The Maine Woods, By Henry David Thoreau (1864). Henry David Thoreau (1817-62) made three trips to the then largely unexplored Maine woods. In his 1846 essay “Ktaadn” he traveled by foot and canoe to Mount Katahdin. He returned to Maine in 1853 traveling the West Branch of the Penobscot to Chesuncook Lake, which he chronicles in the essay “Chesuncook.” His final trip to the Maine woods occurred in 1857 when he again paddled Moosehead Lake, crossed at Northeast Carry onto the West Branch and continued across the top of Chesuncook, up Umbazookus Steam, across Mud Pond Carry and Mud Pond into Chamberlain Lake. After a visit to Chamberlain Farm, Thoreau made the crossing onto Eagle Lake and Pillsbury Island, the northernmost point of his three journeys. This final trip he writes about in “The Allegash and East Branch.”
The Maine Woods combines these three essays. His attention to detail and expressive style opened up Northern Maine to generations of travelers to come. He took notes constantly, entering into his journal the many plant and animal species he found, describing the rivers, streams, lakes, ponds and the land, creating a realistic minds-eye picture for future travelers. Through his conversations with his Indian guides, Joe Aitteon and Joe Polis he recorded many words and expressions of the Penobscot language and identified the names of several of the bodies of water and mountains along the way. The notes from these conversations offer a glimpse of the Native American history of the area.
His scribbled thoughts by the campfire became a call to nature for future generations. Post Civil War America looked toward the western frontier for wilderness, but posthumously, Thoreau opened a new wilderness and created a further awareness of nature where no one at the time thought to look.
Canoe and Camera: Two Hundred Miles through the Maine Forests, By Thomas Sedgwick Steele (1880). In 1879 the author departed Greenville for Mt. Kineo, on Moosehead Lake the usual starting point for what was then referred to as the St. John Trip. A St. John trip wasn’t necessarily a journey to or along the St. John. It was a term used to describe a voyage into the Maine woods at that time.
Steele and a photographer friend hired three Indian guides to take them from Mt. Kineo up the West Branch, across to Chamberlain Lake, and after a visit to Chamberlain Farm, down through Telos Lake and Webster Stream to the East Branch and down to Mattawamkeag.
The author explains their method of camping in 1879, how they handled rips and rapids in birch bark canoes and their general travels over water and land in the steps of Thoreau. (Thoreau’s Maine Woods was published in 1864.) Although Steele was certainly aware of Thoreau’s earlier trip (1857), he seldom refers to the Concordian’s writings, preferring to offer his own interpretation of the journey.
Steele’s focus is more on the actual passage and the impediments the woods and waters provided, while Thoreau took the time to study the surroundings along his passage with a naturalist’s eye.
The Wildest Country: Exploring Thoreau’s Maine, By J. Parker Huber (1981).This book follows Thoreau’s journeys in Maine. The author travels the same routes as Thoreau and offers updated descriptions of how the waters and land have changed. The book includes updated maps and pictures and descriptions of the local flora and fauna. The book is convenient travel guide for those following Thoreau’s route as well as descriptive look at the past and present for armchair adventurers.
Woods and Lakes of Maine: A Trip from Moosehead Lake to New Brunswick in a Birch-Bark Canoe, By Lucius L. Hubbard (1884). In the autumn of 1881 the author and a companion, Captain Sartor, admittedly inexperienced in the woods and two Indian guides, Joe and Silas, traveled the Maine woods from Greenville at the foot of Moosehead Lake to the St. John River and New Brunswick. Their travels took them up the West Branch of the Penobscot River, across the top of Chesuncook and up Umbazookus Stream to the lake by the same name. They crossed Mud Carry onto Chamberlain Lake and then portaged to Eagle Lake. From Churchill Lake, rather than continue up the Allagash, the party crossed to the Musquacook chain of lakes, rejoining the Allagash south of Five Fingers Brook. From there the four travelers paddled to the international boundary along the St. John.
Hubbard was aware of Thoreau’s early journeys and looked to continue the scientific study the Concordian had begun. Hubbard took soundings in Moosehead Lake and made a study of the Indian place names he encountered. Like Thoreau he quizzed his Indian companions as to their language and created an index of Indian place names that is still one of the original sources for many of the names of Maine’s rivers, lakes and mountains.
