Monday, July 24, 2017

Summer is for water

Summer is halfway over, and for me (and probably most everybody) summer usually means lots of time spent in the water. My many summers in West Virginia were tied to swims in the pond. Dips in the pond at night, after lunch, during swim time, and during intersession... basically whenever I wasn't busy. The pond was my calm and an essential piece of my summer. Oof just writing about it now pulls at my heartstrings. I love pond. 

Similarly, last year summer was marked by dips in Spruce Pond at Bear Brook. Every sunny weekend day I took a dip, sometimes a long swim. Sometimes I’d swim alone, but most times I’d go with a group of friends to decompress after 10 days in the field.  Spruce was our spot, whether to howl at night on the bank or to stand around and giggle about skinny dipping and if the tourists across the pond could see us. Spruce was my perfect replacement for the pond at camp—I needed that nearby water.

Hitches themselves last year were infinitely better if there was a nearby lake or swimming hole.  Days off were spent by rivers and lakes, and joy was found in water with friends after a long and sweaty day of manual labor. My last moments with Reed were exactly that: happiness and a refreshing post-work swim. About a month after Reed drowned I took a chance at swimming again in Spruce Pond. It was a blazing hot October day and I felt happy walking to the pond and stripping down and wading in. But dunking my head was another story, I felt a flash of complete panic and got out immediately, vowing to not swim on my own again anytime soon.

Here we are on a hitch meet-up, after an afternoon spent swimming and jumping of a cliff:

Fast forward to this dry, hot, Idaho summer, where there is no nearby pond to jump in. This summer water is difficult. Water is anxiety and sometimes panic. There are tough memories linked to the sensation of flowing water. But still, it is refreshing and sometimes so necessary after work. A couple weeks ago on my Wilderness hitch we were camped by the Middle Fork of the Salmon River, a premier whitewater rafting river. It was absolutely stunning and also quite fast moving, glittering and powerful. Work was insanely hot and draining, as we were working on an exposed rock slide area moving boulders. 

Everyday after work we flopped by the bank of the river to relax and wash our clothes and wash ourselves, and so everyday I had an internal struggle in my head. Should I reiterate the rule about not swimming alone? Should I watch vigilantly or just focus on enjoying the feeling of sun and wind and water? How much do I trust people to swim in a strong river? How much do I tell my members? Do I use Reed’s/ my story to tell them why I am so safety crazy? Or do I just let the story come out when it’s natural? Should I just try to chill out and have faith that I’ve said enough to instill a culture of safety on the hitch?
My brain buzzed through these questions and flipped flopped between my need for water and my anxiety. I needed to cool down after a day working on an exposed site in 100+ degree heat, and I needed to bathe. I dreaded the feeling of the current pulling on my legs, and thinking about rocks or sticks that I could slip on and get stuck on. But then I could look down the canyon and the sunset reflecting on the water and I would feel happiness and love for the rushing and wild river.
Luckily my crew happened to be camping at a popular spot at the confluence of a nice creek and the mighty Middle Fork. Someone had built a round pool out of rocks, sort of like a natural hot spring tub but extremely cold. One of my best memories from that hitch was sitting in this pool with everyone after a particularly tiring day of rock-moving, enjoying the feeling of the numbing water and laughing about our day. We were all instantly refreshed by the river pool, the exhaustion of the workday completely forgotten. The enjoyment of water was there, but the fear was at bay.

It’s slow progress, but I’m going to try to look at enjoyment of being next to a river as progress. As much as I don’t mind and even quite like being by the water now, I still have not been able to swim freely yet, which honestly has been shocking to me. I dearly want to have a joyful relationship with swimming again. I can dunk for a split second, but the action of rinsing my hair or taking a stroke is still terrifying. The motion of having my head back in the water and rubbing my scalp with my fingers immediately dredges up memories of my first seconds of worry at the river back in New Hampshire. I’m scared that what I fear most will happen again—that while I’m enjoying myself and feeling the rush of water though my hair, an accident will happen.

