The journeys and adventures I’ve had in the park pale in comparison to the journeys and adventures I’ve had with my new friends here. I’ve found that the combination of those two have made my experience here truly spectacular! As the Bear Brook Interpretive Ranger I have an exciting opportunity to experience the different moods, expressions, and transitions that Bear Brook boasts January through October.
I wake up to a scurrying through the leaves outside my cabin windows; it is what I’ve come to learn to be the unmistakable pitter-patter of a chipmunk. As they run through the dry foliage their tails raise up perpendicular to their bodies until they stop short and stand up on their hind legs, detecting a scent or sound in the air that I’m oblivious to. Zoom out from the area around my cabin to the Bear Brook campground, and even further out to encompass all 10,000 acres of Bear Brook, and this is just one of the many joys and wonders of life teeming within the park’s boundaries. As the moon travels across the sky at night, I have become accustomed to but never unimpressed by the curious hooting of the barred owl and the way the moonlight scatters to the ground between the grand Beech leaves.
However, these fabulous little details have not always been present. Not too many months ago I was initially introduced to Bear Brook’s alter ego. A pitter-patter of a chipmunk would’ve gone unnoticed, bird songs were fewer and hushed, and even the vibrations of my footsteps were silently absorbed into the deep snow beneath my feet. What an incredible and majestic wonderland this winter was! The nature norms that I have come to expect from the forest have been replaced with innovative experiences, created by the copious snowfall. At first, light snowflakes crystallize in the sky above and take their time swirling down to earth and landing in a new, possibly permanent, position on the razor-thin edge of a pine needle or adding to an ever-increasing pile of snow.
As the temperature dropped, the pond waters froze first two inches, then 10, and finally in the deepest, darkest, coldest days of winter the ice grew to over twenty-two inches thick as the heavy blanket of snow continued to cushion the surrounding ground for miles and miles around. There was a connection to the winter beauty that cannot be felt in any other season. While hiking to and fro, stepping in another’s footprints became the ideal way to travel versus expending massive amounts of energy forging your way through 2 feet of snow; yet what a primitive and exciting adventure carving your way through the snow was! Never would I have pictured myself with thin metal blades tied onto my feet, gliding my way across a frozen pond under a thousand bright stars shining through the crisp and clear night, but that proved to be one of my most incredible experiences. Only second to that, was the morning 3 friends and I took our skates back out to Spruce Pond to watch the sun burn it’s many hues through the clouds as it rose above the tree line; all the while, the many colors of the sunrise were reflecting off of the frozen surface of the water.
Every Monday morning the 28 members of SCA in Bear Brook shared an hour doing an activity called Breathe, where we ‘meditated’ in our own way outside. I took this on as a challenge to channel my inner Rachel Carson, Thoreau, Muir, or Whitman, and become 100% absorbed by the minute details of the frost-ridden naturescape around me. It was snowing one particular morning when we began Breathe around 8:30 in the morning, and I set off into the arctic playground. Not only are sounds hushed with massive snowfalls, but after months of snow fall covering the earth I noticed that the smells are hushed in addition to the grotesque details of the ground which were softened by the heavy blanket. With silenced senses I journeyed into the woods, creating my own footprints, relying only on my sight and my sense of touch, which was telling me how bitter cold the negative temperatures were. Yet I found a joy and wonder I’ll never forget.
Suddenly, my mind reverted back to it’s innate child-like sense of wonder as I pick up a branch with a wide spread of twigs extending off the end like fingers. As a prince would dance with his new princess, I invited this branch to join me on a danser à travers la forêt. From there, the branch and I explored the wintery ballroom. The branch’s fingers combed through the snow’s exosphere, which also disguised my footprints. Through this journey, I discovered a peculiar pine stump, I experienced the fortitude of a mighty Hemlock, and more so than anything, I let go. Just like that, I was able to remove myself from the stresses of adult life and to succumb to my inner-child and play. Little did I know that just 20 feet away my friend, roommate, and co-worker, Krystal, was observing the entire interaction between myself and the fairy-tale world I found myself in. Had I known she was there, I doubt I would’ve followed the same path. On the other hand, what must it have been like to witness such strange behavior? She must have been aware of her unique situation because she did not reveal herself to me until we were back inside of the lodge.
It is this sense of wonder, this freedom, and this pure playful persona that I long to release and encourage others to find each day. Whether it’s admiring the many spots on a green frog found in Beaver Pond or the white stripes on a chipmunk, discovering the incredibly invigorating scent of crushing a Wintergreen leaf in your hand, or running your fingers through the soft fur of a beaver pelt or over the bark of a White Pine… There is a new world to discover in even the most ordinary of sights. It’s my challenge to you to see the world around you with extraordinary eyes each day, and to always find a new joy and wonder that you can add to your experiences and share with others.
~Christie Conway, Bear Brook State Park Interpretive Ranger