“These legends and these men are true and alive, and are known throughout the big woods north of Katahdin. They are men of the forest, and they smell of woodsmoke, fly dope, hard work, tall mountains and pine spills. Given a junk of salt pork, some dry beans and flour, any of these men can live off the forest, the rivers and the lakes. If now and again they come by a jug of Hernando’s Fiery Dagger rum, life offers no greater mead or fulfillment, and at such times their cup runneth over. They are enormous in word, physique and escapade. They write their sonnets with an axe, and they eat meat by rule of their rifles. Their honesty, except when speaking, is sound as a ledge. They cannot be pushed, led, wheeled, fooled, cajoled, driven or profitably jailed.”
I am a longtime collector of the stories and books about the woods life in Maine. Many of these are first-person memoirs of a life lived deep in the woods and close to the land. But there also a few stories that, while maybe based on real characters, were told as fiction. One of my favorite authors in this genre is Edmund Ware Smith, whose stories of the celebrated one-eyed poacher have entertained me since the first time I read them. This passage is from the first chapter, titled “The Merry Men Of Maine”, from his book “The One Eyed Poacher And The Maine Woods.” I have taken the liberty of rearranging some of the text to shorten it, but it is his description of the woodsmen he knew who lived in the woods of northern Maine.
The photo is from a cold night on the Boreal Snowshoe Expedition a few years back. We were cuddled up close to the fire, cooking our shins while our backs nearly froze, after a long day of snowshoeing, hauling sleds and swinging axes.