I’ve stolen away from pre-semester preparations in Belfast, Maine to visit the Temple Heights Spiritualist Camp in neighboring Northport for the second time in my life. The first time, I was writing a book about the return to church and the search for ecstatic spiritual experience therein. I went everywhere, gave every vaguely churchy denomination a whirl. Near the end of that fruitless search, I came to Temple Heights to see if Spiritualism (which holds that spirit communication is possible and beneficial) might be just kooky enough to make getting a blessing within four walls make sense, the way it did when I was a young girl in love with God. I came to Temple Heights because I wanted fireworks. I wanted to be transported. I wanted goddamn Jesus Christ Superstar.
What I got during my first visit to Temple Heights was a tame, boilerplate service led by a reverend from Florida who looked like Suze Orman and talked like a life coach hawking magnetic bracelets on late-night QVC. I didn’t get the spirit. I didn’t even get a message from the spirit realm, though I was the only one in the crowd who didn’t. Maybe Suze picked up on my Doubting Thomas vibe, or maybe my loved ones on the Other Side are all WAY too important to be hanging around a rustic pavilion at some grown-up ghost camp in mid-coast Maine.
I ambled by the ocean and poked around the salt-scored, listing buildings of the camp, hoping to stumble into some paranormal activity that would send my internal EMF meter off the charts. Aside from the goosebumps I got from the cranked-up AC in the gift shop, all readings held steady at zero.
And yet here I am again, spending the one afternoon allotted for rest and rejuvenation during our marathon preparations on another trip to Temple Heights. Truth be told, anything smacking of the paranormal draws me in like a snake charmer’s flute. I’ve just had too many brushes with “What the hell was that?” to not be seriously intrigued by the answer to that question. Also, sometimes visiting places of high-density weirdness can make a body feel less so themselves. It is for that, too, that I came.
To make the most of my precious hours, I decided to plunk down twenty dollars to participate in a message circle where every participant is guaranteed to get a message from spirit. I’m not sure how it’s possible to guarantee such a thing. It seems like one of the benefits of being a card-carrying entity would be the freedom from time-bound obligations, but what do I know? Anyway, I’ve done worse things with twenty bucks.
The medium-in-charge was a sweet, middle-aged lady from Virginia named Kathleen, who could have been any one of the daffy, spirited teachers I had in grade school. She got right down to business, asking each of us in turn for our first names and a metal object to hold. She spent ten minutes per person delivering impressions and messages, and had the whole shebang wrapped up in sixty minutes. Some of the things she told me (apparently the antique store necklace that my friends just gave me came with a loving, cigar-smoking man attached) landed flat, while others knocked me for a loop. Kathleen saw me driving a huge truck or bus with a group of people on board, for example, and described my Grandma Carter to a tee. She said other things that are a tad too personal for cyberspace, but sufficed to say that with no more than my first name and the feel of my necklace in her hand, girlfriend knew things.
Maybe the whole afternoon was the best way I could think of to do something that felt like it was just about me and the weird corners of the world I seek out when I don’t have other peoples’ opinions, agendas, or well-being to worry about. So I went to ghost camp. I took pictures of the rambling old houses, ate roadside blackberries, and rubbed fir needles between my palms while the ocean air buffeted my face. When the time finally came, I got my message, then took myself out for a burrito so I could sit down and write about it all. I know there will be plenty of perfect afternoons once the semester is in full swing, but none, I am sure, quite like this one.