I would probably be rubbish in the way back beyond the beyond. I have all I can to do to keep up with the laundry with an electric washer/dryer; I will do just about anything to cram all the dishes in the dishwasher; I am not all that fond of wild game meat, and I can’t for the life of me make a once-and-for-all grocery list that keeps me from going back to the store ten times in four days. My thoughts on using an outhouse are unmentionable.
In the weeks leading up to Lent, I re-read three books about deep-woods Maine. I am still not sure why I landed on them: perhaps I was subconsciously longing for deep snow in this decidedly unsnowy winter (although I doubt it). Or perhaps I was just hoping for some of the (vicarious) peace that being snowbound brings: there is nothing you can do about it, so you have permission to do nothing, if that is what you want.
In any case I had not read these books in years and enjoyed the re-reads very much. The books are We Took to the Woods by Louise Dickinson Rich; Nine Mile Bridge by Helen Hamlin; and My Life in the Maine Woods by Annette Jackson. I have gone back and forth on whether I should combine them all into one (very long) post or give each book its own inning.
I was inclining to the one post simply because if I write three separate ones, I can hear the complaints of “What again? Another book about the Maine woods? Doesn’t she read anything else?” But after writing the three-in-one, it wasn’t very long, it was very very long, so I have broken it up. After this introduction, each book will have its own stand-alone installment.
Taken together the books are very much of a piece: they all take place in northern Maine in the 1930s and 1940s and they are all written by young women, relating their experiences living in the middle of nowhere.
Nine Mile Bridge and My Life in the Maine Woods are set in the same area of lakes feeding the Allagash and St. John’s Rivers. We Took to the Woods takes place just south of the Allagash headwaters on the Rangeley Lakes. Both areas were largely inaccessible except by foot or by water or by seaplane. In the autumn when the water was just beginning to freeze, or in the spring when the ice was breaking up, they were not accessible at all.
All three authors talk about their dog sled teams – some of which were more successful than others; all three were crazy, avid fishermen and write a lot about fishing trips; they all hunted, again, some with more enthusiasm than others – but they all knew it was necessary for their winter food supply; they all talk extensively about the logging camps and the logging business and culture; and they all provide sound thoughts on conservation and nature.
Still, Louise, Helen and Annette were all very different women and they wrote from different perspectives: Louise, who grew up in Massachusetts, was college-educated, a former high school teacher, and a professional writer. The conscious focus of her book is a comparison of living in the Maine woods vs. living “outside” them.
Helen and Annette, who were both bi-lingual in French and English, grew up on the edge of the Maine wilderness. They each married a game warden, and part of being a game warden’s wife was to live smack dab in the middle nowhere. Yet, they tell their stories differently – Helen focuses on people and Annette on her beloved wilderness.
If you’ve never read any of them, and wonder which to read first, my advice would be to start with We Took to the Woods, move on to Nine Mile Bridge and end with My Life in the Maine Woods.
So, following that advice I’ll begin with We Took to the Woods by Louise Dickinson Rich in the next post, and post the other two over the next few days.
Lake Photo by Andrew Montgomery on Unsplash