The first time Wendy Weiger found sanctuary outdoors was in 1986. Then a 24-year-old doctoral student at Harvard, she was struggling to come to terms with her father’s suicide four years earlier. Her mother, Nadine, suggested a camping trip near her Michigan hometown. Wendy remembers standing with her mom on the shore of Lake Superior one evening, both of them quietly grappling with their loss. “All of a sudden, it seemed that I became everything around me,” Wendy says. “I merged into the lake, into the night, into the rocks and forest. For the first time, I had this experience that I am part of this vast creation. And although I’m small, I’m not insignificant.”
Wendy, who became a medical researcher at Harvard, and Nadine began spending more time outdoors together, camping, hiking, canoeing, and rafting. In the early aughts, they bought a wooded 12-acre plot on First Roach Pond, in Frenchtown Township, to camp on and a house in Greenville. Eventually, Wendy quit her Harvard job, became a Registered Maine Guide, and started working seasonally at the Appalachian Trail Conservancy’s visitor center in Monson. When Nadine became too frail to camp on their land, they built a 300-square-foot winterized cabin. During the design process, Wendy constructed a paper dollhouse and paper furniture. “We’d try to figure out where everything would go to make it feel spacious,” she says. They didn’t want to worry about pipes freezing, so they installed a hand-pump well and an insulated outhouse. A woodstove heats the single pine-paneled room, and propane and oil lamps illuminate it. In 2013, mother and daughter shared their last Thanksgiving together in the cabin, cooking a turkey in the tiny propane oven and talking for hours by the fire. “We relished being apart from mainstream society,” Wendy says.
Since Nadine’s death, in 2014, Wendy has split her time between short-term rentals in Monson and the cabin on First Roach Pond. She spent the winters of 2021 and 2022 alone there, parking her car on the nearest plowed road and snowshoeing up to four and a half miles on unplowed gravel roads or across the frozen pond, a pulk sled loaded with supplies strapped to her waist. A couple times a week, she connected with friends on Zoom or Facebook Messenger on her laptop, using a Wi-Fi signal from a satellite dish powered by a gas-powered generator. Otherwise, she kept busy writing her nature blog, “Walking with Wendy,” birding, baking bread, and hauling in buckets of water for drinking, dish washing, laundry, and sponge baths, often in sub-zero temperatures. “I don’t feel alone when I’m out there; I feel that all of nature is my companion,” Wendy says. “And I still feel my mother’s presence.”
In her will, Nadine requested that her ashes be scattered at the base of her favorite tree, a tilted birch that reaches out over First Roach Pond like a grasping hand. “Coming home over the ice, I’ve learned I can spot that tree from more than two miles away,” Wendy says. “It’s almost as though she’s guiding me home.”
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