I sit at the computer here at night with a window open behind me. It was rather strange last night, as I finished my last drink and closed the laptop to get ready to go to sleep, suddenly the smell of woodsmoke on the air came gently wafting in the window, and the poem below literally popped into my head, and I sat back and wrote it down before I forgot it..I changed a couple of words this morning, but it is almost verbatim.
I sit inside this wooded night
Surrounded by the bright starlight
Watching as smoke gently curls
And into the wooded night unfurls
The starlight gleams, in fact, it seems
That fall is at the door.
Winter whispers in the crisp air
Of summer dying without a care
The leaves though green have lost their glow
As the sun sinks lower and drops below
The river steams and taunts me so
It speaks of sooner flying snow
My shadow it lengthens on the Trail
As the scent of dying leaves inhale
Fall indeed is nigh
Striding into the starlit sky
And I sit inside this wooded night
With the smoke lifting high into the stark starlight.
I gently slid my hand over the photograph and stood in awe as I looked around, excited to be in the same building as my Great Uncle Felix Fernald had been during the romantic era of the Maine Northwoods Lumbermen. Ok, he was actually a time-keeper there, but to my young imagination he was a river runner, riding down the rivers on the log drives of the spring and living the high life of a Maine woodsman and he had worked in the very building I was now standing in.
I was on a Boy Scout canoeing and camping trip,it was my first time exploring the North Woods of Maine, and we were at Seboomook High Adventure Base at Pittston Farm which is now a motel, restaurant and camping area. But back then, it was my gateway to the Maine woods, and as we paddled down the west branch of the Penobscot River and went over Roll dam in just a lifejacket, the lure of Northern Maine was born in me, and that week we explored the river I was a river driver on the spring freshet.
Going over Roll Dam - West Branch Penobscot
I have explored a lot of Northern Maine since that day, and one of the things I have always enjoyed is looking for bits of it’s history, especially it’s logging history. I was fascinated with the locomotives and the tramway on the Allagash River and I especially enjoyed reading about the hermit on Chesuncook Lake, which I wrote about in The Chesuncook Lake Gun. Northern Maine is timeless history…it is the same as it always was.
What images does Northern Maine conjure up for you? Maine has always been a state of rough wilderness with people known for their self reliance, individuality, ruggedness, and a sense of independence. People come here to experience the rougher end of wilderness living. The adventures people have in Maine are chronicled in countless books and magazines. A wilderness experience is what Northern Maine is all about, and that experience for most includes some sort of “traditional use”.
When it comes to the people of Maine, you hear the words “traditional use” a lot. But what does traditional use really mean? For me, it has it’s origins from an unwritten Wilderness code of ethics among early woodsmen which basically stated that – my cabin is unlocked. Should you find yourself in need of it for the night, please use it. Replace the firewood that you use. Leave food if you can, and leave it in as good or better condition than you found it. Those were the beginnings of traditional use. And to some extent it still exists today. It’s funny, when I bought property in Greenbush, there were 9 lots that were for sale, about 40 acres each. Within a short amount of time, 7 lots had no trespassing signs on them, and two did not. Guess which lots were purchased by Mainers. My property there will, as long as I live, remain unposted, and it made me happy a few years ago to hear a brace of beagles in the cedar bog on the lower end of the property chasing a rabbit. Also, Maine still has the rather unique rule that if property is not posted, then a person has the right to access it, unless asked to leave by the landowner. Folks not from here sometimes have a problem grasping that. Traditional use also means access for hunting, fishing,trapping, and in later years snowmobiling.
The paper companies including Great Northern understood the woodsman rules and traditional access and left there land open to it. You could do pretty much whatever you wanted, as long as you stayed out of the way of the logging trucks. I have a picture somewhere of me standing under the trailer of one of the Great Northern tandem wood haulers on the Golden Road – truly a leviathan of the woods.
Lately I fear for Maine and the changes that people are trying to make here to further their own agendas. Maine has been dividing for some time across North and South boundaries….and the phrase The Two Maines is more meaningful than ever. So, if you are reading this from a place south of Bangor, and have never visited Northern Maine I challenge you to take a road trip – Visit the Allagash and St John – take the woods roads from Portage to Madawaska and see for yourself the vastness of the region. Find out for yourself that it is open for everyone to use, whether you are a hunter, or a cross country skiier.
