Inside a white hexagonal tent, the nine of us wore only a couple layers of clothing as the wood stove radiated heat. I was nearly in a sweat after cooking over and tending the fire, although those closer to the door were at least twenty degrees cooler and the snow floor reminded us all that we were in a winter landscape. With bellies full of jambalaya and eyelids droopy from hard work setting up camp, it was hard to leave the comfort of our shelter for a night hike.
One step outside and everything changed. Already high above a nearly full moon shone while a pattern of light and moonshadow crisscrossed our wooded camp tucked in behind a point of land. We eagerly strapped on snowshoes and stepped out onto the sculpted-snow surface of Rum Pond; I could have read a book illuminated only by the moonlight, which reflected off the pure white sastrugi.
Dot Lamson, trip leader (and Director of the Center of Environmental Education), asked the group, “Where do you want to go?”
Students quickly picked out the silhouette of a scraggly spruce tree on the southeast shore, and we set off. Out from behind the point, a light breeze picked up, and it only further buoyed our mood. Some walked in pairs, others alone, some talking and laughing, others watching and listening. Squeaks from snowshoes on snow kept my attention as I studied the patterns of light and dark, trying to predict when I would punch through the crust and when I would float on top.
Before we knew it, we stood on the far shore under our selected spruce surveying the entire expanse of Rum Pond. Dot brought us together in a chorus of yips, barks, and howls as we tried to attract response from area coyotes. The wind knocked down our efforts, but we enjoyed trying again and hearing each person’s distinctive impression of a coyote.
Ready for more exploring, Drew lead us off on the second leg of a triangle that would eventually bring us home to our tents. This time we had a longer crossing with more time for conversation and reflection. Once on the north shore, Dot called for Barred Owl and we mustered a final round of canine cries that trailed off into silence…
Without prior planning we all remained silent.
For over five minutes we stood as a constellation of fellow travelers, each facing a different direction and thinking our own thoughts. I wonder what the others were thinking. For me, any vestigial concerns from work and home lifted, my shoulders relaxed, the scene become more brilliant in silvery details, and the connection to my students and co-leader clarified. Secure in the place, my mind wandered some, first to my wife and young daughter not on the trip, then to past winter explorations, and on to thoughts of the wildlife that surely surrounded us, but was out of sight and mostly huddled for warmth on the cold night.
Eventually the silence eased and we moved back towards camp, stopping to slide on a windswept patch of ice at our protective point. After a quick huddle (not unlike what Kinglets might have been doing nearby) in tent groups, we readied for night, stoked the stoves, and crawled into our sleeping bags. As temperatures dropped to zero Fahrenheit that night some slept more comfortably than others, but I suspect we all felt the satisfaction of our first day in the winter woods of Maine.
Willard Morgan – Head of School
*Note – From February 28 to March 3, MCS students spent three to four days on Winter Wilderness Trips to five different locations in the North Woods. This account was from a trip to the Moosehead Lake/Greenville region.