No More Pushing Limits. The most important thing I’ve learned at Jack Mountain.

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So the semester comes to an end.
I’ve been dreading trying to write this piece. There’s so much to address about the time I spent here. Countless off color  jokes that will come to mind (likely at inappropriate times, when they’ll get me into trouble) or the inevitable first time I wake up in a bed confused by the fact that I can’t hear the woods all around me. Leaving here is going to be hard. Getting back to a city will be harder. I’ve experienced so much up here, and it’s only the beginning of this new path I’ve found in life.
That’s the part I’m going to focus on for this bit of scribbling. I could write about individual experiences, or how much I’ve learned from Tim, Paul and every other student here. I think I’d do those subjects a disservice if I didn’t devote separate pieces to them, so stay tuned because they’ll be up here.

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Instead I’ll focus on this semester as a whole, and the closeness I’ve started to gain  with the natural world during it. I don’t by any means imply a spiritual connection, or anything of the sort. I mean the feeling of waking up every morning, and already being outdoors. Of hearing the woods wake up with me, and feeling that I was part of those woods. Some people go into the outdoors to challenge them. To confront the wilds and come away feeling superior. I wish them the best in that. However, I am not of that mindset. The longer I was here, the more I felt at home. Not only that I was comfortable in the woods, but that the woods were comfortable with us being there. This is evidenced by a few separate separate occasions over this course. The first happened early on, and involved a mated pair of Canada Jays or “whiskeyjacks” that hang around camp.
Tim had mentioned that you could get them to eat out of your hand with enough patience. I incorporated this into my daily sit spot, taking a handful of oats with me across the field to the massive white pine I spent my mornings under. The birds at first would only eat the oats if I tossed them, but over a few weeks they eventually warmed up enough to land on my knee and eat the food I’d placed there.

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The second, not chronologically but in level of effect, took place a few days ago. I woke up to rustling underneath my raised bed in the hoop house I’ve been sleeping in. As I leaned over to check, a snowshoe hare bolted out between the gap of the tarps. In the moment I was irritated, as anyone woken up unexpectedly would be, but in retrospect it was a sign that the wildlife around us had become accustomed to us. My hoophouse was such a staple of the landscape that a rabbit, one of the flightier animals around here felt comfortable coming in from the cold and rain. There isn’t any meaningful metaphysics behind this. The rabbit is not somehow bonded to me in any sense besides the fact that I was part of his landscape. That’s what being outdoors and watching is about. We do not go into the woods and simply exist in it, we become a part of it in a tangible way. We are simply a part of an ecosystem and it’s vital that when (read as “if”) we leave that ecosystem it should be able to keep going as it was. I’m confident that will be the case as we all pack up and leave “Moose Vegas”.

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The experience here that will most stick out in my mind has already had an article written about it. I don’t care. Camping on lake millimagassett changed me. It made me understand why people seek wilderness that is pristine and remote. Moose Vegas is a small, relatively contained environment, and while it is still an ecosystem of its own, it is drastically effected by its proximity to the field school and the nearby towns. The lake was different. We were small and at the behest the weather and water. Our days revolved around what it decided to do, and we had no ability to change that. That’s a powerful and beautiful thing to experience. To be out paddling the lake, feel the wind change and see the sky darken. Knowing this is a warning to get off the water, and that there will not be a second one. You do not challenge nature the way many of us think we can. You adapt yourself to its moods and hope for the best. Trust me, the best is there. As the rain cleared the next morning the rest of the world around us was taking advantage of the clear skies as well. Eagles fished, the Loons called back and forth letting their mates know where they were and providing us with a haunting soundtrack to exit the lake to.

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Moments like that are what I’ve enjoyed most about this course. It’s been hard. Learning new things in an unknown environment always is, but those moments of belonging will be what I remember. It only comes with competency and understanding. I still have and always will have plenty to learn about this world and this field of work I want to be in, but I will tell you one thing. The North Maine woods will always feel like a vacation home of sorts to me after this course. I’ve always been outdoors. Hiking, camping, out on the ocean. This course will forever change the way I do those things. None of the places ive been have brought that feeling, because I was just passing through and observing . I am no longer interested in being a voyeur of the woods. I want to feel that belonging anytime im outdoors. I think I probably will now. It’s no longer a place I go to visit. The outdoors will from here on out b a place I can go to feel that sense of belonging. That utter and total acceptance I’ve started to earn by knowing the limits of what the woods will allow me to do. I have no wish to ever push those limits, only to find new ways to exist within them and experience all they have to offer

I still have some interviews with students and teachers to write, and plenty of articles about the projects we did up here. Don’t worry, they’re coming. For today though I want to thank Tim Smith and his Wife Jennifer again for providing me this opportunity, Paul Sveum for and endless supply of energy in teaching us, as well as all the other students here. It’s been an amazing experience and I can’t wait to start planning expeditions with you guys in the future.
Slainte Maithe everyone. Go do something outside

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