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. (more…)