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August 2010

The Trail to Neverland: Hut Keepers of the White Mountains

No one stays young forever, of course. Just don't tell the hut keepers in New Hampshire's White Mountains.

When Sanford and May step into galehead hut, they’re bare-chested–never mind the dank cold. They are cut, both of them, bearing nary an ounce of body fat, and upon seeing them, a couple of young women begin shrieking–literally screaming, so the shrill sound ricochets about the whole wood-shingled hut, over all 38 beds in the four bunk rooms. One admirer, a visiting emeritus hut worker named Emily Taylor, finally exclaims, "I’m overwhelmed right now–there are so many people I love right here in this room."

Sanford, 26, begins clomping around the kitchen with a proprietary air. "When I was working here," he says, alluding to a recent autumn, "our compost was on fire. It was 157 F degrees in October! And we didn’t use cookbooks. Are you kidding me? We freestyled ****. On the chocolate cake, we tripled the baking chocolate and cut the cooking time in half."

Sanford declaims to all present, like a Shakespearean character strutting the boards of the stage, but his soliloquy is directed mostly at one young man. Luke Teschner, a 20-year-old croo rookie whose father worked in the huts in the 1970s, is single-handedly cooking dinner for the 20 guests at Galehead tonight. Teschner is a lanky and well-mannered kid, soft-spoken and humble. He sports a blonde crew cut and a neat black earring in his left ear, and earlier he confided that he’s a bit freaked out by the whole culinary thing. "Before this summer," he says, "I never cooked anything. I mean, like nothing. At school, I go to the dining hall. But the recipe book they have here? It’s awesome! You follow the instructions–this much sugar, that much flour–and it works. It’s cool!"

Teschner ignores the cookbook now, though, as he bends over an index card headed "Mom’s Vegetarian Chili." The card is handwritten in red Magic Marker, with a little heart drawn up in the corner. Nearby, on the stove, there are three pans of fresh herb bread still warm from the oven. Sanford steps toward them with a knife.

"Actually," Teschner says, "I only made enough for…"

But before he can finish, Sanford rips off a heel slice and starts chomping. "Dude," he calls out to his friend Alex May. "There’s some knockout herb bread here. Get involved!"

Within 10 minutes, a full loaf is history. And all Luke Teschner can do is stand there and glower and hope that this chili dinner–the second meal he has ever cooked in his life–will come off OK.

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