One of the changes that has been proposed off and on since the 193o’s is a Northern Maine National Park. Northern Maine doesn’t need a National Park – why? Because they already HAVE one – it’s called The North Maine Woods Inc. Imagine! Landowners working together to allow traditional access and traditional use – biking, hiking, skiing, hunting, ITS snowmobile trails, leases for your very own cabin, fishing, trapping, or just hanging out doing what you want. THAT my friend is Democracy at it’s finest. Landowners working together for the greater good of everybody. Reasonable fees, maintained roads, boat launches. It’s almost a utopia. And it WORKS. If you haven’t been, you should visit before you ever make a decision in your mind about a National Park there. Speaking of which, think about it -would you really want the increased regulation, increased law enforcement, and closure of traditional use and access?? Why would anybody want to change to that??
The latest person to want to change that is Roxanne Quimby, who has proposed a National Park on her property abutting Baxter State Park, which most people feel, as do I, should she be successful it will be a toe hold for the 3.2 million acre park that Restore has proposed. Roxanne herself describes the approximately 60,000 acre parcel as a “seed”. And yes, I at one time sported the bumper sticker that said Restore Boston – Leave Our Maine Way of Life Alone! I think those stickers should, and probably will be making a comeback here shortly.
And, I have a little secret to share with you that most people do not know about Baxter – One of the reasons Governor Percival Baxter created Baxter State Park was to STOP IT FROM BECOMING A NATIONAL PARK. Governor Baxter had the vision to know back in the 30’s that a National Park in that region was not the right thing to do. Baxter Park is for the people of Maine. And, if you are from Maine it is FREE TO ACCESS!! Camping of course is a small fee per night. I think I would be waiting a long time at the Acadia National Park tollbooth arguing that I should get in for free because I’m local.
And you know, I probably wouldn’t have a problem if Roxanne donated her parcel to Baxter Park – in fact, I would urge her to consider it if she is intent on preserving her piece of property. Baxter is self sufficient, they do not take money from the state. And guess what – Baxter State Park understands Traditonal Use. That’s right, you are allowed to hunt in the north end of the Park. Personally, I could live with the changes that giving her parcel of land to Baxter would bring, and I would urge Roxanne to consider it, but she won’t because her goal is the 3.2 million acre National Park.
Why? To use her words; “I feel like my reason for being put on this earth will have been fulfilled because this ( a National Park in Maine) will live on after me. A park is a demonstration that there is something in America that I can love.”
That is why she wants a National Park – to be famous and to be remembered. Another George Dorr if you will. She wants a legacy which sadly will only be the division and turmoil that she has brought to the people of Maine with this issue, whether she succeeds or not.
Further – I find it extremely ironic that, to use her words, “To me, ownership and private property were the beginning of the end in this country. Once the Europeans came in, drawing lines and dividing things up, things started getting exploited and over-consumed. But a park takes away the whole issue of ownership. It’s off the table; we all own it and we all share it. It’s so democratic.”
Seriously??? No really… Seriously??? From where I’m sitting, the North Maine Woods is open to me any time I want to visit, and to do whatever I want to do by a group of landowners working together..in DEMOCRACY. The only person I see dividing lines, dividing things up, and closing access is Roxanne herself. You can see what some of her property closure looks like here, And a lot more information regarding Roxanne here.
A National Park in no way takes away the issue of ownership. It means the Federal government owns it. The Federal Government that can’t run any program successfully, that is mired in debt, and can’t even balance a budget. That’s who you want owning more land in Maine? I surely don’t.
Briefly, here are the reasons I think that another National Park in Maine is a ludicrous idea;
-first and foremost, traditional uses would be eliminated. Snowmobiling alone added 300 million + in sales tax revenue to the state. From the Bangor Daily News 11/23/11;
Bob Meyers, executive director of the Maine Snowmobile Association, said snowmobiling in Maine is a $300 million to $350 million business responsible for 23,000 jobs statewide.
That doesn’t include the tax figures on hunting supplies and income from other traditional access. Any income generated by a National Park will go out of state to the Feds, just like in Acadia.
– The tax base. Putting that land into the hands of the Feds means taxes are going to go up for Piscataquis county, and more counties if the larger National Park is successful.
