I’m what many Mainers might call a “whippersnapper”. Born in 1988, I’m now edging up to my 28th birthday. I’m a full grown woman, but in Maine — which in 2014, had a population with the median age of 44, the oldest in the country — I’m still considered to be fairly young, and I may as well enjoy it while it lasts.
A lot has changed. Today in Maine, new outdoor activities such as stand up paddle board yoga are gaining traction. New land trust properties and public trails are popping up all over the landscape. Farmland quickly reverts back to forest. Ticks, which weren’t a problem just 10 years ago, have spread throughout the state. And bald eagles, which nearly went extinct in the state, have returned to our rivers, lakes and islands at full strength.
But some things about Maine’s outdoor culture has remained the same for decades, and it’s no surprise. Maine is home to traditions and age-old ways that have survived the test of time and give this big, forested state a little extra character. Of course, I’m a proud Mainer, so I’m biased. I’ve got a serious case of “my state is better than yours,” and I’m not afraid to admit it.
I find that knowing something about the history of Maine’s great outdoors makes me even more proud to be a part of that culture today. So it was a real treat when I was recently presented with a 1937 copy of “In the Maine Woods,” a magazine published by the Bangor and Aroostook Railroad sporadically from 1899 to 1957. Retired Maine forester and BDN reader Bob Gammons handed me the well-worn publication at the recent Brewer Cabin Fever Reliever, and he told me I could borrow it.
The magazine was everything I hoped it would be and more. Stories included in its 128 pages include advice on taking a canoe trip on the Allagash River, information about registered Maine guides, a profile on Moosehead Lake, two accounts of hiking Katahdin (one in the fall, one in the winter), a clever poem about the outdoor attractions of Piscataquis County and much more.
As I read through the old magazine, I kept coming across things that made me marvel at how different things were then… and how similar.
People then communicated by telegraph, took the new steam-powered train to Moosehead and could purchase a handcrafted canoe for just $75. That’s hard for me to imagine. On the other hand, I don’t have trouble imagining a hike up Katahdin’s Hunt or Cathedral trails or being humbled by the difficulty of the trek. The hiking accounts of 1937 are much like the hiking accounts I write today. (Well, their trail snacks and clothing may have been a bit different.)
Anyway, before I give Mr. Gammons back his copy of “In the Maine Woods,” I thought I’d share a few things I learned in its pages that I found particularly interesting:
- The Maine legislature passed a bill in 1897 requiring hunting guides to register with the state, but it wasn’t until 1933 that the guides got together and established the Maine Guides’ Association. Five years later, the 1937 edition of “In the Maine Woods” includes several black-and-white photos of Maine guides working in the woods that year. And this is of note: five of six are wearing a plaid, button-up shirts. Some things just don’t change. And I’m glad. Gotta love plaid.
- Another thing about the Maine registered guide — don’t use his or her axe without asking, and don’t paddle ahead of him or her on river rapids. That was true in 1937, and it’s true today.
- Back in the ’30s, Maine outdoorsmen used all sorts of ingredients to concoct their favorite “fly dope,” according to Chief Henry Red Eagle, who wrote a story in the magazine with the title “Canoe Camping Around the Allagash.” The fly dope usually had a base of citronella and often included pennyroyal, tar, terebene, ichtheyol, carbolic, camphor and “countless other substances,” diluted with castor, olive and sweet oil, vaseline or lanolin. “What is a relief to one, may be poisonous to another,” Chief Henry Red Eagle wrote.
- In the magazine, Aroostook County is said to be 4,129,920 acres, and in 1937, about 900,000 of those acres are given to farming, and about half of that acreage is devoted to potato crop. The County had about 6,500 farms, each with an average of about 135 acres. In contrast, the 2012 Census of Agriculture states that Aroostook County was home to 895 farms in 2012, with an average size of 392 acres. The amount of land devoted to farming in Aroostook then was 350,911 acres.
- Old Dan Burns, a hunter, trapper and guide in northern Maine for more than 40 years, once said, “No man can call himself a real dye-in-the-wool woodsman unless he gets lost at least twice every year, ” according to a story written by Henry Miilliken. I like that quote. I don’t know anything about Dan Burns, but one day I’ll probably thank him when his words make me feel a little less foolish after taking the wrong trail.
It’s time to give Mr. Gammons back his magazine, but I’ll be looking for more issues of “In the Maine Woods” next time I’m at an antique shop or browsing eBay. It sure was a great read.