Speaking of Fish

The summer season at Lyford is a different world compared to winter. I find myself as the new assistant manager. It’s always nice to know the ins and outs of a place, although Lyford has so many quirks that some days I feel like I’m running around putting out mini fires all over the place, while attempting to distract the guests with pleasant, exuberant sayings like “What a beautiful day!” “Look at that bird over there!” “Don’t look at this fire right here, who likes pizza and s’mores??!”

I’m kidding, Lyford is at a good place, now that the road is dry and grated, the plumbers, electricians, and construction crews are finally able to access the lodge to get repairs done. Honestly, you wouldn’t be able to tell there are problems. It’s absolutely beautiful here. The ponds are full of fish, guests are catching dozens a day. Everything is lush and green again. Our garden is starting to grow. My crew is happy to be back.

IMG_3900

Speaking of fish, I find it a little funny that I’m the assistant manager of a fly fishing lodge and have only fished once in my life, and I can’t say I particularly got it. I’d rather go hiking. Also I’m a vegetarian and while I’m all for people catching their own fish to eat, I don’t fully understand the point of stabbing a fish in the mouth just to say “Look, I got one!” for two seconds before it slithers out of your grip back to where it belongs.

Lyford is full of old fly fisherman who have been enjoying the Maine woods for years. Many of them look at me funny when they find out I’m the new assistant manager, and I’m not going to pretend I’m used to it, because it’s annoying every time, but in a way I expect it. Sometimes I wonder the same thing myself. Who put me in charge?! Haha. Just kidding. That’s not to say that women don’t thrive in the Maine woods. Last weekend we had an all women’s fly fishing course led by two women guides, and they killed it. They were so energetic and fun to be around.

The whole crew returned from last season and it’s amazing we’re still getting along. We kind of love each other. The staff cabin still smells like cat pee from the time we took in a stray cat in an effort to eliminate our mouse problem, but the mouse problem didn’t go away and we gained a feral cat problem. When no one was around, this white kitty with a Hitler stash went on a pooping and peeing parade, until the second a human returned, she’d dart under the stairs and hide forever. Now months after we gave her away, the couch still smells like cat pee. Yet when the bugs are bad, the stank doesn’t stop us from snuggling on the cat-pee-couch to watch a movie on our shoddy projector. That’s love.

I know I am getting smarter, despite my attempts to never grow up. I can feel myself maturing, which is so odd. Like I found that I know how to work those really old cash registers that no one knows how to use anymore, but I do, because the restaurant I worked at in college had one. Random skills I’ve acquired. Or that I prefer things to be a certain way now, like an old person. I like things neat. I like jobs to be done efficiently, with a certain attention to detail. I see a teenager or even someone my age and refer to them as a “kid.” I say what I think more, and I care less what other people think of me. And adults, even those more successful or smarter or whatever, I realize are not. Not by my definitions anyway. Look at me. I have definitions.

I’m surrounded by people decades older than me. Fly fishing isn’t exactly a young man’s sport. They certainly know something about the world, perhaps on where we’ve been as a country, but I can sense when talking to them and listening to their same old stories they cling to year after year that there’s this other huge piece missing. That is, where we’re going. That’s in the hands of my generation. Which is kind of cool.

It’s funny for someone like me because this part of Maine, the Northern half, is so unlike any place I’ve ever lived. Greenville, the tiny town on Moosehead Lake, that despite being in the middle of nowhere has a decent economy thanks to tourism of the lake and the 100 Mile Wilderness. Still, the town plumber doesn’t have a website. You just have to know who he is. Sometimes you have to track him down by calling his wife at home. You must acquire his number by asking around town until you find someone he went to high school with, which is everyone, and once jotted down, you keep it on the piece of scrap paper pinned to the wall near the cordless phone.

In town, I see Trump signs. Even without the signs, you can kind of tell by looking around it’s a Trump town. God I hate small town vibes. But I love the woods. And I respect people who work hard and love their families. That’s the people of small-town America. For someone like me, aggressively liberal on all fronts, living in an area like this is so America in a way that feels old and brand new at the same time. It’s the part of America that culturally diverse city people forgot about. Have you ever driven through Idaho? Utah? Wyoming? South Dakota? Have you ever lived anywhere besides east or west coast cities? Have you ever been to Northern Maine. Oh man, you should come. It’s so America it’s ridiculous. People log here. Logging is a not only a thing, it’s like a major economic source.