Those are the thoughts I’m dealing with, but I believe those thoughts will lessen with time. So maybe for the first time in my life I need to be ok with this summer not being about swimming. This summer is for appreciating water, and for being aware of its power. This summer is for refreshing dips but it’s not for testing my level of comfort. I don’t know what next summer will bring, but I hope it at least has a nearby pond.

Friday, July 14, 2017

Hitch Haiku

Probably this set of haikus won't make much sense until I write another blog post explaining everything, but for starters here is what my last week in the Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness was like!

Beaches every mile
10 miles turns into 13
caught pop on the bridge

Up close view of grouse
Canyon walls steep, sage fields hot
Are we there yet? No

Ice cream sandwiches
Turkey chicken beef and pork
Who wants more oatmeal?

Today we got Franked
Rock rock rock rock rock WATCH OUT
Rattlesnake below

Yesterday was church
Walked into a lunch buffet
Blisters on our feet

We don’t need rock bars
Hands, webbing, and our muscles
Geoff dropped ours off a cliff

Rafters as neighbors
Costume party had weird vibes
Trash taking saviors

Eagle soaring high
Baby black bear runs as we sing
A rabbit lies dead

Last day of hiking
Jose hooked us up with food
Cookies and fresh fruit!

Get it done? Heck yeah!
Finished two rock walls- good looks

No Thursday flight. Shit.

Pop on the bridge!:

Sunday, March 12, 2017

reflections on six months

For a couple of weeks now I’ve been pondering what I wanted to write for the 13th of March, which marks six months since we lost Reed. There are just so many thoughts to try to condense into a blog post that is loosely themed around this new life of mine where I have experienced the shocking death of my friend Reed and the subsequent healing from it. I am not sure why I’m putting so much emphasis on this six month anniversary. It’s not like on this day I feel differently than I feel on other days. Maybe it just seems like a significant milestone. 
I don’t know why blogging seems to be my go-to outlet for figuring out my feelings, but it has been good for me, and a big part of my processing... process. I've been thinking about what to say in this post when I drive, when I ski, basically whenever I have down time and I don’t have anything to write with. And then it all escapes my head the moment I am at my computer. Hopefully something will emerge from my ramblings though, and when I look back in my journal and on this blog, I can know what was going on in my head at this time.
So here are some slightly-themed blurbs about what I’ve been thinking about:

Then and Now:
I think about how I’ve been feeling recently as compared to 5 months ago, when I was a pretty much consistently a wreck. These days most everything feels better. My heart doesn’t plain hurt anymore, but I still feel sad sometimes. I don’t toss and turn with negative thoughts about the river anymore, but I still don’t sleep well. I don’t torment myself with ‘what-if’s anymore, but I do “pick” certain topics to dwell on sometimes. The memories from the river are not traumatic anymore, they are just part of my memory and experience now.
I still find myself being triggered by certain things I hear. Rivers and drowning are words that appear in so so many songs, but I’ve found that I can listen to songs nowadays that I couldn’t bear to hear a couple of months ago. I don’t really like when emergencies and 911 come up in everyday conversation, but I no longer feel the urge to flee when it inevitably does come up. I’m regaining my relationship with rivers—I spent a week living along the Dead River (ironic I know) and enjoyed walks along the shore, and found myself back in a place of appreciation for the flow of the water rather than fear and memories.

I spend a lot of time thinking about the words people use to tell others that someone is no longer alive. Passed away, lost, dead. I tend to not say things like “since Reed’s accident.” I hear many of my friends from Bear Brook speaking of it that way, but maybe that wording sounds weird to me because I was actually there, and accident seems like too light of a word for all of the emotions of that night. Either way, I never use that phrase. Thinking about saying that we lost our friend Reed is also interesting for me, because those words have a double meaning. I physically lost Reed in the river. One moment he was yelling to me about finding a rope swing, a minute later he was gone. I lost Reed, and we lost Reed. That word doesn’t sound appropriate for my use either, because when I first used those words to call for help, I still thought he could be alive.
When I talk about what happened, I say the word 'died' or 'death' because that’s what the counselor used, and I think she used those words for a reason. Passed on, lost, accident… those don’t seem as final or real. I think I use the word to emphasize the realness of it, because remembering that this is real is something I’ve been struggling with.

