Monday August 12, 2013 | 10:05 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 Paul Hunt, environmental manager for the Portland Water District.
MT: What is your favorite childhood memory of the outdoors?
PH: I grew up in eastern Massachusetts, near Route 128 circle, and I didn’t travel much as a kid. I came to Maine for college and studied geology at the University of Maine at Farmington – that’s when I really started to explore the outdoors. As a freshman I went to Acadia National Park with some of my friends, and I remember how it just blew me away. One night we crossed from Blackwoods campground into the woods, you could hear the waves crashing against the rocks. We were lying on the rocks looking up at the clear sky with more stars than I ever knew existed and all I could think was, “How did I get here?” It felt like a new world, one much different than the one I’d been living in all my life. I bought an Acadia National Park t-shirt with a simple line drawing of a tree on it – I wore that shirt to death. I still lament that it finally fell apart.
MT: What hidden treasure in Maine should be at the top of everyone’s To-Visit list?
PH: Umbagog Lake on the Maine-New Hampshire border. My brother, who’s a photographer, lives in Massachusetts and has been coming to Maine to camp out at Umbagog Lake for the past 13 years. Last year he took me there on my birthday, we camped out on an island, and he woke me up at 4:15 in the morning, we hopped into a canoe and went paddling on the Lake. Mist was coming off water and it was quiet and dark at first, but then the sky lit up and up as a sliver of the sun rose up to the east. My brother always insists on staying on this island where there are no amenities and it’s very rustic, but now I understand why he does it; that hour and a half on my birthday showed me why he goes there every year.
MT: When was the last time you ventured into nature to seek the thrills of adventure? And what did you do?
PH: I’m not a traditional thrill-seeker type. I tried whitewater rafting on the Penobscot River once, but I’m not really into it – I’m not into danger. My experience at Umbagog Lake is something most people never get to have, it’s adventurous, but in a different kind of way. Because I grew up in a city, by lights, roads and people, I feel more at home in urban environments. But when you get away to a place that’s quiet and has no cell coverage – which is rare – you experience that special moment when you hear sounds you normally don’t hear and see sights you normally don’t see. It’s thrilling in that way.
MT: How do you get outdoors and enjoy Maine’s winter wonderland during the snowy months?
PH: I really don’t like winter that much because it’s dirty, dark and cold, but I love summer – I’ll never complain that it’s too hot. I did manage to go snowshoeing last winter and I felt the same sensation I did on Umbagog Lake. When you hike a mile or so into the woods, the snow muffles the sounds of human activity and you feel really remote – disconnected from the grid, roads, and traffic. It’s the most fun I’ve had doing a winter activity. So I went out and bought snowshoes after that, but I admit that I haven’t used them yet since the snow began to melt so quickly after I bought them.
MT: What is your favorite smell, taste, or sound from nature and why?
PH: The sound of the waves. My favorite sound of all is the gurgling you hear as a crashing wave stirs up some of the many rounded cobbles on the beach and rolls them up the beach face like a giant rock tumbler. You can hear the rocks getting pushed up the beach and then rolling back down as the wave recedes. The waves wash away all the rough edges of the rocks into tiny grains of sand. That gurgling is like the ticking of the geologic clock. You’d think the rocks would win the battle, but in fact water wins because of time.
MT: What is the best outdoor experience you’ve had beyond Maine’s borders?
PH: When I was in college, I went to a six week field camp in and around Fairbanks, Alaska. We did a mapping project in Denali Park. We were dropped off each day and had to hike into the Triple Lakes area. One day our bus stopped at a corner store and I looked at a map that showed the entire Park. I was looking for three lakes but couldn’t find them for the life of me. Finally, I got so close to the map that I found the intersection of the corner store and then I found the lakes – they were like three pinheads on this huge map. I can’t even imagine hiking all the way across the Park.
MT: Is there any nature-based activity you have always wanted to do and hope to get around to doing this summer?
PH: I want to go to Newfoundland. I’ve read a lot about the geology of Newfoundland. My passion in geology is ophiolites, which are sections of oceanic crust on the face of the earth. Normally oceanic crust is created and then destroyed by plate tectonic processes but every once in a while that process is disrupted and the crust gets laid out on its side. One place this has happened is in Newfoundland, Gros Morne National Park specifically.
MT: If you could thank nature for one thing what would it be?
PH: If I could thank nature for one thing, it would be July. I love everything about July, it’s clean and bright and it’s hot.
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