Caretaker Journal
Summer 2007

Written by Gretchen Grebe.

May 25-August 22, 2007

May 25:

Long hike up- 3hours from Stearns to Gray Knob via Spur and Links trails. Should've brought fewer beans but having extra food up here really isn't a worry I guess. Much to do- people to meet. I am looking forward to meeting the Trail Crew on Thursday.

May 26:

The snow is melting so fast; I worry that Chris (Carlson) won't be up here in time to see it. It didn't even drop below 50 last night. I just want him to experience a couple of post-holes and get some snow up his shorts- so we can look back on it come August.

May 27:

There is a weird sort of authority involved in caretaking; two sided if you will. When I'm at camp I am expected to know everything about the weather, the Whites, outdoor history and adventures. When's someone gonna ask me to name all the countries in Africa?

Then around 10 AM I am allowed to be plain old me again. I set out for a hike in whichever direction I want- at lowly "hiker" status. Heck, I'm not even a backpacker which is the next step up, so most others think they know the trails better than I. And they probably do. Sometimes I give the wary ones advice on the weather. Most of the time I greet everyone with a "great day" and a "where you going?", but if I am really in search of anonymity then I throw out just a simple "hello".

These mid day hikes remind me of how lucky I am to be here. So many people are coming up on their days off to play around and I am getting paid to do it. My extended stays up here create in me a sense of deeper connection, borderline ownership over these peaks and trails. I have quickly come to know them as home. Every once in a while I see someone who is lacking in LNT skills and I want to cry out, "Wait, don't you know who I am?".

"This is my home, my refuge", I want to tell them. But then I remind myself that these mountains offer refuge and home to many others as well. I am just another hiker…until 7pm tonight when once again I'll know everything and I'll tell them to pick up their trash.

May 29:

Place is so quiet here tonight- the sink draining to grey-water bucket made my heart leap. Spent a good afternoon sun bathing and learning how to stir the toilets. Rachel took me up to sit in the caretaker's throne and it feels right. I feel in place here- I sing better and laugh harder.

May 30:

Just arriving at Castle Ridge/Dink Junction after a traverse, descent, and climb over from GK. Hard to shake the creepy feeling in the dark woods earlier this morning. It's still a little weird to spend this much time in silence- the little things spook. I really do feel like I am settling in though. Woke up to the pager this morning after a deep night's sleep and was able to get a morning routine going before the weather came on.

June 1:

Spent the last couple of days getting to know the RMC and Trail Crew a little better. Stearns Lodge seem like it'll be great but everyone is still trying to get settled in and it doesn't quite feel like home yet- hopefully soon though. Spent the night at Crag Camp with the crew, telling stories while Henry jammed on the pipe organ. No doubt it will be a good summer.

Yesterday was pretty exciting because when we were on the porch a momma and baby moose came touring right by us. Closest that I have ever seen one and they didn't even pay us any attention.

Met Bill Upton yesterday while he was out weed-whacking. He told me a couple stories about The Ravine House and ditches filled with Magic Water. You can tell that this town wears its history proudly on its sleeve.

June 2:

Spent the day getting GK ready for the summer. Hooked up the hose for the spring, grey water drain, stacked all the seasoned wood and stirred the privies. I feel pretty productive. The clouds have moved in for the afternoon and the thunder sounds like they are having a bowling tournament over at Madison Hut as the crash echoes across the ravine. Tomorrow I am planning on hiking over there for lunch.

June 3:

Hiked over to Madison Hut and had a great time meeting the croo over there. Dave and I went down Chemin des Dames and huffed our way back out of King's Ravine. It was fun to play around down in the subway but not much time for sightseeing- had to show the boys I could keep up.

Wandered through the clouds back over to Lowe's and GK. About half way down the cover broke and sunlight warmed through. The smaller chunky clouds were rising from the valley, leaving little peep-holes through which to see Randolph and crescent ridge. Perhaps they were frames to the picturesque beauty of these mountains. Perhaps they were scattered spirits of old mountain souls and stories rising out of the valley; singing of past adventures. Or perhaps they were pieces of a puzzle, many there and some still missing- temporarily filled by the whites.

June 5:

The four day rains broke as I headed down this morning.
The path was lined with a confetti of forest lilies and newly sprung ferns.
The sunlight hopped from flower to flower,
Sweetly caressing them until they took flight.
Gently emerged the form of the White Mountain butterfly that kept me company as I slid and floated down the mountainside.
Today the forest smells of golden honey and fresh mint.

June 12:

Sun sets over New Hampshire,
The magenta shines in Vermont.
Wisps of clouds rising from Jefferson’s belly add to the score of this top ten sunset.

One round ball of fire falls as earth rotates away,
Another flaming, shining planet appears to take watch through the night.
Stars twinkle over the King, I orbit into cozy, blissful sleep on the Crag porch.