Memory Lane:
Recently I’ve been talking with my old boss and my fellow Bear Brookers about how glad we are that Reed had such an incredible summer. He was on an epic grouping of hitches with loads of time in the backcountry, exploring and living and growing and gettin’ gains, pulling down trees and laying shelter foundations and tamping lots of mineral soil. These days, my brainspace is more filled with plain old missing Reed and thinking back on all the fun we had this summer. I smile and am happy when I hear that my friend Max sometimes lets a Reed-like laugh come out. I love to think about getting back from after Hitch 4 (the beginning of Hitch 4 is pictured above) and summer break was just beginning. We were on the lawn throwing a frisbee around and everyone was SO happy. I remember looking around at all my friends and thinking how incredible it was that were were all so ridiculously happy to be chilling in this buggy field, sweaty and stinky and in love with our trail crew dirtbag life.
I think about his weird yell he did as he ran towards people or to somewhere. I think about his excitement about pooping in the different outhouses along the road we were staying on. I think about how much fun we had carrying an acorn squash through the Flume instead of working. And when we strolled up the Flume carrying tools for a couple hours instead of working (oops, I swear we worked mostly). I think about our group’s last night together, eating ice cream at the shop on the road and laughing about how huge Reed’s ice cream was. We were all so relaxed and content, a warm Monday night at the end of an amazing summer. I love revisiting these memories again and again. I really cherish my memories of Reed, no matter how tiny or random.

Living for Reed:
Everyone who I’ve spoken to who has also lost someone too young has spoken of living more fully for that person, or living a double life for them. That has been a goal of mine ever since it was mentioned to me. To live for Reed and do things that he would get a kick out of, to not get bogged down in the little things, to think about what really matters, to appreciate life and enjoy myself as much as I can. Turns out that’s harder to do than I thought, but I think I’m beginning to test it out. The other night I was ecstatic when I got a chance to sleep in an igloo on a frigid night, because I knew Reed would have been jumping to do the same thing (but in his -40 bag).
I can imagine that I’ll think of Reed in the future whenever I’m about to do something that scares me. Reed was fearless and invincible. He jumped off cliffs, he demolished shelters while sitting on them, he effortlessly lifted huge rocks that no one else could make budge, he could eat Gatorade powder mixed with powdered milk mixed with oatmeal and love it. I’m slowly entering this next phase, and so I think I’ll start thinking more intentionally about how to live for Reed when I can.
I don’t have much to conclude in this post other than to say thank you for reading this far, whoever you are! When I first started blogging about Reed’s death I didn’t know the purpose of it other than that I felt pulled to do so. It must just be that it’s a way for me to hone in on my thoughts and really reflect on what I’m been thinking about, and get my feelings documented so that they’re something I can look back on, as opposed to these quick thoughts that zip into my head on a long drive.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

The group with the circle tattoo

I have mixed feelings about explaining my stick and poke circle tattoo. I flutter between wanting to be asked about it because I love it, to balking at telling people the real and important story behind it. The story of my entire season in New Hampshire, and the story of losing my friend Reed. A simple question about my tattoo could become a huge conversation that the person who asked about my tattoo didn't necessarily want to enter. That story a hugely personal thing to share. But then here I am displaying this new symbol right in the open on my arm. As I go back and forth with my own feeling about sharing, I've come to the conclusion that I will never ask about someone's tattoo unless I know them quite well. 

