Life through the lens of a caretaker

Chris Moody, a first year caretaker, has spent the summer in the field with his 35 mm camera. The results, that he shared with us as a caretaking photo-essay, are extraordinary. These are not photo-shopped, and many rely on photography techniques like double and long-exposures.

This selection of photos will resonate with all of us who have spent time in these mountains: cloudy ridgelines, clear reflective ponds (that one will make you look a few times), the beckoning cairn (beckoning in a whimsical way in Chris' photo), the vast green heart of the Pemi Wilderness, and of course spectacular sunsets that each have a unique defining characteristic. These photos also come with names, some of simple geography (e.g. Franconia, and Bondcliff) and some of expression (e.g.follow me and my hand, and realities). These are, also, photos that Chris has been compulsively taking from the very beginning, taking his camera with him into our overnight field visits during caretaker training.

As the West Rotator, Chris moved among Kinsman Pond, Liberty Springs, and Garfield Ridge over the course of his 10-11 day stints in the field; being car-less, he traveled that rotation as a pure rotation, traversing the Franconia ridgeline from Liberty to Garfield. Appropriately, along with his 35mm camera, he uses an external frame pack and can often be found composting human waste while wearing a 1970s polyester shirt.

As a photographer, he has few words, but wrote these to describe what it means to be a caretaker, and what these photos are to him.

as a caretaker you are given freedom and responsibility to protect, serve, and embellish the land as you choose so long you follow the simple guide lines of leaving no trace and making sure everyone else is aware of these life practices as well. you wake up and you hike, you wake up and you record the weather, you wake up and you explore your world, you walk amongst the storms and let it rain down on you, you hope the bear let's you be like you let it be, you sit amongst the disappearing sun, you be you! the freedom allows for your own personal interpretation and you make it what you want it, like life. everyone lives it differently and that's the beauty of the job; here is how i live it alone, with friends, and with the gods: 


Maine Teens Tout Experience on Trails

I am Abraham Steinberger and I volunteer in the Maine Woods volunteer trail crew for ten days in late July. I had no experience with trail work before my stint as a volunteer but that did not matter at all. Everything that my fellow crew volunteers or my team leaders expected me to do I had been taught previously. So I never had to guess at my task and I felt confident in everything I did. Amazingly rewarding, trail work has caught me by surprise. I thought that one would just kind of work on the trail then feel good about it. In reality I have rarely felt as accomplished as I did after setting all of the stones in the water bar, or brushing out a stretch of trail. For me, all of the frustrations of working with heavy stones or hobble bush are the inconveniences when compared with the successful glow one experiences when they have finished a job on the trail. As a side note, trail crew got to swim everyday except during thunderstorms, which was great.

The first day that I walked to Camp Dodge and saw who I assumed to be my tent mate, I was fairly shy but after saying a few words we found out we were fairly similar. He was musical, athletic and his fro was out of the roof, quite literally.  We walked for a while and then moved outside to start talking to our other prospective trail crew mates. We found a small field to play Frisbee on with two other people. Whilst we were tossing around the disc we talked about everything from sports to previous outdoors experience. We ended up migrating from the field to the main building and started to get to know each other better. We left the next day for Camp Hodge in Maine; after a 6 hour car ride we arrived at the beautiful camp site. Walking down you could see mountains surrounding the clearest glacial pond imaginable, pines all around; everything was beautiful. We started our trail work the next day and it was some of the most rewarding work I’ve ever done. After you finish you can just turn around and view everything you just did.
-David Cohen

These 10 days have shown me that trail work is equal parts exhausting and uplifting. There’s no doubt that it is, in fact work and therefore tiring, but the trail part of the job- the woods, the weather, the sky, combines with the thrill of teamwork to make it all worth your while and then some. I had never done trail work before so I was a bit nervous that I wouldn’t be strong enough, or that would hold the team back, but there is absolutely a job for anyone who wants to help. Even better there’s room to expand your skills, I never would have thought I could have any part in moving giant rocks but with help and encouragement I did and that’s a really good feeling. I was lucky to have an amazing group of fun, hardworking people, which made the experience even better. The demands of trail work make your feel stronger in body and sound in spirit which is a reward for the work your give.
-Julia Seaman


So....what IS the hardest part of being a caretaker?

Caretakers are often asked what the hardest part of their job is. So, what IS the hardest part? It's not
the weather, it's not the trailwork, it's something...a little more intangible. 

Caretakers live in the remote backcountry for four to six months, living in the field for 10-11 days at a time. In short, this translates to about 7 nights out of the woods in a month. During that time, they experience all weather (snow to sleet to sun to rain to snow again), they work in the dirt and mud, they compost human waste and they rebuild trail. At the beginning and the end of every day, they interact with and manage the flow of visitors that come through and stay at AMC's 9 backcountry sties staffed with caretakers.

But the hardest part? It's this intangible feeling, that all of them experience to a different extent while in the woods. Bobby Haran, one of our second year caretakers, composed this recent essay/ spoken word about how he describes that intangible feeling. Bobby is stationed at Imp Campsite, and also shared one of his glorious sunset photos from Imp. 

