I am a Maine Guide, and I’m darned proud of it. My office is a pond. My desk, a canoe. The sun serves as my clock on the wall. Moose watching is my business, and business is good. Who could complain about something like that?
Well, me. I love the job, don’t get me wrong. The clients come from all walks of life, all places on the globe — South Africa and Australia, to name but a few — and they’re always entertaining. One of my guests this year had been drawn for a cow tag in this fall’s hunt, and yet they spent a summer evening on a moose safari by canoe.
No, it’s not the clients, although I do feel sorry for them. Many trips are all trussed up to be on “remote, wild ponds,” but I wonder what’s going through the clients’ minds when they show up to the pond and see a dozen canoes already on it. True, some clients are unruffled by this. For them, it’s all about the moose, and it doesn’t matter to them if they see one on a pond or in the middle of I-95.
But for many others, it’s more than that. Not long ago, I took a couple out on a moose tour. We saw no moose on the pond, yet they said that the entire safari was better than the whale-watching trip they’d been on just the day before. They’d seen all kinds of whales, but the boat they’d been on was too loud, and the other passengers too numerous for their liking.
“And it’s quieter out here,” the lady said, gesturing at the silent waters and looming mountains. “And special.”
There are more ponds up here in the Moosehead region, just as quiet and special, than guides. But too few are willing to take the initiative and go looking for different places.
For me, a Maine Guide’s worth isn’t knowing where the well-known moose ponds are. It’s knowing where the unknown ones are, too.
Already this year I’ve been on nearly a dozen different bodies of water (not all of them ponds). I’ve struck out on some, but on others, magic has happened. And not solely due to moose. It’s the beavers, otters, turtles, red-tailed hawks, turkey vultures, wild turkeys, bald eagles, crying loons, hooting owls, howling coyotes, white-tailed deer, and black bear that I’ve seen this year that also lends something special. (And don’t forget the scenery!)
Simply put, some ponds are being guided to death. Which brings up an interesting question: should these over-guided ponds take one for the team, so to speak, so that all the others can truly live up to their billing as “remote, wild ponds?”
I’m not sure, although through some manner of healthy dialogue between guides and outfitters, I’d bet we could come up with something that satisfies everyone — especially those who pay for our services.
But in the meantime, to my fellow guides, I issue a challenge: Go beyond your comfort zone. Turn away from the tried-and-tired ponds and head for different waters.
You’re Maine Guides, not some Park Ranger stuck to the same scrap of land. We have a resource (moose, primarily, but wild and remote ponds run a close second) to protect. Giving your clients what they want might just be driving that resource away.
Your job is not to give your clients what they want. Your job is to give them more than they could have ever dreamed. And who could complain about something like that?
Christopher Keene of Greenville is the author of the popular hiking guidebook “North Woods Walks” as well as two novels, “Kineo,” and his most recent, “Quest of the Caribou.”