The circle is a symbol of many things. For Reed, it meant pretty much nothing, just a funny idea of a tattoo to get. For the rest of us, it means community-- how we circled up everytime we met up to eat or to work. It means connection to each other and to Reed. It is an aerial view of a cake, or a rock bar. It means nothing and everything at the same time. For me it's also a highlight of fairly shitty birthday. I am usually really excited about my birthday, but last year it came four days after Reed died. I took it off facebook, I avoided it, and no one at Bear Brook even knew it was my birthday until the evening when they wondered why all these cakes my mom had bought had suddenly appeared. I came to realize over the day that I had made this connection between grieving and not celebrating my birthday, but really they were separate things and it was ok to be wished a happy birthday, because it meant more connection with my friends who I cared about but didn't have it in me to reach out to. Getting the tattoo after that realization turned my night around.

My tattoo is something I think about constantly. When I push my long sleeves up I touch it, when I have short sleeves I look at it. It never makes me sad, but it is a way that I remember what happened. Sometimes I am still in denial that Reed drowned, that those weeks of sadness weren't sprung from losing Reed in the river on the beautiful September evening. I look at my permanent tattoo and know that it is real. I think about the quick decision to get it, the excitement in the lodge of being the 5th one to get it that night. Of sitting and drinking a beer to ignore the stabbing needle and getting distracted by a fun conversation with Aimee. Of waking up and looking at it and loving it. Of how we all sliiightly peer pressured others to get it, how beautiful it was to see Calvin tattooing Steff and Drake and Maura on the field in North Conway during our big hitch meet up.

I love my circle. I know it's permanent, but I check for it because once I had a dream that it rubbed off. To sum it up: It's a reminder of loss and also of belonging, it's my favorite thing that I wish I didn't have. As much as I feel conflicted about explaining it, it's a way to open up conversation. My circle and Reed's death are things that will always be there but I will get more and more used to their presence/ realness. 
Also to insert a HP reference that maybe doesn't make sense but it still about circles: Because a circle has no beginning!

Monday, February 20, 2017

Ode to staying in touch

As I once again start gearing up to transition jobs, I’ve been thinking a lot about the transient life I’ve been leading. Every few months I meet new people and we form a new community complete with our own inside jokes and memories. My current job is slightly different. I did want to work here for the community – I live and work with the same group of awesome ladies, and there’s a networks of four huts total, each with a few people who I have come to know over the past couple of months. I haven’t forged deep relationships with the other hut people because I just rarely see them, but we share an interesting job and there are always stories to share.
The real reason I took this job to be back in Maine, and bide my time here while I figured out what would come next. After I ended my life-changing experience of living communally with 28 others at Bear Brook, I wanted some time to recharge. I wanted a job that was interesting but not mentally taxing. I wanted to have time to be in touch with my network of friends spread all across the country. Time to write postcards (one per day, at least, and I’ve stuck to that!) and even time to write lengthy and important letters in this cozy mountain hut that I currently call home. But most importantly, I wanted to be close to people I was already close with. I was reminded of this last week when I popped by Bar Harbor for a quick 20 hour visit. I stayed at my friend Eloise’s house, and we stayed up catching up and chatting about all kinds of things, including how much we cherish time spent actually visiting people. I do it all—I call, text, snail mail, email, facebook stalk, snapchat… but really nothing compares to visiting someone in person. To get a chance to see their room and their collection of trinkets, to hug them, to see their expressions when they tell you a story, to cook with them (or in the case of most of my recent friend visits, to eat the delicious food they cook for you), to bring them gifts from your travels or current home, to go on a new adventure together.  
I feel lucky and stretched thin at the same time, because as I bounce from job to job and land in various wonderful communities, I feel more and more desperate to keep in touch. I’m grateful for this time in Maine that I’ve used to see most everyone I know here, mostly from college. Even if we just spent an hour together, it was still time in-person. I hadn’t quite realized until I moved back to New England that I had a really amazing community here. I can drive to most any part of the state (well, coastal areas let’s be real) and find an old friend to have coffee with. That’s pretty neat, and something that takes a while to build. When I move Westward to start my new job in Idaho, I’ll be missing these Northern friends more than I think I can realize at this point. I didn’t mean to come back to New England at all, but I wouldn’t trade my 10 months in New Hampshire (which led to my current winter in Maine) for the world. This area draws people back, and sometimes they just never leave. I have always said that I didn’t want to be drawn back to Maine, that I liked living here for college but I’m outta here and on to new faces and places. But jeez, I’m just feeling really glad that I ignored Past Annie and let New England draw me back for another round.

