Our field school is located in Masardis, Maine on the banks of the Aroostook river. It is home to our immersion programs and weeklong skills programs, and the base camp for most of our expeditions. Living outdoors with a minimum of infrastructure is a key element of field school programs. Buschraft is part of the daily existence, not something we do during the day before returning to our modern lifestyle.
Below is specific information about life at the field school.
During our spring, summer and fall courses students stay their own tent. They also build a variety of different shelters and stay in them for several days, or for the duration of their stay if they choose. You will not be carrying your tent any distance, so plan to get one that’s comfortable even if it’s heavy and bulky. During the winter program, students stay in woodstove-heated shelters while at our home base, and in woodstove-heated wall tents in the bush.
Bringing or buying an extra tarp to keep your gear dry, both at the field school and on trips, is a great plan. We have no inside storage.
In extended periods of wet weather, your tent should be large enough so that your sleeping bag doesn’t touch the tent wall. If it touches, it gets wet, regardless of how much you spent on your tent. If you’re taller than 5’6″, consider getting a 4-person tent to use solo. 2-person tents often don’t work that well for tall people.
Bathing and Hygiene
Everyone is expected to maintain an acceptable level of hygiene during the course. This is accomplished by swimming in the river (without soap or shampoo), bucket baths (with soap and shampoo) and sunshowers.
If you’d like to have your own personal hot shower whenever you want it, consider bringing a sunshower. (There are numerous models running from $10-$40.) Fill it in the morning and by afternoon you’ll have 5 gallons of hot water to use in our shower enclosure.
A big step up from a solar shower bag is a Pump-up solar shower. We’ve used one of these and they work great. You pressurize it so you don’t have to hang it; it sits on the ground. They’re also much easier to fill with hot water than a solar shower, making it a great option when the weather is cloudy.
There are also modern, indoor showers available down the road at Blackwater Outfitters, as well as at Dean’s Motor Lodge and at several locations in Presque Isle.
Composting Toilet System
Before their course begins, each student is encouraged to read The Humanure Handbook. This introduces the composting toilet system we use, and will answer any questions the student might have about procedures, pathogens and safety. We’ve been using this system since 1996, and have experienced no problems with it. It’s simple, odorless, uses minimal inputs and is the basis of our thermophyllic composting system. Keep in mind that we don’t have an alternative to the humanure system. If using a composting toilet makes you significantly uncomfortable, then field school programs are probably not a good option for you.
We have four outhouses at the field school. If you want to upgrade your personal accommodations to include your own private toilet for your tent or shelter, consider bringing your own toilet seat and 5 gallon bucket (or 2 buckets). These Luggable Loo toilet seats clip onto a bucket. You can also improvise your own seat or build a toilet box like the ones we use based on the instructions in the Humanure Handbook. Other options include making one of these milk crate toilet boxes or buying one of these plywood toilet boxes.
This scalability is one of the benefits of the humanure system. With a conventional toilet system, the collection locations (ie. toilets) are centralized because they have to be connected to pipes. With the more advanced humanure system, the collection locations can be decentralized, with the processing facility (ie. compost pile) being centralized.
Laundry is done at the laundromat in town or by hand.
We are completely off the grid and don’t have a landline phone. Past students who wanted to be in constant telephone contact have used cell phones to do so. We get good cell phone reception at the field school, as there is a cell tower several miles away (currently leased by Verizon). If you want to stay in touch but don’t have a cell phone, consider a prepaid cell phone. Past students have used TracFones and had good reception. Both Verizon and AT&T phones work well (5 bars), as does Straight Talk. One past student from Europe brought a T-Mobile phone and it didn’t work at all. Sprint phones have also not worked in the past.
Verizon and AT&T smartphones work at the field school. If you need to have internet connectivity for a laptop consider bringing a hotspot. Verizonand Straight Talk have mobile hotspots that work at the field school. We have used a Verizon hot spot to run our field school office for the past several years. Note: The office internet connection is NOT available for student use. Because it runs off the cell tower it is metered, and everyone checking their email and Facebook would quickly use up the available bandwidth we need for our office. If you need to log on, plan ahead.
On the days that it is open, the Ashland Community Library has a computer with internet access available for use. They do not have wifi.
The Turner Memorial Public Library in Presque Isle has an open wifi connection. There are several other spots in Presque Isle that have wifi, including Tim Hortons and McDonalds.
Charging Batteries, Electricity
Our field school is off the grid. We have a small solar system for our needs, but it is NOT available for students to charge their cell phones, etc. If you need electricity, plan ahead. There are numerous small solar panels and hand-crank generators that will keep your devices charged. We’ve had good luck with Goal Zero products, but there are lots of portable solar panel and battery combinations that work well.
If you’re planning on driving to the field school, plan ahead and get an inverter for your vehicle. These plug into the cigarette lighter and outputs through a standard AC plug. Part of living off the grid is that whenever your vehicle is running, you’re charging something. If you’re vehicle is running and you’re not also charging something, you’re wasting energy.
Parking is available on-site at the field school. Many people bring extra gear and leave it in their vehicles. It’s better to have it and not use it than need it and not have it.