– Lost Economy from the woods industry. Personally I don’t believe Millinocket is down and out yet. In the current economy we’re all suffering, and I think an interested buyer will eventually get the mills up there running again, and profitable. (Note that since first writing this post, someone has bought the mills and put them back in operation). To use the statistics from the Maine Woods Coalition website;
Maine Department of Conservation Commissioner Ron Lovaglio stated at the Maine Woods Conservation Easement Forum that the wood products extracted from the 3.2 million acres of forestland in the Maine North Woods adds approximately $986,000,000 to the Maine economy each year through wages and sales of products and services. According to the Maine Office of Tourism, the typical overnight visitor to our region spends $85/day. To make up for the loss of productivity of locking up 3.2 million acres of forestland, a National Park would have to bring 11.6 million ADDITIONAL tourists to the region. Nothing the woods industry has ever done would have a greater impact to the rural character of Piscataquis County (population roughly 17,000) than such an increase in tourism. Commissioner Lovaglio wondered aloud how big the tollbooth would have to be in Kittery. In Greenville, we wonder how big the mound of trash will be each day at the rest area just outside of Town).
And I wonder how on earth you would get that many tourists to come to the region. Acadia attracts only 3 million per year and is one of the top visited Parks in the Nation. And lets face it, in the area Roxanne has proposed, what exactly is there that a tourist may want to see? I’ve lived a stone’s throw from Acadia National Park for most of my life, and it’s ACADIA – there are the carriage roads, vistas, Cadillac Mountain, Thunder Hole, lobsters, Bar Harbor…the tourist draw list for the region is endless. Acadia would be an attraction for tourists whether there was a Park here on not. Bar Harbor would be successful just like Camden or Rockland because of what we have here. Baxter is successful because of it’s uniqueness too – Katahdin of course being the biggest draw and the other unique mountains. What does Roxanne’s property, a working forest, have to offer that anyone would want to come see? People come there to hunt, fish and snowmobile…and use as timberland. Which a National Park would stop. In addition, Baxter Park and The Allagash have been showing a decline in users for some time now. A National Park isn’t going to stop that trend when there is nothing unusual or unique. There is certainly nothing there to compete with Baxter or Acadia.
And lets face it – any jobs brought to the area will be seasonal, just like they are here in Acadia. There are plenty of people here that struggle in the winter. Hence the old Bar Harbor joke – I landed here a number of years ago and never made enough money to leave.
In addition – the State Legislature has adopted a resolution against a feasibility study;
JOINT RESOLUTION MEMORIALIZING THE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES, THE UNITED STATES SECRETARY OF THE INTERIOR AND THE UNITED STATES CONGRESS TO OPPOSE THE CREATION OF A NATIONAL PARK IN MAINE’S NORTH WOODS
WE, your Memorialists, the Members of the One Hundred and Twenty-fifth Legislature of the State of Maine now assembled in the First Regular Session, most respectfully present and petition the President of the United States, the United States Secretary of the Interior and the United States Congress as follows: WHEREAS, Maine residents and visitors enjoy the privilege of using large tracts of private land in the north woods for recreational uses such as snowmobiling, hunting, hiking, fishing, bird watching and other activities; and WHEREAS, the future of that private land is of great importance to the people of Maine and their outdoor heritage; and WHEREAS, the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife and many of the large landowners have entered or are entering into cooperative wildlife management agreements that ensure the future of deer yards and other critical wildlife habitat in the north woods; and WHEREAS, state agencies, private landowners and nonprofit organizations are cooperating in an unprecedented effort to secure permanent rights of access to the north woods and keep valuable recreational property and natural habitat undeveloped through conservation easements; and WHEREAS, federal ownership or control of the north woods would create many problems including limitations on timber supply to the forest products industry, reduced recreational access and loss of local and state control of these areas; now, therefore, be it RESOLVED: That We, your Memorialists, oppose the creation of a national park in Maine’s north woods and request that the President of the United States and Secretary of the Interior Kenneth Salazar deny requests to conduct a feasibility study concerning establishing a national park in Maine’s north woods; and be it further RESOLVED: That suitable copies of this resolution, duly authenticated by the Secretary of State, be transmitted to the Honorable Barack H. Obama, President of the United States, to the Secretary of the Interior, Kenneth Salazar, to the President of the United States Senate, to the Speaker of the United States House of Representatives and to each Member of the Maine Congressional Delegation.