Dawn breaks at 5 am and I am warmed by the familiar hue of a heavy sun,
Same, same yet different.
The white throated sparrow greets me,
I am still learning how to whistle back.

June 13:

Today was a long day because it was my first Valley Run. Hiked down a lot of trash and hiked up yarn for knitting and veggies for soup making. Staying at Crag tonight because the fumes from oiling the floor at GK are still pretty bad.

I’ve decided that these Valley Runs are a dangerous sort. When I am up here I feel like I could stay forever, but coming down to hot showers and ice cream make it more challenging to return to the instant coffee and privy repairs at the camps.

June 14:

I allow myself to believe that if I am able to whittle away my thoughts,
Quiet my contradictions,
I will find a more simple truth- the act of being, existing, breathing.
Perhaps from this exposed center I can rebuild myself and the universe.
- or rather decide that there is no need.

June 22:

It was good to be down for a couple of days. Got down early on Tuesday and saw a beautiful fox on Durand Road. Hiked up to Lookout Ledge, funny to look at Adams and Madison from the other side.

June 23:

Two snowshoe hares have recently appeared at GK. Every time I go outside one of them is munching on the grass. Chris and I hiked down to Cliffway making a big loop past the Perch- caught an amazing sunset. The low hanging clouds made a ceiling which gleamed a fluorescent orange and silhouetted the ranges towards the west.

June 27:

Got up to 75 degrees this afternoon and I actually got sun burnt. Filled up the solar shower and had my first bush shower of the season. The black flies are getting really bad but I left the window open for the first time last night- too hot to sleep in my bag. Finally feels like summer.

June 28:

Had a great foggy morning hike down to Stearns- stopping to see the trail crew working on more rock water bars for the Amphibrach. They do such hard work! It's so easy to take a well made and maintained trail for granted because it allows you to pass through the area without much attention to your next step. Much love to the burly RMC Trail Crew. Picked up the base radio and some food from the lodge and started the sweaty climb up. I arrived at paradise when I stopped at Chandler Falls and devoured a half-melted pint of Ben n' Jerry's…Such is the caretaking life.

June 29:

From the Tao Te Ching, Chapter 22:
If you want to become whole,
Let yourself be partial.
If you want to become straight,
Let yourself be crooked.
If you want to become full,
Let yourself be empty.
If you want to be reborn,
Let yourself die.
If you want to be given everything,
Give everything up.

July 2:

The clouds have been hovering the last couple days; lots of rain. My bones feel oh so damp. Looking forward to a couple sunny days on the side of a river during my days off…

July 8:

I had a surprise visit last night from a couple people I love. I had been soundly asleep for hours when some noise in GK woke me up. I opened my door to see Nicole, Ben, and Sam arriving at 12 am! They hiked up Hinks in the dark with a cantaloupe, good bread and a lot of enthusiasm (minus a headlamp which made for an even greater adventure). It was pretty hard to fall back asleep knowing that friends where there. Headed over to Crag in the morning and Chris cooked us pancakes. Somehow, with real maple syrup and good laughs, the clouds hanging over King's looked more cozy than menacing.

July 9:

The clouds above us join and separate,
The breeze in the courtyard leaves and returns,
Life is like that so why not relax?
Who can stop us from celebrating?
-Lu Yu
Chris came over to GK this evening and we played a candle-light cribbage game while listening to an excellent Quebecois jazz radio station. Intermittent lightening and rain storms put a very eerie spin on the night.

July 11:

I slept over at Crag last night to host a couple of camp groups who were on their first multi-day outing trips with one another. One great group of girls was from Crag Mountain Farm. It was wonderful to see the 12- 14 year olds so excited about being up in the mountains. Many of them were enthusiastic about working in the mountains as caretakers or trail crew… good news for the RMC!

July 12:

The morning cleared up pretty well, even with all the rain of last night. I hiked down to the Log Cabin to load up the pack board with a bag of wood chips to bring over to the Perch. The heavy load made for a long trip but I am happy to see that we need more over there because it means that come stirrin' time, everything will be much easier...

July 14:

Excerpt from Zazen on Ching- t'ing Moutain:
The birds have vanished down the sky.
Now the clouds drain away.
We sit together, the mountains and I,
Until only the mountain remains.
- Li Po

July 15:

Today was the Stearns Lodge dedication ceremony. Chris and I hiked down with trash and dirty laundry to find the lodge beautifully shinning and prepared for its celebration! By noon the cars were lined down the Tucker's driveway and there were tons of people on the porch and under the party tents. I am so glad the weather cleared for a nice afternoon. I finally had the pleasure of meeting the man and woman behind the voices on the radio- Bill and Barbara Arnold. Just as smiley as I had imagined. Learning more about Anna B. Stearns and why the lodge was dedicated to her was a real treat and trip back in history. I was reminded of what an honor it is to be part of the Randolph community and the RMC family. When it comes down to it, the RMC probably won't remember my summer as a caretaker. There have been so many stewards to live at Gray Knob, many much better than I, and many more lined up like our own TC Leslie who will be taking over this fall.