 Bobby opened up this piece by saying that he's often asked what the hardest part of the job is. This piece, composed for our midsummer/ midseason all-caretaker get-together, is how he answered it:  

It would happen while you were hiking in, although I’m sure the foundation of it would begin long before, while you were packing your food, saying your goodbyes, and driving to the trail.

But the thoughts, or more the feeling, wouldn’t come until you hit the trail, your feet moving swiftly up that path you’d come to love, hate, then love again.

Like I said, it wasn’t a thought, so much as a feeling, something ineffable brought on by the knowledge that in 11 days you would be back. To you, it would feel like the blink of an eye, like barely a day had passed. It would shock you that anything could change that fast.

But it could.

Because what was a blink to you would be almost two weeks for the rest of the world.

And two weeks is a long time.

In that time, memories would be made, events happened, news –both bad and good- pass by, fears would be admitted and conquered, and ultimately, the world would just keep on spinning. Without even skipping a beat at your absence. 

You would think about your brother. How many times had something good, or bad, or exciting, or memorable, or hell anything happened in his life, where he’d reached for his phone, a smile of anticipation on his face, excited to tell his brother something in the way that only a brother can. Merely to have his smile fade realizing you were nowhere near a phone.

Would he even remember what the news was when you got out? Or would it just slip away as another memory you missed out on.

You would think about your parents. Were they worried, concerned? Did they miss that weekly phone call? Did dad recover from his surgery? Where were we moving now? Sometimes you’d come out, and their whole life had changed. They’d be picking up, moving to another city, another apartment, and the only way you found out was as a passing after thought from your mom, like it was old news. Well, I guess it was. It happened over a week ago. You just weren’t around.

You would think about your girlfriend. Hell, I can’t even explain how much you would think about your girlfriend. Trying to live on two texts a day because your phone wasn’t meant to last that long. Trying to fit everything important into 160 characters is damn near impossible. So you think about all of your life that she was missing out on and just didn’t understand, and all of hers that was equally a mystery to you.

And then you would quickly try to stop thinking about your girlfriend. Because all of the parts of her life, that life you used to be a big part of, that you would never hear about as they were lost to the sands of time, were insurmountable. You just hoped she was good at waiting.

It’s this time warp you see. It’s coming out of the woods, expecting it all to be the same, because no time should have passed, but it did. It’s big news, turning to just news, turning to, “oh, I thought everyone knew by now”. No, they didn’t. It’s not just missing out on the memories, and stories, and events. It’s not even hearing about them because by the time you’re out, they’re long since forgotten.

So you think about this, you feel it, understand it, and let it wash over you. And after all that, as you’re nearing the top of the mountain on your pack in, the obvious and unstoppable question bubbles to the forefront of your consciousness.

Is it worth it?

And to answer that question, you stop thinking about all of their memories, and start thinking about all of your own.

You think about the first time you caught the sunrise from the bench at Garfield, or that first glorious sunset at Imp. You think about that moose and it’s calf you saw stroll quietly through your site like you weren’t even there. You think of your first bushwhack to Redrock Pond, the impossibly beautiful and secluded spot nestled between those slides. You think about the joy of running into another caretaker randomly, and lazy evenings watching cribbage at the no-tell. You think about watching the sky turn dark over Ethan Pond during training, that first blow down you took out solo, and of course, your first compost run.

You think about the people met: fellow caretakers and even those just met for a night as they passed through on the trail. You think of the peace and happiness of enjoying the quiet of your tent after a long day, and then at midsummer last year when a caretaker danced himself into frenzy.

And before you’re even done with this, you’re sitting on your porch smiling, because the answer is clear. You wouldn’t trade your memories for theirs in a thousand years.

Because this job is worth it all. 

--Bobby Haran, Imp Caretaker 2014


Trail Building in Berlin, NH

Greetings from AMC-JAG! (Jobs for America's Graduates)

This past week we worked on a trail that was started by our crew last summer behind the White Mountain Community College Child Development Center. Last year the trail began as just flagging through the woods. The students cleared most of the trail corridor and put in a few structures to fix swampy areas. This year we focused on shaping the rest of the treadway, cutting drains, and removing tripping hazards to make the trail walkable for little feet. At the end of the week we were also able to put in a few log steps to retain the soil on a steep section of trail.
Log steps installed by the crew
Sue Cloutier, the director of the Child Development Center, arranged for the students to attend an orientation with an admission counselor at the college. They discussed their options for after high school, went on a tour of the campus, and even got to try out the new virtual welding machines in the welding lab!
A student using the welding simulator
This week we shifted from a group to a crew, with students giving out trail names and motivating each other to keep projects moving. We also got a special visit from Switchback, a second-year member of the AMC’s professional trail crew. She worked with us for an afternoon and talked with the students about her experience with trail work and the AMC. The crew was excited to have her and some students are now considering continuing trail work with the AMC in the future.
The crew gathers in front of a huge tree that the daycare children call "The Hugging Tree"

Our fourth and final week with the Berlin crew will be a culmination of our crew’s new trail work skills as we return to Mt. Jasper to install some rock staircases and check steps.


