“We have to get up WHEN?!” No matter the year or the group, every 15-year-old camper hearing that they’ll be waking up to watch the sunrise on Cadillac Mountain thinks the same thing: why do we have to get up so early?
I first came to Maine in 2013 to spend a summer teaching horseback riding at Camp Waziyatah, a co-ed sleep away camp in Waterford. The summer was a life-changing experience; I met my now husband of six years, played a role in the stories of countless campers, and discovered the wild and wonderful beauty that is Maine. I made a vow as I packed up my rickety old Jeep Cherokee to head back to Ohio: I was going to live here someday. Maine would be my forever home.
My passion for the Maine outdoors only grew as I began to share it with others. Driving the camp van for a hike turned into assisting on trips, and eventually, taking over as the head of our Adventure Bound program—the portion of camp dedicated solely to the exploration of Maine’s most beautiful places. It’s through this program that campers from all over the world, from China to LA and every place in between, come to discover the unique and truly spectacular beauty that lies in the Maine woods.
Our youngest campers get their first big win in summiting Hawk Mountain, a relatively easy hike with a massive view. The hikes get progressively more challenging, and the camping trips longer, culminating in a three-day trip for our oldest campers to Acadia National Park.
Which brings us back to the sunrise. Why DO they have to get up so early? No matter how many times I’ve been asked, I can’t answer that question. Anybody who has ever been there knows; being the first in the United States to see the sun peek over the horizon is an experience that transcends words. Acadia, with her jagged coast and winding trails, holds a power over the imagination that exists as a feeling beyond language, something that burrows deep into the soul of a person and grows something equally wild and wonderful.
We load up the van. They yawn, clear the sleep from their eyes, and grumble the whole way to the summit. We set up, burrowed close together and watch the sunrise for the first hint of purple and orange to peek over the ocean.
These experiences formed in the earliest years of childhood create an appreciation for the natural world that cannot be taught in books or lessons. The Earth and all of its wonder can’t exist only in pictures or Netflix nature documentaries. To be real, to be appreciated, and thus, be important, it must be experienced in the flesh. Taking our children on hikes, canoe trips, and climbing trips around Maine instills a sense of responsibility in its care and preservation. It is no longer a concept, but a part of their story, something that they have felt first-hand and can relate to. Seeing Maine through the eyes of our campers is the way I wish it could always be seen by its residents; as something special. Something worth protecting. Something worth preserving for the next set of young eyes and brand-new hiking boots.
It’s why I got involved with the Natural Resources Council of Maine. Their mission to protect and preserve Maine’s environment for the generations to follow ensures that this year’s crop of campers will someday be able to bring their own children to the places that defined their youth. Through NRCM’s commitment to defending Maine’s treasured wilderness and waterways, I can zip my tent up at night knowing that long after I’m gone, campers will be waking up way too early to watch the sunrise on Cadillac Mountain, like their parents before them, and with the hope that their children will someday sit where they are now as nature unfurls its display of wonder.
As the sun appears over the horizon, a quiet gasp is heard. Orange, red, purple, blue, and pink all swirl together as a new day breaks on the shores of Acadia National Park. They put their heads on each other’s shoulders, and with a quiet reverence look out at the rising sun. They’ll never forget the feeling of each other’s presence, the hushed tones, the vivid colors. They will never forget Acadia. They will never forget Maine.
This is why we have to get up so early.
—by guest blogger, Maddie Acosta