As I sit and type this blog, I am nearing the end of my wonderful experience as an interpretive ranger for Umbagog Lake State Park. I can remember those days back at Bear Brook, almost 7 months ago, when all of us NH Corps interpretive rangers were anxiously discussing which parks we might be placed at. We were all very nervous. The only information we had out about the parks were in binders that the interpreters from previous years had written about their experiences at each of the parks. Then came that fatefully frightful day, when Clare, our supervisor, asked each one of us to go on a walk with her and discuss where we would be placed. When she called for me, I put on my scarf, snow cap, and winter jacket, took a deep a breath, and headed out the door to meet her on the trail. We walked for about five minutes discussing her thought process on the whole matter. When we arrived at Spruce Pond my palms were sweating. To be honest I didn’t have much of a preference. My anxiety was driven on the fact that I just didn’t know where I was going to be. And then, just like that, I found out I was spending my summer and fall up in the in the Great North Woods at Umbagog Lake State Park. As soon as I got back to the lodge, I grabbed the Umbagog binder from last year and started researching. I wanted to know everything I could about the place and how last year’s interpreter liked it.
At the end of the interpreter’s reflection, he left a list of books that he thought would be great resources for me. The first book on that list was We Took to the Woods, by Louise Dickinson Rich. Now, I didn’t know it yet, but this book was soon to become an obsession of mine. When I arrived at Umbagog, I decided to check out the Errol town library. As I rummaged through their very small collection of books -the library is the size of a very small two room cabin- I came across We Took to the Woods. Immediately I checked it out and started reading it that night on the beach of Umbagog Lake, and I couldn’t put it down. The book itself is very simple. It is an autobiography, in which Rich explains her life living along the Rapid River, just across the border Maine, during the late 1930s and early 1940s. I am not going to explain whole synopsis of the book because if you haven’t you should pick up a copy and read it yourself.
When I finished the book I began talking to the staff at Umbagog. I quickly learned that just about everyone who lives up here has read this book. I also learned that both her winter house and her summer house were still sitting there along the Rapid River. When I found this out, I made it my mission to get up there and check it out. Unfortunately, the interpretive season picked up, and for a while, I kind of forgot about this mission. But all was not lost. Late one night, I was hanging out with Bob, the park’s manager, and we got talking about the book. When he found out that I hadn’t checked out her camp yet, he told me that I needed to before I left here and that he was going to take me there. On a slow Sunday morning Bob had a boat transport close to the Rapid River, so he told me to jump on the boat and he would drop me off up there along the Carrie Road, and he would pick me up in a few hours.
The hike was surreal. I got to walk along the Carrie the road, where Rich and her husband drove up and down towing canoes for those who went down the river. I got to see some beat up old cars that people had left in the woods to rust away, but most of all I found her old camps. It turns out that her winter camp was turned into a museum. I was lucky the door was unlocked and I got see a glimpse of history. It looks as though she never left. Her shelves are full of cans of food from those days gone by, all of the beds are neatly made, her night gown still hangs to the right of her bed, and her desk, where I am sure she did plenty of writing, was full of books tucked in the corner. I just wanted to sit there and soak it all in, but unfortunately my time was running low. I looked down at my watch. Bob was going to meet me back at the mouth of the river in half an hour. I said my thanks and quickly ran back down the Carrie road.