But, I have a lot more places I want to see, so I’m making the decision to cut the cord of familiarity and that rugged rocky Maine beauty and head out to find my next community. I’ll be once again living communally at a remote base and on the trail with a trail crew corps in the Salmon-Challis National Forest in Idaho.  The lure of my next chapter in the great West makes it difficult to feel present here in Maine, but I’m going to try. And you can bet that for my last month here, for my trip down to DC, my measly day in DC and on my road trip to Idaho in April I’ll be stopping by to see as many friends as humanly possible!

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Learning by doing

Oh boy, i've been living up at my "hut" for over a month now and I have yet to blog about it! Typical! So instead of blogging about actual life in the hut, I'm just going to tell you about my skiing adventures. And show you some pictures of my commute.
Here is Stratton Brook Hut, perched on a hill:

Before even seeing the location of my hut, I made it my goal to be able to ski down the entire way without taking off my skis by the end of the season. Then, I got to my hut. I live on the top of a hill, and there are two main ways to get down. One is a winding snowshoe trail, and the other is the Maine Huts Trail, which is a series of sharp switchbacks down the mountain, tellingly named Newton's Revenge. The handful of times I went down the mountain for my days off I walked the switchbacks and didn't put my skis on until I reach the very flat section. I even sledded the switchbacks, which got me down faster but in a slightly less terrifying way than skiing. I thought I should probably let go of my goal cuz that hill is SCARY and I do not really know how to turn.
Here is my hut-mate Hannah (a bonafide excellent skiier) crushing the last section of Newton's Revenge:

Then came the perfectly timed snowfall. We had no guests for the day on Thursday, so the morning after we got a storm of slushy snow/ ice pellet stuff, I headed down the mountain from my back door. It was perfectly groomed in the early hours of the morning by our resident groomer Mark, and I was the first one to use the trail. And so I could snowplow to my hearts desire. And guess what?? I made it down the .7 miles of switchbacks in under ten minutes, feeling exhilarated and proud and shaky. And I skiied the entire rest of the way to my car (3 miles total) without walking one bit. It definitely required some talking myself into it, and yelling "SHIT" a bunch after some hills, but I feel quite accomplished. And now I will probably never do it again unless we get another perfect snowfall. But hey, I can check it off the list so booyah!
Here is my elated shadow after completing the downhill ski:

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

A normal summers day

I never got a chance to journal about the day of September 13th. The evening was the worst evening of my life, but when I think back on the day itself it was such a normal summers day, working at Saint-Gaudens towards the end of a goofy, simple, and thematic hitch. I’m not sure how true this was, but I sometimes felt like Saint-Gaudens was a taboo subject to bring up with the rest of the Bear Brookers who weren’t there. I felt conflicted because I didn’t want to alarm my friends by mentioning the place where our collective tragedy happened, but I also had so many beautiful and fun-filled memories from the same spot.
I spent a week without mentioning it, until finally we were able to share a slideshow of pictures from our time there. Hollie and I sat in front of the entire group and clicked through all of our silly group photo shoots, and tried to make light of this show-and-tell of the last pictures taken of Reed, all the way up to his last hour. Sharing at times was difficult—I was hyper aware of how everyone was reacting to the photos and of what stories I was telling. But in the end I was so glad that we were able to share all the good times we had in the week prior to Reed’s death. It was so important for others to know how beautiful our campsite was, how calm the river looked, how we had had a positive experience every other day of the hitch, how every dinner was a different weird theme.

