later informed us, had been roadkill: "Hit in the head on Route 145 yesterday." I think he was serious.) Yoga and birdwatching were offered every morning, and a lakeside bonfire blazed each night.

Doe Campers sign up for four classes over the course of the weekend. It turns out that fly fishing is among the most popular offerings, so I couldn't get a spot this year. No matter; here's what I did take:

-Maple Syrup Making: Don't be confused; we didn't actually make maple syrup in the fall (non-Vermonters: sugaring season is in early spring). We met April Lemay, who founded April's Maple. We walked the lines and helped with line repair and maintenance. Then we toured the sugarhouse, and sampled of some April's Maple's delicious products.

-Archery: My personal favorite, because everyone in the class made significant progress and cheered each other on. Our instructor, Linwood Smith, who owns an archery store and range in St. Johnsbury, was prone to saying things like: "I like teaching women. You listen, not like the men. That's why you make progress so fast. Then you can go back and smoke your old man, and he'll come running to me." Other nuggets of wisdom I learned from archery: "It's not over 'til the arrow hits the target," I am right-eye-dominant, and -- in case the movie Frozen didn't fully instill this: "Let it go!"

-Clay Target Shooting: In which I used a 20-guage shotgun to fire at clay pigeons. This was a rush, but it was also very difficult. Lest you thought otherwise, it's hard to hit a moving target!

-Map and Compass: This class involved math that I hadn't used in years, like multiplying with decimal points. But it was very practical: I know now that my stride is 4.94 feet, I can take my bearings and orient my map, I can locate the North Star, and I can triangulate to find my location. Useful stuff, if I ever manage to escape my house for a hike!

The weekend was undeniably fun; by Sunday, my cheeks hurt from smiling. As with any retreat experience, however, the inevitable question at weekend's end was: How will I apply this to my regular life? The activities I sampled at Doe Camp are all "lifestyles," requiring significant amounts of time and money if they become ongoing pursuits.

While a compound bow now tops my Christmas list, my main Doe Camp takeaway involved the reason I ended up there in the first place: my daughters.

Doe Camp gave my daughters the chance to see their mother take an adventure that was a major departure from our "normal" life. In our "normal" life, I'm the driver, cooker, cleaner, reader, and goodnight kisser. But after Doe Camp, my girls saw photos of me trying new things, from archery to "Mooseballs." My five-year-old drew the picture that tops this article, which shows me shooting my bow and arrow in front of a cabin, with trout leaping in the foreground. I've never been so flattered.

I want my daughters to grow into women who feel empowered to take adventures, try new things, love the outdoors, and learn skills regardless of whether they're considered "feminine." At Doe Camp, I could be the kind of woman I want my daughters to be.

I'll definitely return in 2015; hopefully I'll get into fly fishing.

 

Faith Gong has worked as an elementary school teacher, a freelance photographer, and a nonprofit manager. Since moving to Addison County in 2011, her work has involved caring for a house in the woods, four young daughters, one anxiety-prone labradoodle — and writing for her blog, The Pickle Patch.

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