It’s a fair question to ask: Why would a group of relative strangers set off on a 250-mile, 16-day canoe trip through the heart of the Maine Woods eight days after “ice out” and right at the start of the infamous black fly season?
The short answer is to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the publication of Henry David Thoreau’s classic collection of essays, The Maine Woods, and promote the outstanding recreational opportunities available in the Maine Woods today.
But there’s so much more to the answer. If you asked the actual participants in the 150th Anniversary Thoreau-Wabanaki tour, you’d get a range of personal answers that I think would generally fall into these categories:
For the Thoreau scholars and historians, it was an opportunity to personally see and to feel the places and experiences that informed and inspired one of America’s great philosophers whose writing about nature and wilderness has inspired so many and helped set the stage for the modern conservation movement.
For the Penobscot Indian cultural guides, it was an opportunity to experience the ancient travel routes of their ancestors and to highlight the central—and often overlooked—role played by Penobscot guides Joe Attean and Joe Polis, who made Thoreau’s experience of the Maine Woods possible and shaped his ideas about nature, wilderness and Native Americans.
For those of us who organized the trip as part of Maine Woods Discovery, it was a chance to highlight the Maine Woods as a destination for deep, immersive guided experiences on a vast forest landscape remarkably unchanged from Thoreau’s time – and to encourage others to come and experience the quality of service, amenities and recreational opportunities this region has to offer.
While much has changed since Thoreau traveled in the Maine Woods, much more has stayed the same. The long history of private ownership and management of the forest, combined with extraordinary public-private conservation efforts, has sustained this region as the largest intact forest landscape in the eastern United States. We are still fortunate to enjoy public access to millions of acres of privately owned forestland.
And the Maine Woods is still a big place – a place where you can lose yourself in deep evergreen forests and the sounds of songbirds, where you can challenge your body against steep mountains and roiling rivers, where you can, as Thoreau wrote, “think of our life in nature!”
Because it’s such a big and diverse place, local guides and outfitters are still an important part of the best quality experiences – as they were on our recent adventure which was led by Mahoosuc Guide Service and New England Outdoor Center.
When Thoreau came to Maine, the first thing he did before setting off into the woods was secure a local guide to help him find his way.
While each trip was different, in each case it was the guide who enabled Thoreau to navigate the wildness of the Maine Woods. It was the guide who helped to plan details of the trip, selected the best campsites and prepared the food. It was the guide who made sure he traveled safely across the big lakes and through the rapids on the rivers. It was the guide who filled Thoreau’s mind and imagination with the stories, legends and traditions of the people who experienced the Maine Woods before him.
As Americans become more and more disconnected from the natural world, the Maine Woods offers a rare opportunity for reconnection and immersion with nature. And Maine Woods Discovery is here to help people find top quality service and amenities, and their own best experience of this vast forest landscape – whether that means challenging themselves to a week-long canoe trip, quietly tracking and watching wildlife, fishing, hunting, running class five rapids or relaxing on a screened porch watching the sun set over a reflecting lake.
In the end, we took on that 250 mile canoe expedition because we know the Maine Woods is a special place and because we think more people should, as Thoreau himself wrote, “travel the logger’s path and the Indian’s trail, to drink at some new and more bracing fountain of the Muses far in the recesses of the wilderness.”