“Welcome to Garfield, my name is Eli, I’m the Caretaker” has been a familiar sentence the past few months. At first, when I would utter these words I would hesitate mid sentence with a sense of disbelief. Now it’s hard to imagine, that in eleven short days my caretaking season will end; meaning, if I find myself on campus overcome with nostalgia and inadvertently deliver this introduction, I’ll be viewed as a bit nuts. As the summer progressed (at what felt like light speed) I fully immersed into my position as an AMC backcountry caretaker. Now, I’m a little worried about readjusting into the so-called civilized world. Luckily, I have a few moments to write about my experience and hopefully ease the transition.
My season began with a bang as I spent the three days prior to my first stint patrolling with the AMC’s Trail Crew. With them I found myself near the summit of Mt. Washington enrolled in a crash course on axeology clearing a battlefield of blow downs on my 23rd birthday. As I approached Mike Foster (AMC Backcountry Caretaker Field Coordinator) awaiting my arrival at the trailhead of Davis Path, I could not help but think I had just experienced the ultimate birthday.
Unfortunately, the three days left my legs a little tired for my first pack into Garfield. Ask Mike what I looked like when I stumbled around the final bend into the campsite and I’m sure he would reply with a chuckle. During my first few days at Garfield I spent much of my time getting familiar with the campsite and surrounding area. For those of you who are not familiar with the Garfield Ridge Campsite, it is located roughly 600 vertical feet short of the summit on the north face of Mt. Garfield, between Galehead Hut and Mt. Lafayette. The campsite includes the following: the caretaker’s tent, a shelter that can cozily hold twelve, five group platforms, and two single platforms. Due to its location on the Appalachian Trail it’s a frequent resting place for “thru-hikers.”
I plan on writing a few blog posts and will spend a bit of time in each recounting day-to-day stories, but for my first post I figured I would address my experience on a broader scale. It was during my first stint that I began to contemplate the importance of my role in relation to the environment and the backcountry guests. There are two quotes from the summer that I really took to heart. My boss, AMC Backcountry Resource Conservation Manager, Sally Manikian, delivered the first. During training Sally addressed the new caretakers on campsite management philosophy. She stressed the importance of not attaching yourself to the campsite. She told us that during our tenure at the campsite we would be tempted to say phrases like “I only have two platforms left” or “I have to get back to my site” (actual quotes spoken by myself). I really took this to heart and was especially mindful of how I spoke about my relation to the campsite. It was from this foundation that I built my personal management style. Over the past year I have become involved in Zen Buddhism. One of the teachings of Zen Buddhism is a concept called non-duality or as Zen Master Shunryu Suzuki says “not two, and not one.” This concept addresses the interconnectivity of life: how each one of us is connected to each other and the environment, while simultaneously being an individual within that world - not two or one.
I spent a lot of time thinking about this concept and its parallels to the advice Sally gave. From here I made sure that I treated each person that entered the campsite as complete equals, which included not elevating myself above the guests. I hoped to foster an environment where everyone would realize how they were as equally connected to the fate and well being of the campsite and the White Mountains as I was. This is a way of looking at the woods that I feel blends well with the principle of Leave No Trace (LNT). People will often thank me for my trail work and site maintenance, but each time I turn to them and say, “no, thank you.” For the most part I feel like I was successful in creating this type of environment. As I look back on the summer and try to think of what I’m most proud of, this accomplishment comes to mind.
Mike delivered the second quote during the Caretakers’ midsummer meeting. He was discussing the minimalism in which the caretakers operate, how we use simplistic tools to accomplish what seem like impossible feats. The example given was how caretakers turn seventy-five gallons of human waste into pathogen free humus with little more than a pitchfork. This however is a topic for another post. So stay tuned for the coming installment including: composting, stories of memorable people who have passed through the campsite, and the adventures of kite flying on Garfield summit.
Garfield Caretaker ‘10
Labels: Backcountry Caretaker