The life of a caretaker at the edge of Speck! Pond

Dan Rudolph was the fortunate individual who spent the summer of 2013 living at the edge of Speck Pond, serving as the caretaker for the campsite. He is also a thoughtful writer, and was willing to share some of his reflections on his time spent at of Speck! Pond (why the exclamation point? It's a longstanding AMC Campsite/ Caretaker program internal reference, started by a caretaker almost two decades ago, who was so excited about the site, he felt it deserved an exclamation point of its own. Moreover, we also believe in the wonder and beauty of Speck! in our department, so we continue the tradition every season).

I asked Dan to share his story as it is a wonderful example of what all our caretakers experience, to a different degree, during their first season as stewards in the woods. Thank you Dan for your excellent work in service to Speck! and the caretaker program this season!

Dylan Summers, West Rotator, receiving his axe on the first day of training

I was sitting in my white-walled Boston apartment when I received an email from the AMC Shelters Director. She cordially informed me that I would spend my summer at Speck! Pond—a site I’d never heard of, in Maine—a state I’d only visited twice. Of course, questions filled my head. Some found shadowy answers in internet queries and repeated flybys via Google Earth. While others, like the exclamatory typo sandwiched in the site name, went unanswered until the week of training.

A former caretaker at Speck! said it was a peaceful place of beauty. Others too extolled the place like some forgotten shrine. With these reports setting my expectations high, I hiked in. It was early June. Exhausted by my dawn drive from Boston and under the weight of a heavy pack, I looked at Speck! for the first time. A small pond between two hillsides. Not much more than Google Earth had revealed.

On my first few stints the confining rain only abated for the black flies, which swarmed in the rare occurrence of the sun. Leaving the tent for trail-work, I got beaten by bugs or chilled by showers. Looking back, the discomfort experienced in June was a trial, a gentle hazing to test my mettle.

When the weather turned in early July, I began sitting beside the pond more and more. On a clear day, the pond reflected the sky and mountains. On hazy ones, the pond was any body of water I could imagine. The lilly pads waged their silent march across and the croaking frogs lost their voices. I learned the names of the trees, the flowers and the birds. When a Junco alighted the shelter I hailed him saying, "Hello Junco." When my steps startled a Grouse, "didn't mean to scare you Grouse." At Speck! I found a sense of wonder and a sense of oneness that I tried to communicate to those who passed through.

The groups came in droves later in July. My evening spiel evolved during this time from the dry facts (bear box, water, no pee in privy) to something more personal. I welcomed everyone to my home. With the younger groups, and with the young at heart, I talked about composting like this: "And do you know why I'm here in the first place?" I'd ask rhetorically waving a hand over the crowd. "Because I magically transform poo into Earth!" To which, in my mind, they'd all ooh and ahh, but in reality they'd just laugh. "Some call me Gandalf the Poo."

There is a magic in the place. A magic incommunicable through Google Earth flybys. Even well told stories lack the words.

On a windless day sitting on the eastern shore, I watched one sun fall from the sky while another rose from the pond itself. The hills on either side, themselves almost a reflection of each other, were both mirrored in the still water. At the pond’s outlet everything, both real and reflected, converged. Speck! Pond.