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.