Friday August 09, 2013 | 09:20 AM
Nature is me. And yes, nature is you too.
How do I know this to be true? Because your photo and recipe entries for the Nature is ME contest prove it each and every day. From images of snowy landscapes, spiders and summits, to recipes for delicious sandwiches and pies, you show how nature is simply a part of who we are in Maine. We are all connected to nature in so many different ways.
But what about conservationists? How are conservationists – people who devote their lives to protecting nature itself – connected to nature? I turned to my friends and colleagues to find out. This week, I chatted with Josh Royte, senior conservation planner at The Nature Conservancy, Maine.
MT: What is your favorite childhood memory of the outdoors?
JR: I remember my first time hiking up Mount Katahdin in Baxter Park on the Abol Trail with my dad during one of our father-son trips. I was twelve at the time and that hike really pushed me. There were lots of rocks on the trail and my dad knew I liked climbing over rocks, so that was probably a good way to get me all the way to the top. I remember how awed I was by the views and how absolutely grand that mountain was and is. At that time I had no idea that there was a mountain like that in Maine.
Then, as I was finishing college, I went back with my dad to hike Abol Trail again. This time it was a little different as I was maybe more leading my dad along than he leading me up that hike. I remember it was the first time he would stop and ask questions about the moss and other vegetation along the way and how I now had the chance to tell him about the natural history. But I suspect he was partly just trying to distract me with questions to slow me down [laughs].
MT: What pulls you outside into nature? And what are your favorite outdoor activities?
JR: I feel most alive when I am outdoors. It is a way for me to connect with the smells, sights, and sounds of the natural world and relax. I love to hike, canoe, and sea kayak. But my favorite thing to do is hike, whether it’s mountain summits or open peat lands.
MT: What hidden treasure in Maine should be at the top of everyone’s To-Visit list?
JR: The Debsconeag Lakes Wilderness Area: it’s a real gem, just downhill, south of the high peaks of Baxter State Park. There are huge moss and fern-draped boulders scattered across the landscape pulled down from the mountains by the glaciers. They are massive, they make you feel like a small forest animal. The Nature Conservancy built a fantastic trail that weaves around the boulders, it is easy to access and especially great for kids. The ice caves are also pretty neat, you can go down into them in the summer and they’re nice and cool, or head downhill to swim in the pond.
MT: How do you get outdoors and enjoy Maine’s winter wonderland during the snowy months?
JR: I like to cross-country ski. I love backcountry skiing and our various winter hut systems. My favorite thing to do is put climbing skins on my skis so I can spend all morning tramping my way up hill and then skiing down the other side. There are some great trails that take you into spectacular backcountry areas in Maine and nearby New Hampshire. If you get the conditions just right, when the ice is in and there’s no snow on the lakes and rivers there can be some breathtaking ice skating. It doesn’t happen every year, but when it does, there are some places you can skate along for miles and miles.
MT: What is your favorite smell, taste, or sound from nature and why?
JR: My favorite smell is of balsam fir needles drying. I love getting a waft of warm air with that scent when I’m hiking. Another smell I really like is one that’s short-lived, it’s of the mayflower or trailing arbutus. It’s a low-lying flower that blooms in the early spring, and you have to put your face all the way to the ground to smell it.
MT: What is the best outdoor experience you’ve had beyond Maine’s borders?
JR: I just got back from a trip to Iceland. The landscape there is spectacular – it’s missing our forests, but the views of the mountains, volcanoes, and glaciers are amazing. Hiking and birding were definite highlights of the trip. The Westfjords region in the northwest is fantastic. You can walk along a sweeping sea cliff that sticks out into the Atlantic Ocean and get within three or four feet of dozens of puffins and razorbill auks.
MT: What is the most important lesson you’ve learned from your experiences in nature?
JR: I know theScouts coined this, but “Be prepared” – have the right equipment so you’re comfortable and safe no matter what the weather does. You can go out just about anywhere if you pack well. You can stay comfy even if it’s blustery or sleeting with the right gear.
MT: If you could thank nature for one thing what would it be?
JR: I would thank nature for silence, for the peace and quiet out in the woods and in nature.
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