As a lover of the outdoors, construction and community, the Northern Forest Canoe Trail stewardship internship seemed like a once in a lifetime opportunity — even though it would mean I wouldn’t go home to Texas or see much of my family. And boy, I got more than I asked for! Not just way too much rain, but also tools and skills that are already helping me as I continue life working and living in the woods, rivers and lakes of the Northeast.
As much as I grew, becoming better at building stone steps, constructing privies and becoming a better paddler, it was the interpersonal interactions that made the largest impact. Within our stewardship crew, there was much we learned from each other. While we all shared a love for the outdoors, we were all very different people with our own personalities and unique skills that we brought to the table. While there were definitely challenging moments, we all learned when to lean on each other’s skills and talents and when to use our own.
Ethan was always there to ask about a meal plan or how to cook a certain dish. Kate was always there when we needed optimism. Noah and Will covered all things necessary behind the scenes. And as for me? I suppose I was the one who always went off the rope swings first!
I had worked with teammates and groups on projects in the past, but none seemed to be as productive and close knit as this summer. Perhaps it was because we depended on each other and knew it took all of us to move 300-pound stones. I truly appreciated how much the three of us worked together in times when one of us wasn’t fully healthy, taking turns doing tasks that made it possible for us to achieve our work goals even when we were a person down. I also believe we all took on certain characteristics and skills of each other throughout the summer. I grew to enjoy the process of making a meal as I watched Ethan masterfully craft them for volunteers, and became more positive from always seeing Kate smiling, even when it was pouring.
As much as I learned from my co-workers, many meaningful interactions also came from unexpected places. Volunteers, neighbors and strangers from upstate New York to northern Maine are what made the summer possible and are the people who left me with the most to think about. Throughout the summer, I heard stories from countless volunteers who left me with thoughts in my head about everything from my career path to the future of our planet. Their willingness to take time out of their lives to contribute to the NFCT gave me hope and helped me imagine the possibility for a better world. They offered up their homes, time and much more to us, often at the last minute. My interactions with these volunteers made me realize that the Northern Forest Canoe Trail is not just made up of 740 miles of lakes, rivers, streams and portages, but all those along it who form a welcoming and giving community. Not just those passionate about paddling, but also the families and friends who float in tubes down the river, the small towns that open their doors to paddlers and stewards alike, and volunteers from all over that help maintain access to our waterways.
I came into the summer focused on the physical skills and experiences that I would gain.
I knew I would appreciate sunsets, paddling on remote rivers, and improving my carpentry skills. But now as I look back, the summer had a much larger impact on me, by changing my perspective on life and demonstrating the power and importance of community.