Sunday, October 7, 2012

Everything I Like To Do, I Learned From My Uncle

This past weekend, my sister and I went "camping".  I have now been camping twice with her, and I think I can safely say that the next time we go, it will have to be nearly perfect, because we have already dealt with everything that could possibly go wrong.  The first time, years ago, we awoke to a river running through our campsite (under our tent) because of COURSE the only available site left in a campground in Wells, Maine in August is situated on the low part of an old creek bed.  Grabbing your wet tent and hauling ass out of a campground at 4:00 am, beer cans and sleeping bags flying?  A priceless memory.

This time, we arrived at our campsite in near darkness, set up the tent at dusk, purchased damp firewood that would not ignite and discovered the campground had no running water.  However, my sister and I sitting miserably in the woods is not the subject of this blog post.

The point is, I keep doing these things.  This summer alone I have slept outside at a family reunion in the pouring rain and lead four innocent and unsuspecting friends down the Saco river (camping included) in August, blazing the trail with my "extensive" nature knowledge and the fact that I had canoed the river once before (when I was eleven).   I also have a newly-hatched plan to purchase a tow-behind camper and live in it (possibly year round).  My sense of adventure seems to know no bounds, and I finally figured out who to blame.

My eldest uncle, Steve, has been dragging anyone who is willing (or anyone young enough to be unable to protest) on "adventures" (he's a registered Maine guide, and his business card once said something like "Steve's Scenic Safaries to Exotic Places") for longer than I have been alive.  Some of our highlights included a 3 day, 2 night canoe trip with several family members and friends down the Moose River (I think I was about ten) and a "day" hike up Mt. Katahdin.  My uncle also taught me how to drive, gave me my first landscaping job, and likely put me on my first pair of skis.

Yes, the above paragraph sounds idyllic, doesn't it?

It gets better when you hear that we put our boats in that river at about 6 pm in the wilderness of Northern Maine and paddled in the pitch blackness across a lake on the canoe trip.  I remember crying, being completely convinced that we would never survive the adventure - and it was just half an hour into the weekend. 

We hiked Katahdin beginning at noon, thinking a nice easy day hike of one of the highest peaks in the Northeast would be no sweat.  My uncle brought a bag of M&Ms for sustenance, and no flashlight.  More tears ensued when we were still hiking at 9 pm.  Neither myself, my aunt Leslie, or her friend who accompanied us were terribly impressed with Steve's planning skills.  I think by then I must have been twelve or so, at least enough time had passed between trips that I had forgotten my vow to "never go anywhere with Uncle Steve again".

When Steve hired me to work for him, I was fourteen years old and the job required being able to operate a motorized vehicle.  He started me out on an ancient Gravely lawn tractor, which was replaced by a three-wheeled atv with a trailer (for hand-picking rocks from a large field), which I promptly used to run over my own foot.  

With such a great track record, we moved on to bigger and better things, and Steve taught me and my best friend, Elizabeth, how to drive his Jeep, which was at least 40 years old.  No one really believes me when I tell them that I learned how to drive on a 4 speed Willys Jeep, and nobody in my 9th grade class believed either of us when we told them we'd been driving all over the back roads of the Sunday River valley, unlicensed, in a dump truck (Sorry, Steve, if you didn't exactly know about that one).

I credit my uncle with teaching me that the kind of work that I would grow to love would never pay me much.  My duties as his employee included staining sheds, mowing lawns, endlessly weeding flower beds, and then there was that damn field with all of those rocks.  All for $5.00 an hour.  I was, at the time, a bargain.  Now I don't even get out of bed for less than $10.00 an hour... still, I think, a bargain.

Steve's personality always leads to interesting encounters with people all over the world.  You can most certainly stop in any town in any New England state and find someone who knows Steve Wight.  I'm sure you've heard of the "6 degrees of Kevin Bacon"... there are only 3 degrees of uncle Steve.  There's "sure, I know Steve!", "I've heard of Steve", and "let me tell you about what happened the one time your uncle convinced me that we should go _______".

I guess it would be safe to say that most of the things I enjoy doing at the age of 27 are things Steve taught me.  I still love Jeeps and trucks, I mow lawns for a living, and I escape to nature as often as I can with anyone who will agree to come with me.  I am also, as everyone in my family will attest to, the loudest voice in every social situation, and usually the center of attention (unless Steve happens to be there).

My uncle Steve is 69 years old today.  He has managed to be the family patriarch for 54 years, married a very patient woman, owned and operated a successful hospitality business for many years, is an outspoken and (generally) respected member of my hometown community, has three children, five grandchilden and several granddogs. 

And one neice who can't thank him enough.

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