Water Water Everywhere
I spent Aug. 10 - Oct. 20, 2018 attending Bushcraft School off the grid in Northern Maine. This post recounts part of that journey.
Nothing survives without water. Our bodies are sixth tenths H2O. It’s easy to take clean drinking water that’s always available from the tap for granted
The Bushcraft school property has two wells dug downs to 120 feet so the water won’t freeze even on the bitterest of days in the Maine winter. The silver handle is cold to the touch and instructor Tim has several rules to keep the well clean and germs away. He advises his students to only pump the well with freshly washed hands and to keep a 2 inch minimum distance between the spigot and the vessel to avoid contamination. He was very serious when he told us not to wash anything at the well. If the well becomes a bastion of bacteria the whole camp could fall ill and the well could be rendered unusable. When we first arrived at camp gathering water from the well seemed primitive. After spending time in the deeper woods where water had to be boiled, filtered or treated, pumping crystal clear, clean well water felt like a modern luxury.
There are 5 hand washing stations around camp. Big blue plastic jugs are outside the outhouses, in the kitchen and near the guide shack. Each hand washing station is up on cinder block and has a container of watered down pump soap. We just wash out hands over the ground. Nature will take care of the waste water. In the summer it was easy to constantly wash my hands. As the weather changed and the temperature dropped, it became harder and harder to motivate myself to wash with freezing water. Hand sanitizer became my go when the temperature hovered around freezing.
A few years ago, a pond was dug behind the guide shack in what used to be the field where students made camp. It’s spring fed meaning the top of the water is warmed by the sun but beneath its depths, the murky pond has pockets of freezing cold water. Bull frogs and green frogs have made their home in the reeds along the bank. When it’s warm, going for a swim is easier than showering, even if soap isn’t allowed in the pond. If there’s one thing I’ve learned here it’s the cleansing power of water. Just water. And how little one really needs to shampoo.
There is a shower stall 150 feet from the pond. It’s nothing more than a three sided outhouse about a meter square with a shelf and a pulley system. There are a few ways to get clean. Our instructor Tim has two black pump up sprayers, more commonly used for insecticide or cleaners but these have only every contained water. Left in the sun for half a day and the contents are warm enough. Pump the sprayers up and a bird bath is feasible. There are also gravity fed shower bags that can be hoisted with the pulley and trickle out water. One side is black and left in the sun they warm up pretty good. The first few weeks I showered weekly. Once it got cold, I turned to bucket baths of heated water and a washcloth in my tent.
The Aroostook River creates the eastern boundary of the school’s property. Due to a dryer than normal summer, the river was so low that I could walk across it in parts. It’s a beautiful, wide and slowly meandering body of water. Boulders peak up from parts and the rocky bottom provides breeding grounds for bass, suckers, trout, catfish and more. It’s a haven for anglers whether standing on the shore or paddling a canoe. It was so low that our instructors decided to change plans for our final trip to be on Grand Lake Seboeis instead of on the river. Of course the week of our trip it rained more than it had during the entire rest of the course.
The rain brought puddles in the woods and on the road. Big, gaping holes of muddy water. I lived in my waterproof blue Hunter boots. My tent flooded and all my stuff got drenched. The paths through the woods became canals and swamp land. The river rose. The pond rose. The fire wouldn’t start as the fire pit was filled with water. Our hands wrinkled. We lived in a semi-permanent state of being damp. We were lucky. We had the nicest fall semester weather our instructors had every seen. And it didn’t even snow until we were packing up to head home.