Walking with Thoreau. We trod the Maine woods.

Thoreau Park. Greenville, Maine. Photo Credit: Will Pennington

I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately…
and not, when I came to die, discover I had not lived.
Henry David Thoreau. “Walden.” 1854.

Huffing and puffing, my legs and lungs burning, the summit of Big Moose Mountain slipped away at last beneath my feet. I rested for a moment to catch my breath while Yoshi, his nose to the ground, ran hither and thither chasing the scents of whatever tiny mammals, elves, fairies, and pixies had scurried away at our approach. I filled his water dish and fed him a treat, then turned to take in the panoramic object of my long hike.

Immediately, my chest swelled and tears filled my eyes, and I could barely refrain from sobbing out loud. Overcome with emotion, I cried out, “Oh, God. Thank you for the incredible wonder spread before me. Thank you for showing me the beauty of your wondrous creation.”

Moosehead Lake from Big Moose Mountain, Greenville, Maine. Thoreau referenced then-called Big Squaw Mountain in “The Maine Woods.”
Photo Credit: Will Pennington

My head in the clouds, I scanned the horizon beyond the tops of the pine trees carpeting the mountainside and the virid landscape as far as sight could carry me. Lakes dotted the view surrounding my mountaintop, reflecting the sun’s bright rays like flashes of lightning and giving the appearance of oases in a sea of green foliage. Rivers and streams glistened as they wound through the forest, ribbons of water feeding the soil and changing patiently the face of the earth as they had done for millions of years.

Time is but the stream I go a-fishing in. I drink at it; but while I drink I see the sandy bottom and detect how shallow it is. Its thin current slides away, but eternity remains.
Thoreau. Walden.

Yoshi enjoying the view of Lucky Pond. Moosehead Lake, Maine. Photo Credit: Will Pennington

Birds flitted about me chirping songs of praise as I smiled at their joyful noise. A whisper of wind ruffled their feathers and carried them aloft to a viewpoint I yearned to attain. I turned slowly in a circle, taking in the mountains near and far spanning east from the coast and into New Hampshire and Canada, naming those I knew as I wished I knew the others. Dozens I had hiked in the many years of my life spent wandering the forests of Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont.

Likely Thoreau’s first glimpse of Moosehead Lake. Indian Hill, Greenville, Maine. Photo Credit: Will Pennington

But Maine. Oh, Maine. Dear to Thoreau and his pen. I devoured his words as they nourished my hunger to explore his footsteps and oar strokes.

Thoreau loved the primitiveness of the Maine woods. That’s what attracts me: the primitive feel of a land lost in time. Though peopled in greater numbers and logged until only a very few stands of ancient old growth forest remain — their locations protected with deep secrecy, the land retains its shroud of mystery and adventure, danger in its wildness, the call of its vast remoteness. Moose roam the land, and deer, black bear, bobcat, fox, coyote. Native caribou, eastern cougar, and wolf are long gone while attempts to reintroduce several species have failed. Rivers and streams abound with fish and otter, offering endless opportunities for fly-fishing, otter-watching, kayaking and canoeing.

Number Four Mountain. Moosehead Lake, Maine. Our last hike together, Yoshi and me, was here. Credit: Will Pennington

The call of Thoreau’s spirit lives on and beckons my own spirit to join his. Every year I journey to Maine to meditate in the wildness of the North Woods. No step is not without purpose, no trail not walked without an end in sight, no night’s refreshing, restoring sleep without dreams of tomorrow’s adventures. I wake each morning eager to lace hiking boots and follow Thoreau wherever he takes me. I take the wonderful with the ugly.

Logging roads crisscross the region and logging trucks lumber along heavily laden with treasure bound for mill and construction site. They have the right of way, naturally, and don’t apologize for the dust raised in their wakes or for the errant rock flung into a windshield — or a forehead. I wave to the drivers and they always wave back.

Logging Road. Not much room to pull over! Photo Credit: Will Pennington

But logging roads are best avoided by the hiker; they smack of the civilization and destruction we flee every year even while recognizing their necessity to the safety and comfort of people like us. They existed, albeit in a slightly different form, when Thoreau ventured through. He had something to say about the cutting down of the forest:

The mission of men there seems to be, like so many busy demons,
to drive the forest all out of the country.
Thoreau. The Maine Woods.

I find great joy walking in the footsteps of Henry David. His appreciation for nature inspires me. His pen moves mine with the same desire to express the intense emotion that connecting with Mother Earth causes to well up within my chest. When I walk in the Maine woods, I’m walking in the footsteps of ancient others who walked there. Our reasons for walking there may differ, but our appreciation of the experience must be much the same. Their presence is with me and I feel them and am with them.

Hiking around Spencer Pond. Moosehead Lake, Maine. Photo Credit: Will Pennington

I’m reluctant to leave signs of my presence behind as I move on. But my presence remains as does the presence of every soul who passes through the forest. It enters the mind of those open to receiving it and tells them that “I was here. Think of me as I think of those who walked here before me. Think of me as others will think of and remember you.” No one dies who lives in the mind of others who remember.

The Maine forest remains primeval in my mind though I know it has changed from the primeval the first hiker knew. It will be changed the next time I walk under its canopy even while it remains primeval in my thoughts.

Atop Big Moose Mountain. Cell phone reception is excellent…. America’s first Fire-spotting Tower was located here. Photo Credit: Will Pennington

There is no artifice in the forest, no cleverness, no argument, no envy or greed. There is no cruelty in the forest. The forest is beauty, joy, love, calmness, inspiration, worship. I worship the God that gave us the forest and give thanks each time I visit and each time I leave. And I thank Henry David Thoreau whose words of love for the forest are imprinted on my soul.

Talk of mysteries! — Think of our life in nature, — daily to be shown matter, to come in contact with it, — rocks, trees, wind on our cheeks! the solid earth! the actual world! the common sense! Contact! Contact! Who are we? where are we?
Thoreau. The Maine Woods

Walk on! Walk on! Photo Credit: Will Pennington

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