I’m an American and I feel like an outsider. I hold my outsiderness dear to my heart, like a secret locket inside my chest. My crew and I are a liberal microcosm sharing a cabin in the Maine woods, like a bunch of misfits. We talk about things no one within a 100 miles talks about. So particular to our age, too, like the best RnB and hip hop songs of the early 2000’s, the first Youtube videos, things we’d buy or build if we had the money or skills. Why college was a two hundred thousand dollar trick we wouldn’t trade. It’s precious, the only reason we know each other is Lyford. This old sporting camp from 1873.

Anthony Bourdain encouraged young people to travel, try new foods and cultures, as much as possible. For him, travel is a world class education. Perhaps the only education. I could not agree more. I won’t be here forever – by here I mean, Lyford – but I will catalog this time in my life as a great lesson, many lessons. Life changing, maybe. We’ll see.

 

**These views are my own and do not reflect the views of AMC.

The Pig Roast

Suddenly it’s like the couple Spring-like weeks we had never happened. The northeast hit with a major blizzard, the Moosehead Lake region of Maine accumulated over three feet of snow. It was almost spiritual – for three days and three nights we woke up and went to bed with it still snowing. The temperature hovering around thirty two degrees, the snow wet, the sun warm. And it all happened just before the pig roast.

IMG_E3764

IMG_E3767

IMG_E3801

We had the idea weeks before – We should have a pig roast for the end of season party! None of us had ever roasted a pig before, but one of our cooks is from Southern Louisiana, so I didn’t hesitate to put my trust in her. Barbecuing is like, they’re thing, right? We ordered a sixty pound pig from the local Maple Hill Farm, who had it dressed upon pickup. Finn, our maintenance guy, fashioned an adjustable post with a rotating skewer.

IMG_E3763 (1)

IMG_3811 (1)

Then when the snow hit, I had doubts whether it would work. How could we properly cook a pig with three feet of snow on the ground and it actively snowing? But my team pulled through.

On the morning of the party, Taylor was outside at 7 AM digging out the fire pit. By 10:30 the fire was roaring hot and the pig was ready for the rotisserie. I sat by the fire for almost the whole six hours. The snow was wet, but the fire was so hot  it kept my clothes dry. Anyone standing close enough could see the steam evaporate off their clothes. The high walls – about four feet or so – kept the area well insulated. It was overall a good time.

IMG_E3798 (1)

I have been vegan for over a year now. Obviously the pig roast was an exception. I recently spent hours marinating on veganism, trying to figure out how I felt about the whole pig roast thing. It did not make me want to eat meat again. Down with each chunk of pork went a tinge of guilt. I had many friends and family, after they saw pictures, ask what happened to my veganism. I’m still vegan and care very much about sticking to a plant based diet, but I’d also like to point out the difference between commercial meat and locally farmed meat. It is a totally different experience – eye opening – to watch a whole animal get cooked in front of you, knowing the day before it had been alive. This is how meat is supposed to be enjoyed. Rarely, locally, and with respect. Not wrapped in plastic and Styrofoam on a brightly lit shelf, with no idea where it came from. And if you did know you’d be disgusted by the treatment and condition of the animal you’re about to consume with zero regard to its life.

IMG_3810 (1)

When I was nineteen I was on a trail crew in Colorado. One night, camping on a lake, a group of fisherman gifted us freshly caught trout. I had never deboned a fish myself. It really grossed me out, seeing it’s eyeballs and cutting the belly open. I couldn’t do it. I made someone else do it. A girl on my crew rolled her eyes at me and said, “You don’t deserve to eat meat if you’re not willing to kill it yourself.”

At the time I thought that was kind of rude. She was older than me, twenty-four, and opinionated. She was also right. I’ve learned since then the value of her words and respected her ability to be blunt. There are several reasons I gave up animal products four years later, but I can trace back to a single moment when I finally decided, okay that’s it. Last year I was watching a documentary about plant based diets on Netflix, I forget which one. At one point a vegetable farmer came on screen – white hair, tan face – and said, “You can’t call yourself an environmentalist if you eat meat.”

