Over the years, we’ve spoken to a lot people – mostly biologists – about how they were first bitten by the nature bug. Since these stories came from people who’ve made a living exploring, studying and maintaining the natural world, they follow familiar tropes: like an unexpected experience or sighting, or the influence of a parent or teacher who sparked that initial interest in the outdoors.
Andrei Campeanu joined us on a hike co-hosted by Chris Martin and Dave Anderson recently. He isn’t a biologist, he’s just someone who loves going outdoors. But his story starts out similarly…with a sort of family pastime. “Most of my family was of German extraction, so hiking is something you do. You hike. You go to the mountains.”
Beckoned by the ancestral siren, Andrei’s mother took him into the woods one day when he was eight years old. “I remember she gave me a stone to keep in my mouth. It’s a tradition but it also keeps your mouth moist.” He later confessed that tradition might well have been inspired by a desire to keep family hikes quiet. “I remember that, just climbing up with a stone in your mouth and looking around. Oh yeah, we had a great time.”
Though his family has German roots, Andrei grew up in Romania in the late 1950s and 60s, a time at which getting “out to the country” was a part of the culture in many ways. “I lived in Bucharest, which is the capital, but the country was always present. In Europe, cities and the country are more linked because of the way cities are supplied. The supermarkets were bare all the time, so going out to the country was something people had to do.”
Folks would travel to the country to supplement government rations. But it wasn’t just food that drove them there. Living in Romania at the time, meant that Andrei and his family were behind the iron curtain. So, going for a hike was as much about protecting their sanity.
“It was a very oppressive system. Not that kids notice so much, but the parents did. It was a surveillance society. In those days, it was people listening to your phone, and your neighbors turning you in. And this,” he indicates the forest trail we found ourselves hiking in Newbury that day “meant freedom from that…being out in the woods. Nobody listens here.” On a ridge, out of sight of houses, out of earshot from everyone, you can stand and listen to a different kind of chatter.
Eventually Andrei left Romania, and landed in New York City just before Thanksgiving, 1974, but his restless bones drove him ever north. “And for somebody who lived behind the Iron Curtain, Live Free or Die looked really good. So I said, “ok I can stop here.” And I’ve loved NH ever since. I’ve been here 30 years now.”
And hiking all the while.