Finding magic in winter with Yemaya St. Clair
Yemaya St. Clair serves on the boards of three Portland community organizations while pursuing a master’s in counseling at University of Souther Maine (USM). She is the coauthor of two Appalachian Mountain Club Books. Proudly in favor to Maine’s longest season, St. Clair finds balance by snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, and sledding in Portland’s natural oases with her husband and kids.
Illustration by Mali Welch
When I first moved to Maine from Seattle three years ago—just before winter—I was used to the huge, craggy mountains of the West, and I didn’t have a relationship with the old, rolling eastern mountains. One of the biggest motivations for me to write Outdoors with Kids was to explore the state. I was pregnant when I did the field research, and my daughter was two and a half—I don’t think I would have pushed myself nearly as hard if I didn’t have to research—and in that process, I fell in love with Maine, these beautiful old mountains and lakes, and the Atlantic Ocean. I’ve found that in Maine, people have a rugged individuality but also value community coming together. That balance is really inspiring.
I serve on the board of directors of three incredibly different organizations that complement each other. At SPACE Gallery, where I’m president, it’s a creative experience—very hands-on. At Quimby Family Foundation, all board members are family members. We have deep conversations about our philanthropic interests and learn about incredible organizations around Maine, focusing on the environment, wellness, and the arts. I’m also a junior member on the board of Preble Street, which is creating solutions for homelessness, hunger, and poverty in Portland and across the state. I try to instill in my kids the recognition that as a family we’re part of a much bigger community—and those of us with privilege need to do something good with it.
The Daily Shuffle
I have a five-year-old and a two-year-old. Usually, I wake up at 6:45 a.m. and my husband Lucas and I do the morning shuffle—making coffee and breakfast, packing Ella’s lunch for school, and getting the kids dressed and out the door. At 8 a.m., we walk Ella to school through the West End. Then Waylon and I spend the next hour or so playing outside before our nanny arrives, and I head off to work as a counselor at the Employee Assistance Program at L.L.Bean, where I’m completing my internship for my master’s at USM. I get home at around 5 p.m. and get the kids outside for another hour of play before it’s time for dinner, baths, books, and bed. Once the kids are asleep, Lucas and I catch up. And then I turn to board work, homework, emails, and reading. By 10:30 p.m., I’m in bed.
Active Winter, Active Kids
I benefit from getting outside in winter as much as possible—even if it’s just a five-minute walk around the block; it completely changes my mood. One of the great things about adventuring with kids is how they’re taking you to new places all the time—sticking their fingers in a slug, showing you the slime! We adults forget sometimes, in our hectic lives, to slow down. Last winter, we all went snowshoeing regularly through the West End, and it was so much fun.
Preparing for Cold
“There’s no such thing as bad weather, just poor preparation,” is what my husband always says. We layer, starting with a base layer of long underwear, a wool or synthetic insulating layer on top of that, and—depending on the weather—either a down or waterproof jacket for outerwear. I can’t tell you how often we reinforce to our kids that heat escapes through the tops of their heads—hats are critical. We wear mittens instead of gloves. And we’re all about knee-high socks. We’re not afraid of the dark. We put our kids in bright-colored clothing, strap headlamps over their hats, and give them flashlights—which they love.
The beauty of snowshoeing is it’s not a mechanized sport—it doesn’t have an impact on the land. You can venture off-trail without impacting the environment. When we stop for snack breaks, we build benches out of snow, and when we’re done, we don’t have to take them apart. They will melt.
There’s a muted quality to the snow that’s so magical—the traffic you hear in summer is quieted by the winter landscape. You can snowshoe in the middle of the city, in a place like Fore River Sanctuary, and feel like you’ve been dropped into the wilds of Alaska.
St. Clair’s Recommended Route
ST. CLAIR RECOMMENDS VISITING FORE RIVER SANCTUARY FOR A SNOWSHOEING JAUNT THAT IS FUN FOR THE WHOLE FAMILY. ABOUT TWO MILES LONG, ROUND-TRIP, THE ROUTE OFF CONGRESS STREET LEADS TO THE CITY’S ONLY NATURAL WATERFALL, JEWELL FALLS.