Orienteering and Outdoor Skills with a Maine GuideOrienteeringOvernight May 30, 2016
Last night I texted a friend that I was on an outdoor learning high. I had just returned home from spending 26 hours with a small group of women (two of us from the LAC and four from the UMaine Law School) and a quite fabulous and entertaining teacher, Walter Abbott. Walt, a former University of Maine at Orono professor, coach and director of the outdoor leadership program at the university, invited us up to his much-loved and well-tended camp in Rumford to share some of his knowledge around outdoor skills and leadership. On Saturday night we sat in his bedroom (the only room with AC), ate our Italians from Sam’s and started the lesson on how to use a compass and a map. After dinner we talked some more, drank tea and enjoyed fresh rhubarb crisp that Foxfire and I made using rhubarb right from Walt’s backyard.
I slept that night on his screened-in porch and although I didn’t sleep well, I loved being out there listening to the night sounds that weren’t city sounds. A little too early on Sunday morning a woodpecker’s knocking knocked his way into my sleepy head. Once we all were up with hot coffee or tea in hand, Walt cooked a monster of a breakfast on a huge griddle he set up on the porch. Omelettes all around, stuffed with whatever goodies we chose (mushrooms, onions, cheese and spinach for me). The paper plate cleanup was a cinch and with our bellies full we jumped back into learning mode.
We packed a lot into Sunday: orienteering (more map and compass work); fire making with a knife and a flint; knot tying; tree identification; plastic pigeon shooting with a shotgun for those who wanted to (I declined) and a good discussion about what makes an effective outdoor leader. We also talked about outdoor gear and how to pack a pack.
Earlier, on the drive up, I had asked Walt what qualities he thought made a strong leader (I reckoned he’d have a good sense after directing the UMO outdoor leadership program for years) and he said: patience; good listening (hearing the meta message); skills/competency; consistency and trustworthiness. Walt displayed all of those characteristics with our group. He was incredibly competent in what he was teaching us; he was patient as we learned; he was never judgmental or critical, and he celebrated our successes with humor and enthusiasm. In addition he was incredibly generous: he bought all of the groceries; bought each of us a fire-starting kit and a line for practicing our knots; put us up for the night and gave us his time and expertise – all of this at no charge.
On the drive home, he told a story about being in the army and in the telling mentioned his birth date: he’ll be 80 this year. Listening from the back of the truck I was floored. If you had seen all that he has done and plans to do up at that camp, you’d be amazed too. There was a pretty large pile of cut up birch trees behind his house and he said by summer’s end, he’ll have split and stacked it even though he already has many cords of wood stored away for winter. That would be a significant and physically demanding job for a man or woman half his age.
Many thanks to Walt for a special weekend in the hills of Western Maine. If you get a chance to meet him, jump at it and prepare yourself for some good stories and some great learning.