Hello again, dear reader! I’m back again with another Thoreau themed blog, this time about his second trip into our Maine woods. Tuck in with a comfy blanket and a cup of tea and enjoy the mental journey!
The second excursion that Thoreau took into our beautiful Moosehead Lake Region followed the now Thoreau-Wabanaki Trail that roughly parallels Route 15. Again, he traveled with his Uncle George, but with two different guides than his previous trip. They were two Penobscot guides, Joseph Attean and Sabattis Solomon. The goal for this trip was for Uncle George to shoot himself a moose.
They took a steamer across the lake, which Thoreau viewed as “suitably wild” and whose island were covered in “shaggy spruce”. If you’re not from this area, we still have a steam ship that operates on our waters, the Katahdin. It’s used for tourist trips now, but originally had been used for the logging business.
Thoreau climbed Mount Kineo, which he described as the “principal feature of the lake” and gave descriptions on the rhyolite that is found there, which is fairly well known within the archaeological community of New England. Later, when camping just off Moosehead Lake, Thoreau encountered the will-o-the-wisp, and phosphorescent glow that is produced by rotting wood. Thoreau commented that the wood was “choke-full” of spirits. Now-a-days, if I saw that and didn’t know that interesting tidbit about rotting wood, I’d think I had stumbled into a horror movie. Luckily, Thoreau had knowledgable guides and hadn’t been exposed to many Guillermo del Toro movies.
They eventually reached North East Carry which is located at the top of Moosehead Lake, but couldn’t distinguish really between Moosehead Lake and West Branch once they moved onto the Penobscot. They camped on an island now known as Thoreau Island and began looking for Uncle George’s moose. However, the area was over hunted so they moved on, continuing down West Branch in their 19 foot canoe, known as a “birch,” which was carrying almost 600 pounds of luggage. They looked all over but couldn’t seem to find a moose for Uncle George. They tried up Lobster Stream, but only found freshwater lobster, which I’m assuming are crayfish. So, they went back to West Branch and continued on.
Once they traveled a little further, Thoreau began to notice the trails along the water that were well worn and frequented by moose. Moose, who he call “great frightened rabbits.” Now, dear reader, I don’t know if you’ve ever encountered a moose, but that’s a fairly accurate description. They’re big, they spook easy, have big floppy ears, and move fast. But, Uncle George got his moose! Thoreau described the skinning of the moose in fairly horrific detail, talking about the “still warm and palpitating body.” Despite the tragic tones of his description, they dined on it that night at Pine Falls, which has since been back-flowed and no longer exists.
On Chesuncook lake, Thoreau noted that there was nary an island. Back then, what is now known as Gero Island was only a peninsula and was only formed with the creation of Ripogenous Dam and the back flow of the lake. He stopped at a farm and remarked that it was the crude beginnings of a small town. This marked the final stop along Thoreau’s 1853 journey.
Thoreau is a poet, as can be seen with the quotes that are sprinkled through this whole blog. And he was also a romantic. He commented many times that his Penobscot guides were a link to the past of our country, but lamented that they seemed to be modern people. Even remarking about how one of them was whistling a contemporary song such as O, Susanna. But he did acknowledge that they were a living tradition. He also commented that a poet is who truly understands the forest and makes the “truest use of the pine.”
As ever, dear reader, I invite you to come visit our amazing region, and see all of this beauty and majesty for yourself. I promise you will not be disappointed.