"I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, to discover that I had not lived. I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear; nor did I wish to practice resignation, unless it was quite necessary. I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put to rout all that was not life, to cut a broad swath and save close, to drive life into a corner, and reduce it to its lowest terms, and, if it proved to be mean, why then to get the whole and genuine meanness of it, and publish its meanness to the world; or if it were sublime, to know it by experience, and to be able to give a true account of it in my next excursion." -Henry David Thoreau
Nestled on the shores of Lake Huron is the town of Port Huron, Michigan: my home town. Slightly religious and perhaps a bit too conservative, Port Huron is a town of newlyweds and nearly-deads. The town offers a plethora of amenities that are fully accessible to the public. Perhaps the most popular destination is the Birchwood Mall. A sanctuary for adolescents, the mall is a place where commercialism is king. The mall, like many other structures and technologies, is sucking the marrow out of high school aged adolescents. No more are the outdoors full appreciated. No more is a walk through the woods considered romantic or enjoyable. Basic outdoor skills and knowledge are not at all cultivated by the average adolescent this day and age. In the event that a group of Port Huron adolescents found themselves lost in the wilderness, chances are they would have no clue what to do. I, however, would. I am a Junior Maine Guide.
Whenever it is mentioned to someone that I am a Junior Maine Guide, the reaction is usually a bewildered one. Although very much alike in dignity, a Junior Maine Guide is not nearly as recognized as, say, an Eagle Scout. In fact, the Eagle Scout program has only been in existence twenty-five years longer than the Junior Maine Guide Program. Junior Maine Guide (often referred to as JMG) was created in 1937 by the state of Maine legislature in hopes of educating youth on the importance of wilderness appreciation and recreation. The program, offered at select Maine summer camps, is for boys and girls ages 14 - 18. For five weeks, the campers eat, sleep and breath, the state of Maine. Aspiring JMGs must learn physical skills as well as cognitive skills. Shelter and fireplace building, axemanship and canoeing are examples of the physical adroitness where first aid, tree identification, environmental concerns/regulations, map reading/orienting and identifying points on the map of Maine are examples of cognitive skills. Around the first week of August, all JMG hopefuls gather at the JMG test site, and demonstrate to testers what they have learned. For one week, the potential JMGs live with one to four other people, keeping a campsite (which they have to build from scratch) and cooking meals without a counselor. JMG Test Camp is hard, rigorous work but looking back, was a life changing experience.
Under these conditions, I learned more than I could imagine. Not only can I now identify over twenty native Maine tree species, make a fire out of wet wood under fourteen minutes and canoe twenty-five miles with a smile on my face, but I learned valuable people skills. As a result of spending five weeks with the same people everyday, I learned the importance of teamwork and tolerance. I learned that some people may not learn as quickly as me or think the same way I do, but they are essential to the success of the group and should be treated with respect and empathy. I learned the importance of thinking of others before myself. If someone is in need of assistance, I will gladly stop what I am doing and help them. I will volunteer if it means making someone's day a little brighter or easier. I also learned to have confidence in myself. Anything is possible when I put my mind to it. I can. Therefore, JMG does not only teach wilderness skills. The Junior Maine Guide program taught me skills that will last my entire life, in or out of the woods.
Perhaps the greatest reward of the JMG program is the confidence gained. By granting a person the title of Junior Maine Guide, the tester is saying that he would trust this person with nine campers of any age in the wilderness. Not only is the Junior Maine guide taking children into the woods, she is taking someone else's child. Knowing that sort of trust has been developed is a miraculous feeling.
Becoming a Junior Maine Guide is my proudest accomplishment to date. I know concepts and facts that my peers do not. This opportunity is not available to all people and I am truly fortunate to have taken part in it. I am included in a seventy year tradition that is a proud part of Maine's history. Even if the title is not recognized nation wide, I know and the state of Maine knows that it is an honorable one. I am a Junior Maine Guide.