I grew up with the freedom of a small town kid in the 1960s and ’70s. Bicycles took us everywhere and with four kids in my family, I didn’t have to worry about too much supervision from a parent. On weekends we went hiking or car camping and each summer I spent four weeks at Girl Scout camp, glorious scheduled days of dining hall food, swimming lessons, arts and crafts and singing around the campfire.

Here I'm at the Moose Creek Ranger Station, 26 miles up a trail from the end of a long dirt road. The photo shows Carol Holmes and me, at about age 22. We're enjoying our days off from a ten-day trail crew "hitch"

Here I’m at the Moose Creek Ranger Station, 26 miles up a trail from the end of a long dirt road. The photo shows Carol Holmes and me, at about age 22. We’re enjoying our days off from a ten-day trail crew “hitch”

My family is book-ish and my mother reads faster than anyone I know, except possibly my son Lee. My father read aloud The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings and our family mutt was named Frodo. In the days before Young Adult books I read most of the books in the children’s section of our public library then migrated to the adult shelves to read Agatha Christie and Sherlock Holmes.

Feminism was in the air but I didn’t realize I was breaking ground when in 1978 I applied for a summer job with the Appalachian Mountain Club Trail Crew, one of the first females to be allowed to do so. I survived the first weeks of hazing and deep blisters and worked for the AMC another summer before taking a job with the United States Forest Service in Idaho on a Timber Crew. What a wild job that was—walking miles each day through trail-less woods with a case of marking paint on my back. I learned much about western trees and for several summers after that I returned to Idaho to work on a wilderness trail crew.

After I graduated from Williams College in 1982 I worked in Outdoor Education at Sterling College in Craftsbury Common, Vermont. I spent more time outside than in, growing to love the freedom of feeling warm enough on a below zero day.

Coolwater Lookout and Colton Home

Coolwater Lookout and Colton Home

When my boyfriend, Tom Van de Water, won a Watson Scholarship to study in northern Japan for a year, we got married and heaved on our backpacks. Hokkaido, the Alaska of Japan, still has grizzly bears, wild country and outside hot springs. We set up house in a little village and while we studied the Japanese language I worked for a rice farmer and volunteered at a local nursery school.

Carol_Betsy_MooseCreekBack in the USA, we returned to Sterling College but had an itch to buy land and build a house. The search ended on a hillside above the Raquette River near Colton, NY and we designed and built a small solar-powered home. We did all of the work and didn’t need a mortgage, allowing us to take time off from paid work to roam the world—Ghana, New Zealand, Japan, Singapore. We travel by bicycle and make friends as we ride.

Our sons, Lee and Jay, travelled with us in a baby backpack or bicycle trailer and later as sturdy hikers or on the back seat of a tandem. Lee learned how to walk on Gardiner Peak Lookout and Jay smiled as he crawled around the fire finder at Coolwater Lookout. When we began doing contract trail crew work, we helped Jay wade through streams and rivers, the water deep against his small body.


Jay                                                     Lee                                                            Tom

During the school year I enjoy harvesting a big vegetable garden and staying in one place to teach piano lessons and write. On sunny winter days the light pours in the big windows of our small house and there’s no place I’d rather be.

2014 Betsy Kepes - All Audio Courtesy of NCPR