I will remember my experience up here and it will/is changing who I am. From the great gathering of good folk who showed up today I can tell that they have also been changed by the RMC and the northern Presidentials- that's why they're still around. (With an added bonus of free barbeque.) I enjoy the idea of being included in the group picture that will one day hang on the wall. I also enjoy knowing that in a year I will be just another summer caretaker; so that others will have the opportunity to befriend Adams, Madison and Jefferson as I have.

July 21:

Calm sunset on the Quay- highlighting the heavy storm clouds loitering above Jefferson and Adams. The sun's last rays paint the clouds a delicious pink while gracing the western peaks with a warm evening glow. Another day passing.

July 22:

What a beautiful day. Chris swears that it's the best one of the summer. Woke up early to read and write a couple of letters before heading over to catch Prairie Home Companion at Crag. Took a hike through King Ravine and out Great Gully Trail. We spend so much time looking at it from the porch but it sure is different when you're down there in the boulders. Just another evening spent at Gray Knob playing scrabble and eating curry. Yum!

July 25:

"Wilderness reminds us of what it means to be human, what we are connected to rather than what we're separate from". - Terry Tempest Williams Red

July 26:

Trail crew has been up at Gray Knob the last couple of days carrying firewood and brushing a couple trails. Wow- so much gets done when 11 of us are working!

July 28:

Quiet, oh so quiet afternoon. The flies dart about Gray Knob and a warm breeze shoots through the doorway to remind me of the world outside. Today I cannot tear myself away from reading- refueling- desperately needed. Thunder over the ridgeline…
Slowly- ping…ping on the metal roof cap.
Then silence. A sparrow sings.
Now what?

Aug 3:

I am learning the value of rest and reflection. We must rest in order to re-create the strength needed for great achievements. Perhaps one of the biggest problems with our society is that we have forgotten this.

I am learning how to conserve, preserve and minimize my impact on the immediate environment that I inhabit. I carry everything I need for 11 days on my back up about 3000 vertical feet. I carry out all my waste.

I am learning how to be alone and be content with the company that I alone keep.

I am learning that femininity lies not in the way we dress or our long hair but rather in the way in which we embrace the world.

I am learning the value of the journey. I hike many of the same trails everyday but I am each day seeing something that I hadn't noticed before.

I am learning how sublime our simple existence on this planet is. So many little miracles surround us daily; what amazing synchronicity had to occur for us to be here.

I am learning that I can be happy and healthy with everything I need in my backpack. When we have less material possessions to love perhaps we have more love to share with those around us.

I am learning that days pass by beyond my control. It is inevitable that I will get older, corruption will continue, trends will come and go. The world will turn with or without me. The only thing of which I have control of is how I chose to spend this passing time.
A) I can do what makes me happy
B) I can do something else.

Aug 10:

Early night at Gray Knob. I heard something fall outside and I went to investigate. The owls had knocked down our plastic rain collector. There were three of them perched on the tree right outside the door and flying around. They weren't scared of my headlamp and they let me watch them play for quite awhile. Walked out to the Quay to see Route 2 and the stars. So untouchable. I haven't been writing as much lately. Ran out of notebook space and there isn't much scrap paper lying around. Without writing anything down the days have become quite blurry, passing without any significant events. And so it goes.

Chris taught me how to split wood and I've been working on perfecting my swing. It's a bit difficult with some of the soft rotten wood we have but what a sense of accomplishment when a log splits cleanly!

Aug 22:

There really isn't anything that special about places. True- some are more beautiful, exotic, and remote whereas others might lead themselves less to admiration. Places are special because of what takes place there, the people who gather there, and the memories made there. Crag Camp, the Quay, RMC trails are elevated by those who dedicate themselves to the recognition and appreciation of the spot. Take away the smiling faces, climbing stories, and the sound of tired-heavy- feet and Gray Knob is a dark, slightly damp, wooden cave on the side of Mt. Adams. Thanks to the RMC and all those who have visited this summer, Gray Knob has become much more than that to me.
Gray Knob is whiskey hot chocolates, scrabble, and restless afternoons.
Crag Camp is porch sun bathing, pancakes and sing-a-longs.
Gulfside trail is about flying, sweating hard, and clearing clouds.
Madison Hut is about sweaty hugs, brownies and good stories.
Summer is about sitting in silence, hiking with a headlamp, and BREATHING. Breathing deeply, continually, quietly, simultaneously…contently.
If we are the ones to make a place special then all we need lies within ourselves and thrives between us. We are all a little better people in the woods. We laugh harder, love deeper, and cook better. (Or maybe it just tastes better because we're so hungry.) If what we expose of ourselves in the woods lies within us we don't ever have to let go of it. Why can't we live everyday with as much direction, reflection and enthusiasm and we do out here?