That was it. I realized how hypocritical (and arrogant?)  I had been all these years to call myself green – an environmentalist, even – and still eat meat. I was never an environmentalist, I was just ignorant. But I wanted that to change. So I quit animal products. Hopefully this is just the start of a lifetime of learning to simplify, to scale down, to reverse consumer habits, to sustain, to choose earth first.

Not even environmental organizations choose earth first. I’ve decided that from now on my response to anyone declaring from atop their moral high horse, “That’s bad for the environment” will be “You’re bad for the environment.” What is usually a childish retort is suddenly literal. You as a human are terrible for the environment.

With all that said, I still believe that if you can raise and kill your own meat, or if you buy from a local farmer for special occasions, then that is a sustainable way to eat meat. Of course, if you’re a vegan who believes killing animals is wrong, then you’ll disagree anyway. However, humans have been eating animals since the beginning of time, and there are still indigenous communities in places like Latin America and Southeast Asia that eat meat and are far more earth-friendly than any American will ever be, even vegan Americans, because they connect to the earth on levels that American culture could never fathom. They are suffering the affects of climate change the heaviest, with unbearable heat, rising waters, melting glaciers, droughts, and floods. When the time comes  the earth makes a final, irreversible push back, they will be the first defeated, which to me is the sickest, most evil irony of the human race. That those who cared the most about the earth, and who did nothing wrong, will be the first dead, and it will be our fault: America and every other power-saturated country who cared more about getting rich by earth-stripping industrial farming techniques and poisoning it’s people with excessive foul meat products (among a thousand other crimes) than taking care of the earth. Is that why we call her Mother Earth? (Note: veganism=feminism) Because we take and take and suck and steal and abuse and never give back until she’s near death, and then we show up at the funeral and wish we could take it all back, but it’s too late?


Everyone should read Eaarth by Bill Mckibben.

For basic info read this NY Times article, annoyingly categorized under “Unexpected Reads,” because it should not be unexpected. This should be common knowledge. Fact.


After thought: Everyone in our society is talking about becoming “woke.” Usually in reference to race or gender politics. But what about waking up to the earth? I mean, what’s even the point of being woke on any other matter if in a century or two the human race will be extinct?

 

***These opinions are my own and do not represent AMC***

Pipes Explode, Flies Invade

It happened in the morning. I was rushing around to get breakfast on the table and bagged lunches made. Every time I opened the “Staff Only” door that led downstairs, I got a whiff of what smelled like Parmesan cheese, but not in a good way. It was sour. The smell of rot. I ignored it until around 10 AM, when all the guests left and I stood at the top of the basement stairs, sniffing, puzzled.

It occurred to me, what room am I standing above? The laundry room. I went downstairs, pulled back the curtain, and before even turning on the light, I took a step and my foot slid on something slimy. The odor was pungent. Oh no, I thought. What am I about to see when I turn on the light?

Vomit. Or what looked like vomit. Everywhere. The washer machine, covered. The drier door left open, vomit pooled inside. It was splattered on sheets and towels, all over the floor. Did someone seriously vomit down here and not say anything? But no, that wasn’t it. It was too much for one person. There was also grey water all over the floor, three inches deep in the far right corner. I called Taylor and he promptly diagnosed the pipes from the dishwasher burst.

Our manager had left that morning to take a day off, so we called in our maintenance guy, Finn, who was out grooming trails. He checked out the scene and turns out the pipes didn’t burst, but the air valve connected to the dishwasher drainage pipe was densely clogged with food particle build up, the pressure so intense the pipe popped off. I can’t even describe how nasty the scene was, and I felt bad for Finn who used a stick to unclog the pipe, pushing out a solid block of rotting food sludge from who knows how many years of build up.

