Monday, December 29, 2014

A Maine Gazetteer: Wilderness

But enough of the practical, the political. There are reasons far beyond these to preserve the wilderness, and they can address the troubling chasm in our lives: between reality and intent, between compromise and purity, between living responsibly and living fanatically – the old problem of the gap between works and faith. How do I justify my cars, my houses, my consumption of carbon? Even if I try to distill and reduce my way of life a bit, I still out-burn almost everyone on earth. How do we live in a world so obviously destructive?
I won’t go so far as to say the future of our species is at stake. If we do manage to exterminate ourselves, the end will come from apocalypse, nuclear or religious, not these relatively (in geologic scale) gradual insults to our planet. Barring apocalypse, humans will adapt and survive. I believe the science-fiction writers, even the dystopian dyspeptics, who make a point of showing ala Star Trek that we’re human in spite of the gadgets, the aliens and the shiny, impervious surfaces that may indeed one day cover every inch of Earth. We will suffer and survive.
But our adaptation, both as a species and as individuals, could be so much more rewarding if we just look into and value our beautiful natural world. It might even change the course of our burning. One must always hope.
Just look at what a strange life we have, to live so differently from nature (which we praise) and so similar to it (which we deny). I sit in a living room or an office, and the walls are man-made barriers, and the carpeting is an artificial cocoon, and I’m either trapped, or protected, you choose. I choose to believe that I’m more trapped than protected, and I choose the trees outside the windows, their branches reaching into imagination, to bridge the gap between heaven and earth,.
      And that is what national parks represent to me – imagination. Not for nothing are they called “America’s Best Idea.” The reality of a wilderness should be enough, but for many, perhaps most, people it is far away, frightening, even boring and irrelevant to the business of being a cultured, social being. Yet I believe that everyone should have or even needs the chance to explore the beauty of wilderness. I agree with Thoreau when he said, “You cannot have a deep sympathy with both man and nature.”  I also know that this is a radical view, unsuitable for the majority. But even if most people will not or do not need to explore nature, I submit that the idea of wilderness is just as important as its reality, even for the most determinedly urban of persons. To know that some wild land survives, even though one has never seen it, connects us to something greater than ourselves, in the way religion used to. An immersion in wilderness, even if it’s just a reverie in a diner, allows us the peace of mind to accept death.

Excerpted from Saving Maine: A Personal Gazetteer

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Thursday, December 18, 2014

A Maine Gazetteer: The Great North Woods

It is in these Great North Woods, the third part of northern Maine, the last undeveloped and unprotected land east of the Rockies, the famous 10 million acres, that the fantasist can find his true heaven. Not necessarily physically find it, but ideally, spiritually. I’ve done somewhat more than most people to explore the woods: driving the Stud Mill, Golden and Greenville logging roads; hiking a bit in Baxter State Park; driving Route 201 through The Forks and Jackman to Quebec. I’ve done somewhat more than most to channel Thoreau: following the Penobscot River, and its East and West Branches, (by car) for a while; climbing Mt. Kineo in Moosehead Lake; touching on Ambajejus and Chesuncook Lakes. But I’ve done nothing about the real wilderness: fishing camps accessible only by seaplane; canoe trips on the rivers that flow north, the Allagash and the St. John; interviews with loggers in the deep woods; moose hunts; being completely alone. It may not be necessary. The knowledge that the Great North Woods still exists, remote and inaccessible and untouched and in a natural state of growth and decay, life and death, without human intervention; the satisfaction that I’ve experienced just enough of it; the hope that it survives for others to experience just enough; all that is sufficient to inspire ordinary life, in Maine or in Manhattan.

Excerpted from Saving Maine: A Personal Gazetteer
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Thursday, December 11, 2014

A Maine Gazetteer: The County

If the Down East coast is the tourist’s true heaven, then the St. John River Valley is a Mainer’s true heaven. Route 1, well-paved and maintained, allows comfortable access to the County. The great, rolling farms provide a reasonable income but hardly lavish. The fields are backed up by deep forests with plenty of game. The rivers and lakes provide fish and beauty. The distance from Massachusetts and New York prevents masses of tourists, and those that do come appreciate a simple waterfall, the sweep of potato and broccoli fields in browns and greens, the forthrightness of the houses perched on hilltops sans trees. Thousands of miles of snowmobile trails give purpose to winter. The French Acadian culture evokes a simpler way of life. It’s a place where people are both friendly and fiercely independent. Basically, as an innkeeper told us, it’s Canada. Some days I think there’s a lot to be said for emigration.

Excerpted from Saving Maine: A Personal Gazetteer
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