I have not had a single adventure in my life that is more formative or beautiful than this one.
At fifteen you are primed to choose who you might become for the rest of your life. My teenage personality was up in the air, waiting to be blown into maturity. My time on the Penobscot waterway turned out to be the gust I was looking for. The summer after my freshman year of high school I was in a daze. I clamoured for individuality, and purpose all year, but I was scraping to keep pace with hundreds of others doing the same. It is easy to become lost, when you are an arm’s length from college, and in the midst of a swarm of others. Before high school my concept of future, and personality were durable, but only because they were not well defined. I would put on whatever shape fit me best that morning, and I would wear it through the day happily. High school showed me that I had to decide, but it didn’t show me how. For me the Penobscot was the unsuspected answer.
I spent a month plunging through the immense, silent, Maine wilderness; it was glorious. I was given a unique opportunity to slow down and think about life for a few weeks. The small group of piers and leaders that accompanied me was the perfect opposite to the overwhelming public school numbers. The group gave each other support and devotion that was nothing like what someone can get at any school. A lot people don’t think of summer camp leaders as mentors. Mostly people think they are just there to facilitate fun, happy memories. That is certainly true, but on this trip and at CMF in general they were so much more. My leaders, Kate, Kyle, and Nick wanted to be more than that. They wanted to help us figure out how to be good, happy people not just on the river but for our whole lives. Their drive and kindness undoubtedly helped guide me to who I am today. The most incredible part of that fact is that defining who I was never felt hard. There was not stuffing who I was into a box, or angry rejection of myself. The process was an endless bout of fun and joy.
That being said, the trip itself was challenging. Hauling canoes and gear for miles and gathering the courage to cross Knife’s Edge on Katahdin https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pmaVqyKos_o were incredibly difficult. But they were some of the most important parts of helping me figure out who I wanted to be. Every moment that wasn’t an important challenge was filled with ecstatic joy. We paddled, and sailed our canoes through ripping rapids and beautiful lakes. We fished, and cooked s’mores and laid on beaches. It is a happiness I strive to get back to everyday. We were kind to one another in a way that can only occur in a place without social pressure. The absence of judgement and overarching stressors let us let go of the worry that keeps most people socially defensive. All through this we were molding ourselves, learning how to work hard, overcome our fears, be good to others, and appreciate when someone else does something for you.
To me the Penobscot trip is an unparalleled moment of guidance and joy. I will never forget it and will often take it for granted. The adventures I had on that river helped me feel confident enough to face the intimidating adventure of life. Now I am looking forward to the day when I might get to lead that trip, and hopefully help some kids just like me become a little more sure footed and a little more grounded.