And the Millinocket Town council has weighed in as well;
WHEREAS, Maine’s working forest has been the major economic force in northern Maine for over 400 years and is Maine’s leading industry; and,
WHEREAS, the creation of a national park in this part of the State would effectively eliminate a large portion of the forest products industry, cause a major collapse of the area’s economic base, and force the relocation of thousands of people needing new employment; and,
WHEREAS, Baxter State Park was created by former Governor Percival Baxter in part to thwart efforts in the 1930s to develop a national park in the area and his park has served this area well without the undue intrusion a national park and its regulations would cause; and,
WHEREAS, there are no outstanding characteristics or unique attractions outside Baxter to justify creation of a national park here; and,
WHEREAS, the private ownership of land and the public use of land is a Maine tradition and way of life worthy of preserving; and,
WHEREAS, the vast majority of people in this area clearly do not support such a national park;
NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED, that the Millinocket Town Council officially re-affirms the Town’s opposition to the creation of a new national park in northern Maine, and,
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the Millinocket Town Council requests the Governor of Maine to affirm and the Members of the Maine Congressional Delegation to re-affirm their opposition to such a national park.
In my mind no means no. But this issue is not going to go away you can be sure of that, and outside interests along with outside money will be here soon to champion it.
There is a lot to the National Park proposal story that you may not have thought about – educate yourself – please. Join or at least investigate the Maine Woods Coalition – look at their links page. Think about who has made statements against a National Park and why – what are their motivations? What is Roxanne’s motivation? Why wouldn’t she consider giving the land to Baxter? Who do you think really has Maine’s best interest at heart? Certainly Governor Baxter did.
Sign up for Dont fence me in. Read about Percival Baxter’s wild and free vision and realize he had the vision to know a National Park was a bad idea. Support the idea that those who close access to their property should pay higher taxes. Don’t fall for a narcissists’ agenda, or the minions that have. Look at Roxanne’s past actions including taking her business and jobs out of state. We can and will weather this, just as we as Mainers, have since the 30’s. Seriously think about it, and think about who has Maine’s best interest in mind.
Update 11/9/11 – I’m not sure how much clearer it can get than this;
EAST MILLINOCKET, Maine — Voters overwhelmingly opposed a National Park Service feasibility study of Roxanne Quimby’s proposed 70,000-acre national park, voting 513-132 against the idea in unofficial totals compiled late Tuesday, Town Clerk Erica Ingalls said.
A recent Facebook posting reminded me of one of the quirks of small town living – everybody knowing your business, or even worse, everyone thinking they know your business. Recently graduated from college and working in my first job, I was living in Seal Harbor, where I had spent summers as a kid. My parents, being some 400 miles away, were probably worried that everything was going ok with the new job and responsibilities, and then one night on the phone, from 400 miles away my Dad told me how many beers I had drank the night before. I was taken aback because the number was correct, but I didn’t let on that he was right. I figured it was just a guess, and he happened to be correct..that is..until the next time I talked to him on the phone, and he again gave me the correct figure for the previous nights beer consumption. This time I had to let out a “how do you know?”, to which of course the response was something like “I just do.” So, at this point, I knew that somehow he was getting the information from somewhere…the question was where? This was before the technology age of today, so it wasn’t like there were real time web- cams set up somewhere. Could it be the grocery store? Someone really paying attention could deduce how often I bought beer and in what quantity and do the math…but it seemed a little far fetched that that was happening. So, I did a little test, and one time I drank less than usual, and one time I drank more than usual, and sure enough, Dad knew the figure. Then one night when I was opening the refridgerator door, it came to me. There was a garage across the street, which was now just a paint shop for a local paint contractor. Rather than sit at home at night, he would sit there and listen to old radio shows while smoking and drinking. I looked over that night and saw him sitting there and it came to me – I always had the light in the kitchen off at night, so when I opened the door to the fridge, it was bright enough to catch his attention across the street, and he was counting the beers by the number of times the fridge light came on after the kitchen light went off for the night. Feeling proud of myself, I opened the fridge door 35 times that night, and the beer counts stopped coming in to my Dad…we all knew the jig was up.
Shortly after starting my new job that year, a rumor came back to me that I had a wife and kids back in CT…really? I wondered where on earth that one had come from. I almost bought a picture frame at Wal Mart – the kind that has the picture already in it for display – one with kids in it.. to display at my desk for a joke and say that was my family back in CT. That’s why I think it’s sometimes worse when people don’t know your business – because they will just make something up on there own. Anytime someone new shows up in a small place, the people around them will speculate and wonder about you. The years I was building camp in Greenbush I would often go into one of the very local diners to eat lunch. The kind where you get a second look when you walk in, and I asked my Dad once when we walked in there what he supposed the people around us were speculating, because I’m sure they were coming up with something.
