Backpacking for our family has always been about relationships forged in the mountains. The mountains–their freedom and their solitude–provide a connection to the natural world that has proved fundamental to each of us as individuals. But it is the relationships forged there–with family and with friends–that keep our family backpacking together; a sentiment well captured here by friends we met on a mountaintop in Maine. For our family, backpacking on the Appalachian Trail has pulled us closer, it has helped us focus on and support each other in our struggles, and it has shared with us the surreal, the serene, and the sublime.
Much has been written about the Appalachian Trail and the people responsible for it’s creation and maintenance over the last century. From Benton MacKaye, the forester and conservationist who, the story goes, climbed a tree on Vermont’s Long Trail early in the twentieth century and first dreamed of a “long trail over the full length of the Appalachian skyline from the tallest peak in the north to the tallest peak in the south,” and Myron Avery, the admiralty lawyer from Lubec, Maine who brow beat people into physically building the trail through its completion in 1937, to the many prominent advocates and maintainers over the decades since who are responsible for the continued existence and vitality of the Appalachian Trail. It is a fascinating story that I encourage you to explore, but it is not one that I have the time or talent to recount here.
Instead, I’ll give you a brief introduction into the ways that the Appalachian Trail has played a central role in my family and professional life since my wife I hiked from end to end in 2002. My personal connection to the trail started long before that when, at six months of age, I took a ride in the pocket of my father’s backpack up to Maine’s Table Rock in Grafton Notch, continued through the mid 1990s when I took my first overnight backpacking trips with high school friends, and through college when I served as an outdoor trip leader along the Trail for incoming first year Harvard students as part of their First-Year Outdoor Program. But 2002 is as good a place to start as any for present purposes, so 2002 it will be. Emily and I met in college a year earlier as ultimate frisbee players competing for rival colleges in the Boston area. Our first backpacking trip together was a frigid two night trip in Maine’s Bigelow Mountains in February of 2002. Our second backpacking trip together was a four and a half month thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail starting in Maine in August and ending in Georgia in December. By the end of that hike we knew that we would be together to support each other through the rest of life’s challenges. Here’s a picture of us taken on that hike.
Because Maine was our favorite section, upon completion of our thru-hike we moved back here where we lived for a year on a small coastal island without electricity, and with a hand-pumped well for our water source. We heated with wood and commuted by outboard-skiff to the jobs we landed as research oceanographers. Somewhere along that trip from Maine to Georgia we had realized that we wanted to share all our future adventures together, and we succumbed to the overly romanticized notion of buying an old farmstead on the mainland as a fixer-upper to quite literally put down roots. We married in 2004 and hiked Maine’s hundred-mile wilderness section of the Trail as our honeymoon. As Emily continued with research oceanography, I transitioned into land and natural resource conservation which eventually brought me to law school. On our thru-hike of the AT in 2002, we met and hiked with the family pictured here who completed the Trail together that year with a six and an eight year old. Our experience with them inspired us to raise our kids in a way that includes a healthy dose of adventure, some of which is summarized by Emily in this brief history of trips. Our family has spent time together on the Appalachian Trail every year since.
And the Appalachian Trail has been equally central to my professional life. I was drawn to Drummond Woodsum in large part because the attorneys I interviewed with there included a Board member of the Appalachian Trail Conservancy who has worked tirelessly over the several decades to protect the trail, as well as an attorney who co-founded both the Rangeley Lakes Heritage Trust and Portland Trails. And Drummond Woodsum is home to many others who structure their personal and professional lives around values that aren’t typically as systemically emphasized at other similarly-sized law firms. While at Drummond Woodsum, I have had the opportunity to assist many remarkable clients, several with ties to the Appalachian Trail: I’ve worked with the Appalachian Mountain Club to qualify them for carbon sequestration credits on a project that they operate near the Appalachian Trail in Maine. I’ve worked with the Forest Society of Maine to negotiate and enforce conservation easements on hundreds of thousands of acres in the Maine Woods. I’ve worked with the Maine Appalachian Trail Club to protect the Appalachian Trail corridor from incompatible industrial development. I’ve worked with, and joined the board of, the Maine Appalachian Trail Land Trust and helped them in several land conservation projects abutting the Appalachian Trail, including a joint project with the Trust for Public Land that included the largest public acquisition of lands surrounding the AT corridor in over thirty years. And I’ve worked with the Penobscot Nation, part of the Wabanaki Confederacy of Maine’s indigenous people with perhaps the deepest historical, cultural and spiritual connection to Katahdin, helping in their efforts to protect their sovereignty and their natural resources. The Penobscots participate in a truly inspirational tradition known as the “The Katahdin 100,” a Native Spiritual Run, which combines a 100-mile trek by canoe, bike, and foot to Mount Katahdin in which individuals participate in a sacred activity not based on competition. But just as it is the relationships forged in the mountains that call me to hike, it is the relationships at Drummond Woodsum that call me to work there. It is a law firm that provides exceptional services to its clients. It is a law firm filled with truly remarkable individuals on both a personal and a professional level. And it is a law firm that thinks, acts, and practices law differently then other firms.
So that is a brief window into the ways in which the Appalachian Trail has proved a central path in both my personal and professional life. And I look forward to the opportunity afforded by the next six months for the Appalachian Trail to become the central path that will guide our family growth as we forge even stronger relationships in the mountains.
Here are some links to the organizations mentioned above: