Caretaking: Radio Call

     “WYF711…this is 2-0 with your morning weather,” a female voice broadcasts over the radio. It’s 7am and the July morning is cold on the mountain. I’m cocooned in my sleeping bag, my body in denial of the fact that momentarily, I have to emerge from my little hot tub of down-insulated heat in order to record 2-0’s weather report for the day. Normally, I’m up by now, sipping coffee sweetened with Honey Bear on the porch of my tent platform, pen in hand, ready for 2-0’s proclamation of the natural elements. Some mornings, though, all my muscles resist the progression of waking up, especially when it cold, and then the process feels entirely unnatural and intrusive. On better mornings, I’m up at 6am, sprawled out on my yoga mat in the center of my tent, yoking body and soul before my 6:50am radio check-in with 6-7 Ethan Pond. I’m usually a little late radioing down to the caretaker at Ethan Pond; 6-4 Garfield calls 6-5 Thirteen Falls at that same time, and she always beats me to it, so I’m forced to await her to clear channel 2. I don’t mind. Her endlessly peppy voice brings life to the morning, sometimes startlingly so (they say you’re not allowed to laugh over the radio. The smile in 6-4 Garfield’s voice is so vivaciously evident that I wonder if it counts as breaking the rules!) No one can hear 6-5’s end of the conversation, and imagining his comments adds a comical element to the start of the day. Caretakers, one will find, have insignificant mediums through which to experience significant entertainment

 

 

The one and only
The one and only

2-0’s voice infuses the morning air with the current weather conditions, and next, the vertical temperature profile. As she moves on to the day’s higher summits forecast and then the forecast in the valley, I dutifully record all of it. This morning, she throws out phrases such as “Flood watch warning,” and “thunderstorms may be severe,” and I’m all but jumping for joy—bad weather on a Saturday is almost as heartening as finding a chocolate bar left behind by a hiker in the bear box. It could mean the difference between a 75-person and 25-person night. A 25 person night means actually enjoying my dinner, while a 75 person night means scurrying about camp for seven hours straight, attempting to cram human bodies into every nook and cranny of Guyot campsite without moment’s breath or thought even cast in the general direction of dinner (one night, after settling in 76 people, I was finally able to muster up the energy to cook Annie’s Mac n’ Cheese at 9pm, only to drop the entire pot into the dirt. Sullenly, stubbornly, I attempted to eat the pine needle-infested pasta, but gave up when I realized that, strangely enough, I did not find that I enjoyed grinding dirt in between my teeth.)

My reading light
My reading light

The Guyot campsite offers a 14-person, two level shelter in addition to 6 tent platforms, lending to a 45ish person capacity. On principle, I never turn people away, although I certainly come close when I’m at the tail end of a bad attitude – I’m not up here to kiss ass, and I do not consider the hikers that stay here to be patrons in need of coddling (as I might working in a coffee shop when it’s a medium, hot, almond milk latte with three shots of espresso and two pumps of sugar free vanilla at stake.) I’m merely a steward, here to lightly coax hikers into practicing proper backcountry camping techniques via subtle manipulation. Sometimes I’m not so subtle if the hiker is particularly thick, but a farmer in India once told me that it’s important to meet people exactly where they’re at.

Coffee. Of utmost importance.
Coffee. Of utmost importance.

The steep, rocky terrain of the White Mountains is highly unconducive for non-platform camping (unless you enjoy sleeping in a semi-vertical position) and the tent platforms present a fairly effective opportunity to minimize human impact on the surrounding environment by consolidating the impact onto one, wooden rectangle built into the incline of Guyot’s bank. Hikers unfamiliar with the set-up frequently balk at the system, insisting that their tents simply can’t fit onto a platform, let alone fit adjacent to another tent (“I fit two tents onto this platform every night. It’ll fit,” I insist sternly to less-than-cooperative campers who scorn the notion of camping beside a neighbor.) On a number of occasions, hikers have attempted to offer me extra money in hopes of commandeering an entire tent platform to themselves. It doesn’t work that way, I tell them, I can’t accept it. My job is to make sure everyone has a safe, mostly horizontal place to sleep. The vindictively righteous side of me that I never knew I had is so distraught by this monetarily-dictated entitlement that I usually assign neighbors to those people first thing. As I do so, it occurs to me that I’d make a hard-headed tyrant indeed.

Sitting on the throne that we rebuilt into the cairn
Sitting on the throne that we rebuilt into the cairn

7:35am marks the beginning of shelters morning radio call, a time for all caretakers to voice proof over the radio that we are still alive and well. Since our voices can be heard throughout the entirety of New Hampshire and parts of Vermont and Maine, the messages are strictly professional (once, when the field coordinator announced that he’d be making a site visit and wanted to know whether or not I needed anything from the valley, I wanted to respond desperately – Yes! Tampons! Yet I declined, since I figured half of New England didn’t need to know of my woes, and after radio call I practically ran to the summit of West Bond clutching my cellphone, hoping I hadn’t blown my chances for essential supplies. Every once in a while on a lucky occasion when the sky is clear (which is rare enough in itself), I can successfully acquire cell service at the peak.

View from the caretaker platform -- yellow tent through the trees, post-hail storm,
View from the caretaker platform — yellow tent through the trees, post-hail storm,

The voices of my comrades spilling over into my frequency in answer to 6-0 every morning form a welcome tune to my ears. This morning, I have to crank up the volume; a herd of elephants is stampeding over the roof my tent in the form of rain, and I feel like a damp sailor wandering the sea, awaiting radio voices to validate that I am not, in fact, alone on Earth. Hands wrapped ceremoniously around my coffee cup, I respond when it’s my turn (6-6 Guyot), keeping it simple, telling everyone to have a great day, 6-6 clear (I’ve been teased for my apparent monotone.)  6-2 and 6-3 broadcast with good spirits. 6-4 smiles jovially over the radio. 6-5 and 6-7 are skipped because no one can hear them anyways, and 6-8 often sounds like he’s running. 1 Nauman sounds muffled more often than not (I play at guessing who is still in their sleeping bags) and 6-9 is calm and collected, as usual. And then, the voices dissipate and the channel silences, ejecting me to my solitude once more. I cling to the little device as though it were an actual companion at my side day by day: my lifeline, my substitute for Netflix and music and people (even eavesdropping on Hut crews over the radio warrants a hot chocolate and a handful of sour skittles while sitting on the porch: the caretaker version of going to the movies.) Once, radio call didn’t happen at all. I was left in a confused stupor, nearly unable to begin my day without the integral ritual of my morning routine.

 

In twenty-four hours, a fresh day will bloom, and 2-0 will forecast something new. Perhaps it’ll be partly sunny, for once, with light and variable winds.

 

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7 thoughts on “Caretaking: Radio Call

  1. I am so happy to know that you actually have contact with someone every day! If you were eaten by a bear I thought it might be days before I knew about it.

  2. Just spent a night at Guyot and another at Thirteen falls. I would like to thank both you and Hamish (Spelling?) for helping to keep these beautiful places beautiful. And to the lady who provided me an ace bandage for a very hurting knee, I thank her too and promise I will, as she asked me, “pass it forward”.

    1. Hi! It’s so nice to hear from one of our visitors, I’ll pass the word along to Hamish and I hope you’re knee is alright!

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