The 4-Week Crew Does Something New

Enjoying Dinner at Mizpah Hut
We all signed up for this program expecting four weeks of trail work – something that we all love doing and feel really passionate about. There had been whisperings of an alternate third week, but we didn’t expect it to be anything as interesting as our week turned out to be. This week offered us the opportunity to learn about other sides of the AMC that we might not know about and might never have the opportunity to see.

Catching Frogs at Lost Pond
We started the week off with a trip to Mizpah Hut and the Nauman tent-site. The hut crew was so excited to have us there and they gave us a full tour of the hut, even showing us places where visitors aren’t allowed to go. We got to eat some incredible hut food and were able to speak personally with the Hut Field Supervisor and learn about the daily life of a hut crew member.
Mapping Plots with Research Department

We spent the next day with the caretaker of Nauman helping him with some trail work and also learning about what his job entails. We even got to see how the composting toilet works, which might sound gross but is actually insanely cool. After everything is composted, you can touch what used to be poop – that’s pretty sweet, at least to a bunch of trail crew kids.

We woke up bright and early Wednesday morning to an exciting day with a naturalist who took us to Lost Pond where we caught frogs, weird bugs, tadpoles and some worms and learned about them and their part in the ecosystem. After lunch, we headed over to Wildcat and met with some Teen Wilderness leaders who brought us over to a waterfall, told us about their jobs, and had us participate in some leadership activities.

Thursday was back to trail work, but not just any trail work – felling trees. We went out to our final week’s location and learned how to properly and safely fell trees. Felling trees is really satisfying work, and hey – we got to swing axes. That doesn’t happen everyday!

Friday marked the end of our week, but we still got to meet with the research department and collect data on plant species. The research department then uses that data over the years to see if climate change is affecting the plants native to the areas. It was really nice to help them out, especially with how important it is to learn about the effects of climate change.

This week of alternate programming provided our crew with so much knowledge on the AMC that none of us had before. As the leadership crew, most of us want to work for the AMC in the future, and this week showed us that there is more to the AMC than what is in front of us at Dodge. It widened our horizons, got us to thinking about our own future and what work we might want to do, but most of all it was just a really, really fun week.


Trail Work: nature's crossfit

It is just half way through the summer and we in the Berkshires are readying ourselves for this weekend's Trail Olympics. As we stare down at our now tanner, more muscular and ever dirt-covered arms, we think back on what our Berkshire Teen Trail Crew and Appalachian Trail Ridgerunner programs have accomplished. At the start of the trail crew season some of us were quite green when it came to trail work and leading teenage volunteers but a mere month and a half into summer and you would be hard pressed to identify a novice crew leader. Highlighting a bit of the impressive list of work completed this summer may explain how our staff has become so seasoned, so fast.
Our work with the Becket Land Trust (BLT) has seen over 1,000 feet of new tread competed as well as the installation and improvement of more than 30 drain dips and water bars. Still important but less glamorous are the incredible stretches of corridor clearing done for the BLT. Our teen volunteer trail crews have also spent time working along the Appalachian Trail (AT) in Massachusetts at sites that include Department of Conservation and Recreation's (DCR) Mt. Greylock State Reservation and Mt. Everett State reservation. By rolling boulders, building bridges and moving pounds of crush-rocks the crews are not only getting buffer by the day, they are also becoming a part of the AT's very proud legacy. The Leadership Trail Crew (LTC) has had a hand in nearly all of the diverse work that has been done this season. The LTC spent 2 (of what will be 4 total) weeks in the field building native bog bridges with Appalachian Trail volunteers on Mt. Greylock. The LTC's final 2 weeks will be spent addressing drainage issues on AT on Mt. Everett.
The crew's weekends have been quite productive, split between a Leave No Trace Trainer course, Wilderness First Aid certification, and this upcoming weekend they will be treated to a well deserved weekend of swimming, a lesson in pizza making and s'mores. The AMC Noble View Outdoor Center, just outside Russell, MA is continuing to successfully host it's first full season of programing. The nine weeks of base-camp teen trail crews have been tackling a major project to make the Noble View trail system more user friendly. This work includes 6 trail reroutes and the installation of a completely new facility-wide signage system.

Beginning next week, our two Noble View crew leaders will begin leading teen trail volunteers on backcountry spike crews along the New England National Scenic Trail.

If you happen to have run across friendly folks in uniform along the AT in Connecticut, then chances are you've met our AT Ridgerunners. These trail adoring mountain folk spend their entire summer, from Memorial Day through Labor Day, living and hiking along the AT. Our Ridgerunners are stewards of the trail and beyond monitoring trail and campsite conditions they play several crucial roles including caretaking at Sages Ravine campsite, trail maintenance and reporting, educating the public on Leave No Trace principles and sharing and adding to the AT culture. Family AT Day at Beartown State Forest is onSaturday July 26 and we encourage our fellow lovers of the outdoors to attend. Beyond that there is so much work to be done in support of our beautiful New England trail systems we extend to all of you and yours, an invitation to join, work, volunteer or just chat with us...we mostly like talking about doughnuts, current events and telling embarrassing stories about co-workers.

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