His descriptions of his river, lake and overland travels are in some instances still accurate, with the exception of where dams have been placed for the control of water flow once used in log drives. The book also offers an intimate look at camp life and travel in the woods in 1881.
Paddle and Portage: From Moosehead Lake to the Aroostook River, Maine, By Thomas Sedgwick Steele (1882). In 1880 the author took his second long trip into the Maine woods. Once again striking out from Moosehead Lake, he traveled up the West Branch of the Penobscot, and over to Chamberlain Lake. From there he made his way to neighboring Eagle Lake and beyond to Churchill Lake. Steele was accompanied by Colonel “G” and three Indian guides. The Colonel had explored a route from Moosehead to the Aroostook River the previous year and Steele was eager to make the trip.
From Chruchill the party struck east on North Twin Brook to Spider Lake. Traveling overland they made their way to Echo Lake and Munsungan.
At the foot of Munsungan Lake they traveled the stream of the same name to the Aroostook. They paddled the Aroostook to Caribou and finished their journey to New Brunswick by train.
Steele, a seasoned and observant wilderness traveler offers the reader a look at the Maine woods when the canoe was the obvious way to travel. His descriptions of the route he took during 1880 paint a picture of a remote land where the sojourner is left to his own devices for weeks as he battles his way across the large lakes, struggles on foot along shallow streams and across wooded, pathless portages.
Campfires Rekindled: A Forester Recalls Life in the Maine Woods of the Twenties, By George S. Kephart (1977). His father loved the outdoors. One of his father’s favorite books was Woodcraft and Camping, which by the early 20th century had become a classic.
His father’s love of the outdoors inspired the author to enroll in the School of Forestry at Cornell University. By the 1920’s he was in Northern Maine cruising the deep woods timber country.
Campfires Rekindled is a look back at life the 1920’s in the Maine woods from the perspective of a young forester. He talks about the rugged individualism of the people who lived in the area at the time and the painstaking work involved in surveying and estimating yields of timberland.
It’s life in the backcountry and the story of the backbreaking work of getting the harvest to the mill. His smooth narrative style makes the harsh conditions of life at the time seem romantic. It is a well told tale of a bygone era in an area that in places remains remote, where a traveler can still find that solitude of the 1920’s.
Woodcraft and Camping, By “Nessmuk” (1884) George Washington Sears (1821-90) grew up in Webster, Mass. and took his pen name from an American Indian who had befriended him in early childhood. He was fascinated by the books about Indians that his family possessed that left him with an abiding interest in forest life and adventure. At age 12 he started working with a commercial fishing fleet based on Cape Cod and at 19 he signed on for a three-year voyage on a whaler headed for the South Pacific; it was the same year (1841) that Herman Melville shipped out of the same port bound for the same whaling grounds.
Nessmuk could probably be considered a pioneer of the light-weight camping and hiking movement and a pioneer in the recreational use of our national lands. His letters in Forest and Stream magazine in the 1880’s and particularly his Woodcraft and Camping book originally published in 1884 and reprinted many times introduced his concepts, techniques, and experiences to a new class of the public. Those that did not have the spare money to spend on guides and resorts; but those that wanted to experience the outdoors on their own in a degree of comfort and style.
His travels took him over a wide range of country, but his favorite spot was New York’s’ Adirondacks. In Woodcraft and Camping he reaches back over a lifetime of wilderness travel, offering stories of his adventures and advice on the (then) best ways to travel and methods of camp craft.
Reflections from the North Country, By Sigurd F. Olson (1976). It is said that the author, “speaks in the tradition of Thoreau, but with a voice uniquely his own.”
This book is a collection of reflections in the form of essays. Olson has become know to many as the “Voice of the North.” His writings are considered on a par with those of Muir, Burroughs, Leopold and Thoreau. “Reflections” outlines his wilderness philosophy. An advocate of wilderness conservation, Olson served as president of the Wilderness Society and the National Parks Association and has received numerous honors including recognition by the Sierra Club and the National Wildlife Federation.
Well traveled in his love affair with preserving nature, he calls Northern Minnesota and the Quetico-Superior country home. His essays and stories transcend the natural world and are useful guides to everyday life.
The views and opinions in the Enterprise blogs are those of the author and are not neccessarily shared by Falmouth Publishing.