The goal was to get away, to drive north with the kids and pitch a tent in the woods of western Maine.
The destination was Mount Blue State Park in Weld, an 8,000-acre wilderness surrounding Webb Lake. One day would be devoted to climbing nearby Tumbledown Mountain, a favorite of hikers not only for its magnificent vistas but also the spring-fed alpine pond at the top. (It has to be seen – and swum – to be believed.)
When we pulled into the park, the ranger ran down the park’s amenities: the sandy, unspoiled beach, the miles of trails, boating and fishing, staff-led nature programs, and an amphitheater.
An amphitheater? Yes, the ranger explained, there was a tiny open-air theater in the woods where movies are shown every Friday night. This week, she said, it was “Old Yeller.”
We didn’t think much about it until dusk on Friday, when we grabbed a couple sweaters and strolled from our campfire to a dirt path that led deeper into the woods and, eventually, to a clearing. There we found several benches arranged around a screen, a white panel the size of something you might find in a high school auditorium.
About 20 other campers were there, many of them children, and when we were all seated and murmuring in the dark, the ranger smiled and said, “I guess we can get started.” A moment later, there was a blast of Technicolor and the title character of the 1957 Disney film scampered across the screen. The moon, visible through the towering pines, looked like a distant lantern, and the sky was crowded with stars. My kids were in awe.
This was not the latest “Ice Age” sequel at the cineplex. “Old Yeller,” about a boy and his dog, is silly and sentimental – Fess Parker is ridiculously stiff as the dad and Dorothy McGuire’s mom has a strange Thorazine stare — but none of that mattered. The experience of watching a movie in the Maine woods was magic, and we didn’t want it to end.