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Escape from Burton Island

David Maxon

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Running Away From Uncivilization
(Courtesy David Maxon)
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My Brooklyn neighborhood is..."lively."

Ice cream trucks, people arguing, kids playing, jackhammers...I actually like all the activity. But it can be a little too chaotic. It started grating on my nerves recently. I needed to get away, relax.

I search on the Internet and find a place called Burton Island State Park in St. Albans Bay, Vermont. It's accessible only by boat, has trails, a park store with food service and good fishing.

It seems to fit the bill.

So, my girlfriend Khanh and I drive up and take the ferry to the island. We stand on the bow of the boat invoking Leo DiCaprio, stupidly grinning about what a perfect idea this is.

The island is beautiful. We put up a tent and go for a swim. It's super calm and nice, just as we imagined.

We check out the island store en route to the campsite. It's your basic resort-style monopoly; over priced/understocked. We buy a few things, but the prices rival the New York bodegas.

We agree to avoid it and decide to catch and eat fresh fish instead. Luckily, the fishing is great. We catch a couple right away and cook 'em over a campfire.

"This is the life," we say. That's what you say when you go camping.

We hear some rustling around the tent as we fall asleep the first night. I keep turning on the flashlight to see what it is while assuring Khanh that there are no dangerous animals out here. She tells me it's not the animals that scare her, but the humans. Then she says she sees something. I see it too. My adrenaline shoots up as I fumble around for the flashlight. I finally turn it on and there, right in front of our tent...is my backpack.

We make some coffee the next morning and decide to explore the hiking trails. We have fish sandwiches for lunch. Then we swim some more and fish some more.

We talk about what to do for dinner back at the campsite. Summer lake fish--particularly the bass we've been eating--is pretty fishy-tasting fish. Now everything, our hands, our clothes, seems to reek of it.

We give in and head to the store to order a sandwich. But it's already closed for the night at six o'clock in the evening. The last ferry has already come and gone. An unexpected panic sets in and we suddenly feel trapped.

I devise a plan: I will pout until morning, then we'll take the first ferry off the island. Khanh feels the only way to sleep through the rummaging mice and menacing humans and looming backpacks is some combination of wine and Benadryl...things unavailable on this island after dark. She becomes more proactive and seeks the counsel of park staff, who are closing up for the evening.

She asks if we can get off the island with them when they leave. Unfortunately, they live on the island. She begs them: There must be a way! There is talk of a taxi service, and even of swimming off the island. She finally gets them to give us a canoe.

The lake is beautiful and calm. The sun sets as we set out, discussing all the things we'll get once off the island.

We spot an Italian restaurant when we arrive and immediately gorge ourselves on pizza and lasagna and cold beer drunk from real glasses. We pretend we've really been through something, that we really deserve it. We were trapped on a deserted island, for goodness sake! We're entitled!

We return to the ferry landing where the canoe is stashed but the gates are locked and the park is closed. We can't get back in until morning. We feign disappointment long enough to try and to fool each other (if not ourselves) and pretend to consider sleeping in the car.

At the ski-lodge-themed Cadillac Motel, as we sat in the air conditioning, watching a gigantic television and eating left-over pizza later that night, we drift into the kind of sleep that only comes from getting away with something--and from being let off the hook.

The next morning we paddle back to Burton Island and retrieve our stuff. Reeking of fish on the the ferry back to land, my relief from the night before is replaced by guilty pangs. The vacation was over, and hadn't we pretty much bailed on the whole secluded island thing? We couldn't even endure three days of no restaurants or convenience stores. That's pretty weak.

Then it hits me: this was actually a prefect vacation. Vacations are for getting away from everything, having fun and decompressing...but there's something else I'm looking for in a get-away; I want to get sick of it, so that going home is as much a relief as leaving home was in the first place. That way, I'm happy to get back to normal life. This one simply worked faster than most--an "instant grati-vacation."

The noise goes on back in Brooklyn. I find myself being a little more tolerant of it.

And I realize the vacation was a microcosm of summer in general. I love summer and look forward to it every year. Summer is like a little secluded island on the calender. But eventually, the whole enterprise becomes soiled with bug spray, sun block, sand, sweat, and watermelon rinds. I get sick of it and start looking forward to the crisp air and fall colors.

That's how I know summer has been a success--when I'm over it.


  • Comment | Refresh

  • By Jimmy Dimon

    From Jackson, MS, 08/01/2010

    David Maxon, I do not know if you are still reading this, but I have to tell you, "I understand how you feel." I spent my first 19 summers living in the white camp, hard to believe looking at it today, from the time I born till I was 19. My Mcdonald's breakfast cravings almost got me killed a couple times during particularly rough lake conditions. Just know if you ever get up to Burton Island again and feel the need to get to the mainland; you can walk all the way to Kill Kare from the point on the northern side of the island. It is not over waist deep from July to August. Love that you had an adventure out there and felt the need to write about a place that means so much to my family. Regards, Jimmy D.

    By Martin Murpy


    I enjoyed The Maxon Story, as for wasted time and ego here is something of interest Emil wrote
    The good ol' days were better-- now that is something no one has ever written about.
    (or is it one of the most repeated stories on record going back to the ancient greeks?)

    By Linnea Preston

    From Seattle, WA, 08/16/2008

    Listening to this story transported me back to my time in the Peace Corps in Nepal. When I was in training and then later when I'd get together with the other volunteers in my group, we'd start talking about what we missed about being home in the States. Oddly enough it wasn't things like electricity or running water (though a hot bath was something we all dreamed of) but different types of food. During one Christmas season, we were all invited to our program manager's house in Kathmandu for dinner. She had commissary privileges, so we pigged out on Doritos, salad, spaghetti, ice cream, M&Ms, and other delectibles from home. It was a blessed break from our usual diet of dal bhat (rice and lentils). I remember eating so much I got sick that night, but oh the memory of that delicious dinner stayed with me throughout the rest of my time in Nepal. The idea of not being able to have something, even the most insignificant things, makes a person crazy over time!
    I loved my time in Nepal--toughest job you'll ever love and all that--but the idea of going home (or having things from home) was often near and sometimes the Benadryl or Actifed was essential for sleeping through the rats and giant spiders that shared my room...

    By Emil Dansker

    From cincinnati, OH, 08/16/2008

    The Maxon story about escaping Brooklyn to an island was a waste of precious time, both WA's air and my time to listen, which I did chiefly to learn whether the item was ever going to be anything but an ego trip. But, then, that's what our stuff so often is, take it from one who's spent 50-plus years in the business of writing and editing and deciding what to air and to print.

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