The snowbanks in the 1968 photo tower over a 3-year-old Dana Bullen, even though he’s standing on the hood of a Jeep. Bullen’s smile can’t be seen in the grainy Polaroid shot, but it’s there under the winter layers.

Now 52 and Sunday River’s president of 14 years, Bullen said the photo is a reminder of the greatest gift he ever received: “That first year on snow” when his dad helped him learn to ski. The sport gave him a meaningful life’s pursuit and no shortage of hometown pride. That first winter of ski lessons at Titcomb Mountain in Farmington started it all.

“I work in an industry that encourages being outdoors,” Bullen said. “I got to raise my family in the great state of Maine. I love coming to work every day.”

When we asked several Mainers to share their best outdoor gifts ever, most responded instantly. They spoke of presents that were whimsical, unexpected and life-changing. They listed an ingenious camping oven, a pair of socks … and even bacon. Many, like Bullen, said the best outdoor gift was the introduction to a new outdoor sport.

In fact, in nearly every case they said these were not just their favorite outdoor gifts, but the best gifts they ever received.

Here are their stories:


Kat Cassidy, outdoor educator, Chewonki Foundation

Cassidy was Chewonki’s first teacher at its inaugural outdoor elementary school launched in 2015. This place-based instruction that educates kids through lessons in bogs, salt marshes and forests is her passion. She’s been doing it 20 years and has the wardrobe to pull it off.

Yet the very best outdoor gift Cassidy ever received was an afterthought: a pair of socks made by the Darn Tough company.

“This was a simple stocking gift that I didn’t realize at the time would be so revolutionary in my world,” Cassidy said. “I’ve actually had the same pair of socks for over 12 years, which blows away every other brand of socks I’ve ever worn. I used to be lucky if I could get six months out of a pair of socks. Warm, dry feet make for a happy, enthusiastic teacher.”

Erik daSilva, coordinator, Bicycle Coalition of Maine

From his Orono home, daSilva coordinates the bike and pedestrian safety programs for Maine’s bicycle advocacy group. But in his spare time, daSilva is stump jumping at top speed down mountains.


Every year the passionate mountain biker does the 60-mile mountain bike race in Carrabassett Valley. So when asked his favorite outdoor gift the answer was obvious: chocolate covered bacon. How better to fuel up for a three-hour race that’s got more than 14,000 feet of elevation gain?

But there’s one other reason daSilva’s mother-in-law realized this was the perfect gift for him.

“I try to keep the holidays less materialistic and more about homemade, sentimental gifts,” daSilva said.

Carol Leone, co-founder, Teens to Trails

When Carol Leone started Teens to Trails in 2007, it was aimed at creating an outdoor club in every high school in Maine. A decade later the number has gone from seven to 65. And in 2014, Leone was honored by the Obama administration for starting a grassroots nonprofit that made a difference.

So for a woman who helps kids hike, camp and paddle, Leone’s favorite outdoor gift is surprising, given its purely decorative purpose. But the symbolism says it all.


“The hand-made driftwood, beach-stone and copper wind chime from my daughter Lindsay 20-plus years ago,” Leone said. “She is now a lawyer at Bernstein Shur but her gift still hangs on our porch. It sings in the wind and conjures up so many wonderful family memories spent outdoors together.”

Bowdoin Professor Nat Wheelwright holds a gray jay near Saddleback ski area in Dallas Plantation. He became an avid birder at age 11 when his grandfather, Erard A. Matthiessen, gave him his first pair of binoculars.

Nat Wheelwright, biology professor, Bowdoin College

Wheelwright is an ornithologist who, as director at the Bowdoin Scientific Station in New Brunswick, established a long-term study on Savannah sparrows and tree swallows.

So the most meaningful outdoor gift for this prof is a no-brainer: the pair of Mirakel binoculars given by his grandfather 53 years ago.

This past spring for Maine Public’s “Music that Moves Me” series, Wheelwright described the moment his grandfather introduced him to the world of bird song.

“I grew up on a farm in western Massachusetts and he lived in Connecticut in the suburbs, and after this magical weekend (of birding) where suddenly my ears were opened up to bird music, I had to go back to my rural farm where there were no birds, I thought. And when we got out of the car there was a (bird) orchestra and a symphony that I had never heard before. But there it was.”


Tracy Moskovitz, co-founder Hidden Valley Nature Center

Moskovitz, who moved to Maine in 1978, said the greatest outdoor gift “for a kid in the suburbs of Cleveland with a family that had zero outdoor interests, were an oddball uncle who loved the outdoors, and my life partner, Bambi, who always pushed my outdoor limits.”

Moskovitz, a passionate tree farmer, recently posted a video on Facebook showing his wife operating a forwarder and using the enormous logging truck to hoist a felled tree. It was offered as proof he’d found true love.

Rich Knox, a communication director at Maine Coast Heritage Trust, might lead tours around the state, but his eyes were opened anew when his wife got him a stand-up paddleboard.

Rich Knox, communications director, Maine Coast Heritage Trust

For work, Knox leads tours at 120 preserves for one of Maine’s largest land trusts. Days spent on islands, at beaches and along cliff walks are “office time.”

But even for Knox, a new door to the outdoors opened when his wife, Robin, gave him a stand-up paddleboard in 2014. His experience of Maine’s lakes and coastal waters has not been the same.


“It has been central to my happiness, physical and mental health,” Knox said. “I use it all four seasons and love that it is made in Maine. I know who made it, and can get my ‘dings’ repaired when needed. ‘Dings happen,’ as we surfers say.”

Anne Carter, owner, Bethel X-C Ski Center

Anne Carter’s favorite outdoor gift was so powerful, it led to a life’s pursuit running the Nordic ski center in Bethel. That dream was greatly altered in 2015 when her husband, David, died of cancer at age 65.

But two weeks before he died, David Carter skied.

“His enthusiasm was contagious,” Anne Carter said.

So her favorite gift of all time?

“It was my first pair of wooden cross country skis back in 1975,” Carter said. “They were light and beautiful; given to me by my husband, David. That started my lifelong love affair with cross country skiing and David.”


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or login to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.