I’m waiting this morning for the start of the next winter Nor’easter snowstorm by reading this stained old library book that was published in 1942. Just about every page is dog-eared, and most of them stained with coffee, grease, and several worse-looking colors. It’s We Took To The Woods, and is the suggested background reading for the winter outdoor skills course I’m taking from Mahoosuck Guide Service in three weeks that will be taking place somewhere out in the bush on Map 18 of Delorme’s Maine Atlas and Gazetteer.
Map 18 is one of the fringe maps in the Gazetteer. It’s on the border of Maine and New Hampshire, and only 1 map down from Quebec. Andover is the town with the largest and boldest print on map 18, however it boasts around 800 residents. The last time I was up there was a couple of years ago when I helped out my hiking pal Old Buzzard, who maintains the very remote and steep stretch of Appalachian Trail from the South Arm Road to the top of Old Blue Mountain. Andover center is a tiny place, and home to The Cabin, a renown AT hostel where I plan to stay this coming hiking season.
Last month, I passed the requirements that let me wear this patch on my plaid wool coat.
The course I’ll be taking in December is designed to cover the skills needed to safely guide others in the winter. Some of the topics that will be covered are hypothermia, reading winter ice, preventing and treating frostbite, and navigation techniques in white-out conditions. I suspect we’ll each spend a winter bivouac with just the clothes on our backs- possibly in a snow & bough shelter. I’m excited about picking up some skills on fire building without matches, and learning the basics of dog team use. We’ll get some time on a snowmobile as well.
Back to the book. We Took to the Woods was initially published in 1942, and is about a young couple from away who move to one of the most remote spots on the far edge of Map 18, overlooking the Rattle River somewhere between Pond in the River and the Lake Umbagog National Wildlife Refuge. Life in the 1930’s in backwoods Maine was tough back then, and is tough even now. Louise Dickinson Rich and her husband had to cut, split, and haul 10 cords of wood to heat their living space each winter.
A couple of weeks ago, I joined a dozen other neighborhood men as we sawed, split, hauled and stacked 10 cords of firewood for our neighbor Andy, who was down and out with a back problem that will put his wood hauling off the to-do list for a few months anyways.
I’m so worked up right now about living and working in Maine. The same basic survival skills that I am reading about in this gem of an old book is going to be be my curriculum for four days in a couple of weeks. If we are confident in foundation skills that are necessary to be comfortable and safe living outdoors, it doesn’t matter if it is 1934 or 2014. Freezing cold, fire building, moisture management, and staying warm with less can not only save a life, but assist us in making that vital connection with our ancestral past. It’s somehow all in side us, but has to be rekindled, like a skillful application of a tiny flame.