That wasn’t the only problem of the day, although the second one seemed minuscule in comparison. Ever since the warm front, temperature this week over forty degrees, cluster flies hatched in a couple guest cabins. The worst cabin was Green Drake, who has had an intermittent fly problem all season. (We plan to hire an exterminator, but for now we deal.) Flies hatched by the dozens, the entire window in Green Drake was black and buzzing with flies. I guess I’ve never met a smart fly, but cluster flies are particularly dumb. I’ve had a cluster fly land on the rim of my water glass, and I was able to bring it to my mouth and blow on it without it moving. I’ve picked up a cluster fly by the wing just because I could. Since they are so slow they are easy to swat, and within minutes in Green Drake, without even taking aim – really, a blind person could have done it – but just swatting like crazy at the hoards of flies, I had a pile of fifty at my feet. It’s the second time they hatched like that this week, the first time Taylor claimed to have killed two hundred. For people with no access to video games, I guess fly swatting is like the video game of Lyford.

Some days I’m in a bad mood for no real reason, and other days I’m in a surprisingly good mood when everything is going to shit. Today was the ladder. As a crew, we managed to find humor in our problems, and the guests didn’t know a thing (we lit incense in the lodge to cover the vomit smell). Still, though, as I laugh through the daily disturbances, I can’t help but feel a darker truth lurking behind these broken pipes, these hatching flies, these strange warm days. I know people say that climate change isn’t the same as daily weather, but every day it’s as though I feel the change – the damage –  as it affects my job. The weather is getting warmer, and what we used to call rare environmental catastrophes are becoming less rare. Floods, fires, extreme weather at odd times of the year, ice melting, seas rising, we see it on TV and feel it in real life. It makes me fear the future. It’s said that by 2025, there will be no New England ski mountain south of Maine that won’t have to make it’s own snow.

It’s forty two degrees outside right now in the 100 Mile Wilderness. I’m writing this in the office, looking out the window at Green Drake cabin, the woods behind it, the blue sky. A few years ago, living in a city, I would have been thrilled with a day like today. Not anymore. The sun is shining, reflecting off the ice so brightly it’s blinding. The constant melt and freeze has led to a build up of ice around Lyford, slippery and dangerous. Our snow mobiles are overheating and difficult to drive in these conditions. I want to be able to work in the healthy, beautiful outdoors for a long time. Lately it feels as though there’s an ever encroaching expiration date.

 

***These opinions are my own and do not represent AMC***

Busy Season Begins at Lyford

The first six weeks at Lyford were on the slower side, with a full house only on the weekends. Since February hit, that has changed, and we will remain busy every day for the remainder of the month.

I’m glad to be out of that negative degree weather. After three weeks of negative twenty, anything above ten degrees feels like Springtime. If it’s twenty degrees and I’m hauling wood, I’m probably in a sweatshirt. Living this far north in Maine thickens the blood, makes me tougher.

26166972_1738537919523797_3346083130681313588_n

Me about to shovel a guest cabin. But where do I put the snow? =)

I am constantly dressed for the outdoors, always wearing a base layer, wool or fleece sweater, and a down wind proof jacket on top. Wool socks and thick boots on my feet, and when there is deep fresh powder, my bib snow-pants. There is not much point in changing into indoor clothes, because the separation between inside and outside is thin. I am rarely inside for long, constantly heading outside to replenish firewood, visit the compost toilet, clean the guests’ cabins, start their fires, take out the trash, etc.

Part of my day is spent maintaining several wood stoves at once. Safe to say I’m getting pretty good at starting a fire – four pieces of newspaper, four pieces of kindling, and one match ought to do it. The rest is all about proper oxygen flow and placement of the logs, that when done enough times, becomes a kind of game in competition with myself to build the best log structure.

I’m pretty used to the cold at this point. It’s not on the forefront of my mind as the past couple weeks have been ridden with power issues. Last week our generator and backup generator both failed, and we were running off these rechargeable batteries that provided very minimal energy. The power was going out multiple times a day, which affected mostly the kitchen. We cooked and prepared food in headlamps. The dishwasher could only run in short spurts of time, and often the batteries would die in the middle of a run. The other thing we’ve been dealing with, since the recent thaw, is minerals in the pipes leaching into the water, causing it to smell like sulfur, or as one guest so kindly put it, “dog shit.”  The water has been tested and is perfectly safe to drink. We probably need a new filter, but given we are so far out in the woods, it takes a while for materials to get to us.

Life is slower here in the 100 mile wilderness of Maine.