Here’s my memory of this last workday.
We began the day by waking up to our boss Hilary asleep in the back of her truck outside of our house. She arrived while we were all asleep, and we were super excited to see her. We all drove over to park headquarters and got a tutorial on the weed wackers from one of our supervisors. We goofed around and took pictures of the little cowboy hat on tools and such, and then eventually started work back at our campsite. Our task was to clear away brush that had grown around the historic buildings. It wasn’t glamorous work, but yanking out large swaths of plants is super satisfying. The day was really hot, and I ate loads of wild grapes while we were yanking them out of trees.

The morning started off cold and cloudy. Reed spent a good chunk of the morning by the stoop of the yellow house we used at home base. He was ripping out plants from the stonework below the stairs. He ended up taking out all the stones, pulling out the weeds, and putting the stones back in place. He brought me over at one point to see his progress, and I remember exclaiming over how neat and good it looked. At some point we had to have a safety meeting. Hollie and I called everyone over and we had a check in about all the concerns at our new worksite. This came up because someone had found some bees swarming next to the house.
Marcella, another supervisor, came to visit for the afternoon. We spent a fun couple of hours weeding the stone wall and gossiping about Bear Brook stuff. Mid afternoon Reed had um intestinal issues and he was in the outhouse for a while. So he missed our park contact person coming over to give us a tour of the big white house on the property. We got to learn all sorts of fun information about the house and its history. 

By the time we were ready to tour the old barn, Reed joined us. Some historic preservation people were surveying the barn so we didn’t spend much time there, just looked around and tried to avoid sniffing too much bat guano. We then got a tour of the run-down house next door. I think at this point we were trying to ask our contact Steve as many questions as we could because it was getting to be the end of the workday and we didn’t want to go back to weeding. I’m pretty sure this worked—we probably ended our day with a debrief of sorts, put away tools, and lounged around. However, Reed had a workhorse work ethic so while we all called it a day right at 4, he was still working his butt off to free a tree of its very attached vine. He worked at it until about 4:30 and then emerged successful: vine eradicated! He did accidentally take the very top off of the tree, but he used it as his prop in our group photo shoot. We have about 20 pictures of us on the stone wall with our various props. Hollie is in the lap of luxury, being fed wild grapes by me, being shaded with rhubarb leaves by Maya and Clayton and David, and Reed is in back waving his tree top around for air or something.

Our dinner was going to be Fiesta themed, but we never got to eat it. We left that pot of half cooked beans behind that night, because we didn’t bring everything back with us. I remember finally walking in to the yellow house at night after the officers let us get some space to recollect ourselves. Everything was just as I had left it when I went to go swimming. There were remnants of squished grapes, the measuring cup with grape juice on it that Reed had helped me smash. Postcards that I had addressed with plans to write them that evening. Junior Ranger booklets spread out over the tables. Our crew had one last moment together, in that yellow house. It was just us, finally. No officers, park personnel, concerned neighbors. We didn’t know what to say or do, it was all surreal. I think I tried to say something about how we’ll always remember this moment, but looking back, I can’t remember much of it at all. We were aimless and lost for a few minutes, I know that. I know that there was a pile of Reed’s wet clothes that he had washed in the river. We sorted out a bin that the rescue people had given us—gave everyone back their wet clothes and put Reed’s clothes in a pile, unsure of what to do with them. I think we then dispersed to put on warm clothes and call our families.

I’m not sure why I have this need to document everything about that day, that evening, the return to Bear Brook, everything. Maybe I’m afraid I’ll forget things, or I’m not ready to forget things. I feel like I’m going to be processing my experience and trauma for a while, and so I’m going to do anything that seems remotely helpful. I am filling in the blanks for myself, learning everyone’s stories of that evening, working on having a full picture. I’m writing this publicly because maybe knowing this will be helpful to someone else, too.