In today’s times, there seems to be a lack of, or ever-fading, reverence for tradition. This is the case with regard to a variety of customs and ways in which things were once done. Technology, armed with a modern way of thinking, always evolving and pushing the pace, is essentially drowning out traditions that were once handed down from generation to generation. Again, you can apply this to most things nowadays, but I want to refer to something specific here, as it applies to something that a good many of us still enjoy.
I can remember when I was my son’s age, now 6 and soon to be 7. The woods and waters were always a magical place for me. Coming from a large family on my mom’s side of 13 children, I had 8 uncles and 4 aunts to be exact. If I recall, there was only one uncle that wasn’t into hunting and fishing at the time, but he had done it earlier on as well. And so the traditions began. We always went to my grandmother’s house for Thanksgiving and Christmas, carrying on traditions that would last decades. We would always go out hunting on Thanksgiving, coming back to the house with at least a couple of deer in tow, and perhaps even a couple of grouse. Watching my uncles and cousins skin them out and process the meat, typically with a fillet knife, was the norm. Eagerly watching and learning from them, I’d hoped that I would someday do the same myself. And that’s exactly how it is playing out. I now take my son out hunting, fishing and trapping some. He reminds me of when I was his age, watching and taking things in like a sponge. There’s a true fire in his eyes, and a strong desire for learning. For such a young lad, that’s impressive in its own right. I hope that someday he continues this with his children, carrying on an O’l tradition. I’m not too sure how many others in the family still get out and do this kind of thing, as I said, traditions tend to fade away over the years. Folks get older and get away from it, or are not able to do it anymore, and the new generation, having no desire to follow suite. I’m certainly thankful for all of those years, as they are some of my fondest memories, traditions, that I hope to keep alive.
The Maine Guide
The Maine Guide traditions are not dissimilar to my own story, though mine came long after theirs of course. Prior to March 19, 1897, where the state of Maine passed legislation requiring Guides to be licensed, the traditions began. The early European settlers used Natives to guide them through the wilderness and show them the ways of the woods and waters. After a time of this, the settlers became guides themselves, having the uncanny ability to read the landscape of the forest (being a good many of them were into the logging industry), hunt game and fish the waterways with remarkable success. Post industrial revolution, where most of the Northeast became less forested (with the exception of Maine), the Maine Guide became an icon for his/her knowledge for such wild places that still offered a tranquil escape from the fast-paced world. Years passed and the traditions were passed from father to son, father to son and so on. Like most traditions, these too seem to be fading to a degree. Perhaps due to the technological advances in equipment and gear, the simple lack of interest in carrying them on, or the possibility of not having anyone else to pass them on to. Another thing, through personal observation and opinion, that I think adds to this diminishing of traditional outdoor life for the Guide, is folks not understanding just what they do and have to offer. Again, the new age of technology and internet has questionably put the blinders on to just what an experience can be had with one of these prestigious tradition bearers. Of course not all guides carry these things on, but there are some that still do. I would encourage anyone to find one of these folks and embark on a most memorable experience.
So what do they do?
There are many things that a Maine Guide does. There are 5 different classifications in which they can be licensed to guide. Hunting, fishing, recreation, tide-water-fishing and sea-kayaking is what they are. So there are certain things that come with, or should come with, each category as far as what the guide does for you. Lets take one to talk about here briefly.
So as a guide, in the classification of recreation we’ll use, what does the guide do pertaining to a canoe trip? I can assure you it is much more than putting folks in a boat and paddling a lake or floating down a river, though that’s all some folks believe it entails. The guide will (or should) have a good working knowledge of the area that they are bringing folks to, be it a water way in this case, or afield. Being they have experience in this place is only the beginning. There are still a lot of other things that go into a trip. There is safety of the clients, at the forefront. And then there are all the little details that go unseen in most cases in the public eye. The ability to provision food and cook for groups over an open fire, and for multiple meals on multiple days. I’m talking about good food, not your dehydrated meals in a bag. The skills and knowledge of canoeing, and being able to share that with clients in a way that they can get the safest, most memorable experience that they can is but yet another quality trait that the guide possesses. Reading white water, paddling techniques, covering and explaining safety concerns such as strainers and what to do if a rescue needs to take place are all things the guide brings to the table. Discussing not only the water they are on, but the mammals and other things on the land that most would just paddle by, are also a testament to the guide’s experience, and why they are unique to have around on trips. Catching a native fish and doing a traditional shore-lunch (as discussed in our last post) makes for an even greater learning experience and again would perhaps be lost if not for the guide.
Making sure the clients are comfortable is also most important to the guide. This is accomplished by sharing in the experience with them and making sure they are enjoying their time. It also comes by way of full bellies from good guide cooking traditions. The guide, typically the last to bed and first to rise in the morning, makes sure the coffee and breakfast are on and this is a daily ritual that often goes unnoticed as well.
Why do I need a guide?
Truth be told, you don’t need a guide. You can simply get in your boat and do all of these things we have discussed on your own. Lots of folks do it all the time. Every year however, you see and hear in the news how someone took on a trip that was way above their skill level or know-how. Maybe this is due to being unfamiliar with the area, having little-to-no experience, or simply out there because they can. It’s nice to see that a lot of them typically make it through these instances, maybe with just a couple of bumps and bruises and perhaps a shot to their ego. But that is not always the case, and some, never to go on another trip. So you don’t need a guide per-se, but I can’t tell you how invaluable they can be, and what a greater, safer experience they can afford you. Maybe it was a good thing there was one around in this case. Not to put fault on anyone, as these things happen, but how good it is to know that there is someone there with experience to help you out if needs be.
Carry on the traditions
Many guides today have started and carried on their own traditions, and that too is a good thing. It is my hope that I can continue to pass down some of the older ones and keep them alive and well for future generations to enjoy, so they too, can pass them down. I have come up with a couple of my own traditions as well, that I enjoy, but it is the reverence for traditions of old, which I truly hold in high regard. So get out there, take part in the old ways, the old traditions, and pass them onto your family and friends. Create your own as well, and see that they make a lasting impression on folks for years to come.