Most of the guests have been good about the power issues and sulfuric water, but there have been a few stinkers. I try not to focus on the bad eggs, given the majority of my experience at Lyford has been so positive, and I need to recognize my luck. For most of our guests, Lyford is a short vacation from their city/office jobs, but for me, this is life.

This is a job that teaches me to fight entitlement. Both in myself and society. Nature is unpredictable – beautiful and generous, or ugly and ruthless. We have to take her as she comes. Heat doesn’t come at the press of a button, we have to work for it. We plan, only to have the plan fall through the floor when something unpredictable happens. It’s important, when living at Lyford, to respond well and adapt accordingly as plans are constantly changing. And to a certain point, no one is special. Not even guests. We try our hardest, but when the water smells like sulfur because of natural occurrences, everyone has to deal with it. We can’t go to the store and pick up bottled water for every guest in a jiffy. That many snow mobile runs would take hours and hours of the staff’s time and energy, increase risk of health and safety, and take a major toll on our snowmobiles, which seem to need constant repairs as it is.

I’m lucky to have coworkers that remain so spirited and humorous as we deal with the ups and downs. When will everything worrrrrk???!!! is a question we groan in jest, knowing there will never be a day when everything works just perfect and dandy. Not during Winter in the 100 Mile Wilderness.

***These opinions are my own and do not represent the opinions of AMC***

Another New Beginning at Appalachian Mountain Club

It’s been so long since I’ve made a blog post! So much has happened since last summer – I left Portland, changed jobs, and made another cross country road trip.

I find myself here in Maine, a little amazed by the choices and chances that landed me here. Last Summer my partner Taylor and I decided we wanted to move out of Oregon and back to the east coast. There was a number of reasons for our decision that I won’t get into here. But I will say that since leaving Oregon, particularly Portland, I have had nothing but fond memories. I already miss it. It wasn’t always easy when we were there, and by the end I was excited to get out of the city, but Portland certainly left a mark in my soul. It really was the place I became an adult, or at least the first true adult version of myself.

Where I am now could not be more opposite of Portland. I’m working for Appalachian Mountain Club, the oldest environmental conservation club in the country (Yes, even older than the Sierra club!) AMC protects lands, waters, forests, and trails in the Northeast and mid-Atlantic regions, and aims to educate the public on environmental health, ecology, and conservation. They provide recreational opportunities for the public and inspire the next generation of outdoor leaders. I had heard of the AMC prior to working for them, but am only beginning to understand the extent of influence they have on the future of environmental conservation and outdoor recreation in the Northeast. I could not be more thrilled to be a part of it.

IMG_3705

Lyford Lodge

I work at  Little Lyford Pond Camps, one of three AMC lodges in the 100 mile wilderness of Maine. Lyford is the most rustic of the three, originally built in 1873 as a logging camp. Before AMC came along, logging was the main economic force in the 100 mile wilderness. Since 2009 Lyford has been a sporting lodge for skiing, snowshoeing, hiking, boating, fly fishing, and much more. We provide guests with private cabins, three home cooked meals a day, hot showers and a sauna.

IMG_3688

In the Winter, staff like myself travel mostly by snowmobile. To get to the nearest plowed road is a six mile drive from Lyford, which means that guests have to park in the winter parking lot and ski into the Lodge. This makes for quite interesting logistics as we schedule to pick up guests’ gear from the parking lot and distribute suitcases and backpacks to the correct lodges. Most guests do a “lodge to lodge” trip, meaning they spend a night or two at each lodge, skiing the lodge-to-lodge trail during the day. Since there is little to no cell service, we communicate via radios that also reach game wardens and Greenville, the closest town and AMC base, police and fire station.

IMG_3653

A beautiful shot of the tool shed.

 

IMG_3645

Green Drake Cabin. Most of Lyford cabins are named after fly fishing flies.

Our energy is a combination of solar and diesel generator. When the generator fails, which does happen, we have a booster that is essentially a giant back up battery that makes it so we can still communicate to the outside world in the case of a black out. Luckily, the lights in the lodge and cabins, as well as the hot water, ovens, and stoves, all run on propane gas. There are wood stoves in every lodge and cabin that keep us nice and toasty.

It’s quite an operation we got going here that I am excited to share more about in future posts. Subscribe to get all the stories!