Freeport, ME, February 10, 2021
A Better Connection in the Great Outdoors
WORDS BY EMILIE HAWTIN
Maine Estuary. Photo by Chase Winfrey
As part of our content contributor series, we are excited to introduce seasoned writer Emilie Hawtin. A nature-loving New Yorker with an extensive fashion career, Hawtin writes about her passion for well-made clothes, travel and sustainability, and often makes the case for “borrowing from the boys.” She’s been outbidding L.L.Bean collectors on eBay for some years with a lifelong appreciation for archival clothes and rare vintage finds. Like us, she can’t go a day without getting outdoors and connecting with its restorative power.
For this feature, we invited Hawtin to put on her favorite L.L.Bean gear – new and old – and join our incredible outdoor guide Bill Yeo for a snowy hike in Maine.
You can find more of Emilie’s writing about menswear, sustainability and travel in publications like Fortune and Robb Report where she explores the beauty of collecting fewer, but better things and connecting with the passionate, nature-loving people who make them. Follow Emilie on Instagram at @ehawtin.
Jogging down Manhattan’s west side highway wearing three layers at sunrise, I start to wonder about my trip to Maine. Will a down jacket really be enough there? What if ice climbing is involved? There’s one person who knows best, and that’s Bill Yeo.
Bill is the kind of guide you want. He’s been working with L.L.Bean for thirty-five years and living off-grid for just as long. Mainers are expert on nature’s lure and tolerant of its whims, but Bill takes that to a new level. He also travels the globe taking people up Mount Kilimanjaro, biking across Central America, climbing mountains in Peru, and filming African wildlife. Learning this all, I’m intrigued and intimidated.
The man standing by Pettengill Farm is lean and tall, beaming, glowing, with a serene enthusiasm reserved for rare nature-immersed, utilitarian people who understand far more than I do. “I cleaned up all of the trees that just came down from a storm. It’s not really part of my job, I just like to do it,” says Bill.
I can tell that he feels the beauty in everything, it’s in his voice and eyes, and that he enjoys sharing it without imposing. The way truly passionate and curious people do. He tosses around a few hike ideas to quickly assess preferences and makes a layering plan. If we feel good, we’ll keep going, layer in a few more places. If not, we’ll see a lot. I already trust him. Bill’s perceptive and easygoing spirit makes me want to go skiing with him after our hike before the hike even begins. I know that he would be thrilled to. He did show up fresh off of skiing one of the countless Maine mountains he programs every year.
“I live way out in the woods, no electricity, all solar power. I’m off the utility grid,” he calmly says. “I’ve lived this way for 29 years. I just want to leave a light footprint.” He built his house in the woods by hand – without nails. “I was on a bike tour through Central America, a two-month ride. When I got home, I searched for land and hand-built a small cabin,” he explains as if talking about a pancake recipe.
Emilie Hawtin. Photo by David Coggins.
Pettengill Farm, Maine. Photo by Chase Winfrey.
I’m assured that the conditions – brisk, half-snowy, half-winter brown – are correct for the vintage Maine Hunting Shoes I lace up, quietly hoping that their rare nature will be appreciated. Guides usually aren’t looking to be impressed and are impressive themselves, which is exactly why I want to impress them. Grit and humor are great, but some calculated style never hurts. “Those are some good oldies!” says Bill, noticing my boots. “The seam around the sole is made with one piece now.” He also identifies my bygone-era L.L.Bean corduroys.
We head out into the light snow at Pettengill Farm, a historical L.L.Bean-maintained saltwater farm from the nineteenth century. It’s more of a vast nature preserve and forest, with winding trails and rolling hills, an impressive estuary with several bird species, dozens of heritage apple trees, and ocean views in the distance. Though it’s a stone’s throw from L.L.Bean’s Freeport home, you feel far removed.
We approach the house and look over the ocean, “There used to be a brickyard down there. They put them on boats to carry out to sea,” he says. “That big rock you’re standing next to was once used as a mortar and pestle for corn. You can still see how it’s curved.” We continue towards the flats as Bill explains, “People used to put lard all over their bodies to slide across the mud to get clams,” a fun thought from his archaeologist friend.
Layering is important for any winter trek, especially in Maine, but balanced layering is key. This means temperature, comfort, preparedness, and, most importantly, feeling like yourself. It’s why new gear is far better when it’s mixed with some well-worn. For me, this requires over-preparing my high maintenance extremities ( Katahdin hiking socks x2, Buckskin mittens, Bill’s trusty hand warmers) tossing on a cashmere turtleneck (a favorite for city or snow), my lucky Fair Isle sweater vest and a foldable Trilby hat.
My structured hat adds some formality to the down jacket: a faded blue Mountain Classic. It’s per-fect for this setting, with the modern advances and the 1970s nonchalance of a friend’s outdoorsy mom. For Bill, balanced layering means an 850 down jacket and wool. He explains how dry wool kept him while submerged under biting water after falling through the ice. It’s an endorsement I can get behind. I’m glad I’m wearing wool.
L.L.Bean Gear. Photo by Emilie Hawtin.
Emilie Hawtin & Bill Yeo. Photo by Chase Winfrey.
As we walk, Bill interprets the wildlife and plant life in-between glacial strides. More importantly, he’s part of their ecosystem. I look around at the trees and realize how on-grid my outdoor life is. I suddenly want to build a tiny house, apprentice with Bill, and learn how to be a better person. We discuss his old Leica cameras and Todd Snyder's collection, Norwegian Skiing, Blue Hill at Stone Barns, growing food, and the days of cooking for friends.
Before I know it, I have an itinerary for mountains in Peru, insights on apple grafting, and a breathwork book recommendation to combat anxiety. Bill understands my altitude fears and provides solutions. I walk away from our hike with warmth more powerful than any jacket could provide, the kind you don't prepare for or layer on. It comes from unexpected experiences with extraordinary people. And it inspires you to get outside with them.