Annette Jackson’s writing in My Life in the Maine Woods – A Game Warden’s Wife in the Allagash Country is a bit formal and correct, but the book is absolutely worth a read because while Annette may not be a natural-born writer, she is a perfect, natural-born game warden’s wife. She tells her stories simply and honestly, and throughout, it is obvious she is crazy in love with both her husband and the Maine woods.
Annette married Dave Jackson, a legendary Maine game warden in 1932, and like Helen Hamlin would a few years later, she began her married life in a little game warden’s cabin on Umsaksis Lake. After their wedding, on her first trip to the cabin, Dave was able to drive her most of the way there, but, in early April, the only way to get to the cabin was to snowshoe in from the main road. Dave stopped the car, and handed Annette a pair of snowshoes.
In my excitement I had not thought of the walk in to the cabin. Under a fancy pair of overshoes, I wore shoes with three-inch spike heels. While I was in the car nothing had been required of me, but on snowshoes I was a sight.
Annette, being an angel, didn’t hold Dave’s amusement at her floundering about in the snow against him, and even confessed had the positions been reversed, she probably would have laughed out loud. After just a few days of a honeymoon, Dave left on a regular inspection trip that lasted several weeks.
Still, as I stood at the cabin door watching my husband move across the lake, I sensed for the first time the feeling of being alone in the wilderness. I had often wondered what people did while living in the wilderness; now I had the opportunity to learn, as I was all on my own.
What she did first was re-make Dave’s bachelor quarters: I thought our bed, which was covered with a tan arctic sleeping bag, looked dreary and cold. Although the bag had cost quite a bit, I would slipcover it with a bright spread.
She spent a couple of days with sewing projects and then admitted that the following couple of weeks were the longest in her life, which probably led to her resolution:
I was determined not to be just a game warden’s wife. I wanted to learn to follow old trails, paddle a canoe, fish, shoot a rifle, hunt, and above all, snowshoe. I wanted to be a partner to my husband in his work.
She got her wish and was soon accompanying Dave on his trips.
Although there were lots of camping grounds around the lakes, there was nothing I liked better than to watch Dave select a site just for us. He would paddle along the shore comparing the different spots and finally select one from which he could command a view over the entire section he was to watch. I loved those places where the ground was covered with a soft carpet of moss, the trees thick overhead, the area open enough so that we could put up a tent, build a fireplace, and set up a small table.
Annette took everything in stride, including three children in three years. For the birth of their first child, Dave was set to take her by canoe over the various waterways to Allagash Plantation and his mother’s house. But at the last minute he was called away and had to entrust his eight months pregnant wife to a friend (who was at least a Maine guide) for the long canoe trip. Annette writes: I guess Bill was a little nervous to have me in his care, for he seemed to hurry with every task.
She gave birth two weeks later and when her baby daughter was two weeks old, Dave returned to take them home, presumably by canoe. Annette admits that neither she nor Dave were experienced with infants, but the family doctor gave us an assortment of medicine we might need, and along with it a book on infant care. We started from there.
Annette, unlike Helen Hamlin, was scared to death of bears and she has a chapter on bear stories, which justify her fears, including one in which while she was sitting in their car with their toddler and infant, waiting for Dave, a bear decided it wanted in, too. Trooper that she was, she didn’t like to tell Dave too much about her fears as I realized that in his work, the thought of leaving his family alone for days on end was hard enough without his having to concern himself with my terror of bears.
Annette continued to enjoy traveling with Dave on his multi-day inspection trips and she didn’t let her fear of bears or her little children stop her. She took to hiring teenage girls from Quebec to stay with the family as general help, and as someone who could watch the children while she accompanied Dave. I will admit that leaving very young children with a teenager for days on end in the middle of nowhere is something I can’t understand at all.
Life in the woods is not for sissies or romantic dreamers. It takes a lot of skill and knowledge – usually the kind of hard-earned knowledge passed down from one generation to the next. Annette shares a lot of this, much more than either Louise Dickinson Rich or Helen Hamlin. She goes into detail about things like snowshoes, sugaring, fishing and hunting, and putting up food and cooking. There is a recipe for beaver tail.
Like Helen Hamlin, Annette writes about the difficult and dangerous patrols game wardens make. Dave Jackson was known to march poachers he caught 30 miles or more through the snow to the nearest judge. He also came home one day with a bullet hole in his hat. Dave’s larger-than-life reputation was such that Helen Hamlin wrote about him in Nine Mile Pond.
Many Allagash woodsmen and a few game wardens were called upon to lead search and rescue parties into East Lake. One of the scouts was David Jackson, game warden for the Inland Fish and Game Department. He knows that country as well as he does the palm of his hand. He has cruised the woods all his life, and he is the best canoeman in the state of Maine. My hat goes off to Dave when I hear the often-repeated tales of his running Devil’s Elbow on a spring freshet, or how he bluffed two backwoods Canadian poachers into disarming when they had the drop on him and were holding off with a rifle…
Even today, no one can run Big Black Rapids as easily as Dave can at all heights of water, and no one can travel in the woods as quickly and easily as he can, with only matches and a sheath knife.
Knowing that you can see why Annette would write: Later on when our son Robert was only eight he learned to maneuver his canoe and outboard down these rapids in a way which made Dave as proud as a peacock and me as frightened as a hen.
Dave was transferred further north when their oldest child was school age. They all went to live in Allagash Plantation with Dave’s family. Annette and the children took a seaplane from Churchill lake.
Forty-five minutes later we landed in the middle of the St. John river, about half a mile from the house I was to live in. With our three children, a suitcase, and a bundle of blankets, I stood on the shore for a few minutes not knowing which way to go. I looked up over the high, snow-rimmed banks of the river that I would have to climb. Suddenly I noticed two boys on top of the bank. Out of curiosity they had come to see why the plane had landed. I waved to them, making signs for them to come to my rescue. With much hardship we climbed the steep, slippery bank of the river, carrying the children who were then beginning to feel the cold of an early spring day. We hiked across three hundred yards of open field to the main highway and thence down a quarter of a mile of paved road to our new home.
Annette’s writing perfectly expresses who she is: a calm, extremely competent and earnest woman, happy with very simple things; someone who loves her family and the woods. She writes: I always feel that friendly rambling conversation at the end of a busy day is one of the nicest things life has to offer, and that’s exactly what she gives us in her book. (Although, unlike the other two books I’ve written about, after reading Annette’s stories I am only inclined to marvel, not head for the woods.)