It’s one of those things that is part of small town living, and something that can drive you crazy if you let it ..Personally I like to have fun with it, like opening the fridge 35 times that night. Feel free to send along any small town stories you have.
“Get Down! Quickly! ” she said as a hand on my shoulder gently but forcefully pushed me down behind a rockpile. “The neighbors are coming out the front door” she whispered as we waited. Shortly thereafter we heard a car door shut, engine start, and leave the driveway. The woman, some 50 years my senior stood back up first, and motioned me back up once she knew that the coast was clear. “We certainly don’t need the neighbors to know that we are doing this she said, as we continued on the property line. We were marking the boundaries, with an antiquated map, some boy scout compass skills, and a can of green spray paint. We did it every year as a ritual..taking out the map, compass, and paint..double checking the bearings and markings and repainting the blazes from the year before, as her father had always done, and taught her to do. I find it somewhat comforting to have adopted the same practice myself in Greenbush..annually walking the property line and reflagging what needs to be fixed so that the line is stark and clear for all to see.
When I first became a more permanent fixture in Maine shortly after college, I was hungry for money. Although I was working full time, in the summertime I quickly adopted the Maine way of making some extra money in the summertime, as my grandfather had done, the only difference being he didn’t have the benefit of a check in the winter as I did. During the summer months I was a jack of all trades picking up painting jobs, light carpentry jobs, lawn mowing, clay tennis court maintenance and whatever else came across my path. Jobs usually came along by word of mouth, and I first heard of Mrs Smith* around the summer of ’93 through a close friend. Although that summer was already particularly busy, I was told all she really wanted was someone a few hours a week to do things like mowing and weeding and the like, so I agreed to meet her. At first blush she seemed very nice, particular, and perhaps slightly eccentric, and we agreed that I would be there promptly at 9am on Sundays to do what she wanted. She was a summer resident, and only for several weeks during the summer, and the house was a massive leviathan. I was always intimidated walking to the front door – we never had a plan for what I would be doing, rather I was supposed to come to the front door and wait for her, and she would explain to me what she wanted done upon my arrival. It was always hard outside of such a big house to get her attention to let her know I was there. In fact, the first year I worked for her, I never really saw the inside of the house. Most of my chores were mowing the grass in the center of the circular driveway and endlessly washing the outside of the windows that faced the ocean. She also oddly wanted me to pull the grass that grew through, around, and under the conifers surrounding the property…she would not have it mowed, or cut, or trimmed..it had to be pulled by hand. She always paid me in cash when I left, the bills folded neatly into a square. As time, and summers, went on we began talking more, and she would always mention her husband at least once during my once a week 3 hour schedule. One summer, I finally got a tour of the house and I noticed his name etched on a shipping container for expensive paintings, and I inquired about him to discover that he had passed back in the late 1960’s. At the time I was floored, but maintained my composure – she always spoke of him in the present tense, as if he would be coming through the door from a business trip at any moment. The house was amazing, and huge, and had received lots of maintenance and upkeep, but had not had any renovating since it was built. Huge hearths were there for heating, and the guest “wing” was actually an old servants quarters, and each room had an archaic paging system consisting of a bell that could be rung from the kitchen, or other places in the house, and was still in working condition. In the picture at the top of the post you can see the bell on the upper right that would have been used for general summons. I mentioned to her once that I had been doing a lot of painting, and she hired me on for some paint jobs after she would leave for the summer, even though she had a regular painter..she split the work between us. I painted that servant hallway one fall, and it was just amazing to feel the history of that house envelop you – to hear it’s creaks and groans, and imagine a different time and era of hustling servants, and contracts that required that one would only be fed lobster once a week back before it was considered the delicacy it is today. Over time, we confided in each other more about things, and there were some days where we would just talk for my weekly time. When her daughter came to visit with her fiancee she mentioned that she didn’t think that the suitor liked her very much – when I inquired why she said she had asked him how he intended to provide for her daughter, and we both got a great laugh out of that.
I can’t remember what the reason was now, but one summer I did not return to work for her, and I haven’t been back since then. I heard that she inquired of my parents recently how and what I was doing, so I’m glad to know that she is still coming to the island. The house still sits and stares at the ocean, and I’m sure she still speaks of her husband as if he is simply away for a while, but will be back soon…. some 43 years after he left for the last time. I would say that is true love.
* Smith is a fictitious name to protect the privacy of the person in this story.