Time to start putting together your summer reading list, and NRCM members can help! Featured here are books published by our members covering a range of genres, from essay and memoir to poetry and fiction. There are also a few field guides to help you better understand—and find!—the nature of Maine. If you’re an author of a book about Maine or related to environmental issues, you are welcome to send them along for consideration for next year’s Explore Maine. —Allison Childs Wells, Editor
Up for Grabs! Timber Pirates, Lumber Barons, and the Battle Over Maine’s Public Lands, by Thomas Urquhart (Down East Books, 2021) In this fascinating account of Maine’s public lands, Thomas Urquhart provides history, intrigue, drama, and triumph in a way that has not been told before. Many of us have known about the pioneering journalism in the 1970s by Portland Press Herald reporter Bob Cummings, who revealed how Maine’s timber companies had quietly asserted control over 400,000 acres of lands (public lots) that had been reserved for public use. Urquhart traces the journey of these lands back to the 1700s and brings the story up to the present day. This is important history because the reserved lands that ultimately were returned to State ownership are among Maine’s most treasured public lands—they include the Bigelow Preserve, Deboullie, Nahmakanta, and Tumbledown. The book describes the central role that Assistant Attorney General Lee Schepps played in documenting Maine’s rights to the public lots; it also highlights the key roles of Attorney General Jon Lund, Governor Ken Curtis, former State Senator Harry Richardson, and many more.
Ultimately this is a book about the ability of people and organizations to achieve positive change, a story that is repeated over and over in terms of environmental protection in Maine. As Urquhart notes near the end, “The Public Reserved Lands story illustrates ways in which change can be brought about when the right people get together to take advantage of a situation and push the envelope without tearing it.” We know it has been a labor of love for Urquhart to produce this book over the past five years of research and writing. We thank him for his scholarship and devotion to producing a story that deserved to be told, in all its tangled, twisting, and detailed history.—Pete Didisheim, Senior Director of Advocacy
Birds of Maine, by Peter Vickery, with Charles Duncan, William Sheehan, and Jeffrey Wells, Illustrated by Lars Jonsson and Barry Van Dusen (Princeton University Press, 2020) Birds of Maine is the lifework of fellow birder and conservationist Peter Vickery, who passed away in 2017. Vickery’s legacy is not only the first authoritative overview of Maine’s rich and changing birdlife since 1949, but is arguably the most comprehensive and visually stunning state-based bird book ever published. One of its most striking features is the artwork by Lars Jonsson, perhaps the world’s preeminent bird artist; Jonsson’s depiction of the Whimbrel among the vibrant blues in a blueberry barren captures the spectacular beauty of a Downeast landscape (though it’s equally hard to turn the page after seeing his male Spruce Grouse in a thick, northern forest tangle). There are colorful maps and intriguing short essays spotlighting Maine’s special places and unique ornithological history. Diagnosed with a terminal illness, Peter assembled a small team of Maine’s top ornithologists as co-authors to complete the project, and Peter’s wife and life partner, Barbara Vickery, was the co-managing editor, keeping this breath-taking project on track to completion. The book quickly sold out of its first print run; anyone having to wait for the second printing knows it is well worth it. —Allison Wells, Senior Director of Public Affairs & Communications
Chickens, Gin, and a Maine Friendship, the Correspondence of E.B. White & Edmund Ware Smith (Down East Books, 2020) E.B. White’s legacy as a writer is legendary, and so was his love for Maine. Perhaps it’s no surprise, then, that his family supported our work. This new book is a compilation of letters between White and his friend Edmund Ware Smith, a prolific writer and an editor for the Ford Times (Ford Motor Company) who lived in Damariscotta and spent time at his camp near Katahdin. The correspondence showcases the mutually respectful banter between the two men from 1956 until Smith’s death in 1967. As a birder, I was delighted by White’s observations of avifauna, sharing observations of “a Great Blue Heron with a rat in its bill” and noting “A pileated woodpecker stopped by here yesterday morning…” The two men share a fondness for other birds as well: chickens. Hen-rearing advice is dispensed to Smith in quintessential White style: “I bought this place because it had a good anchorage for a boat. One day I noticed it had a barn. Now I don’t even have a boat.” Smith keeps up with White pretty well: “I worked hard throughout my entire schedule of hours for the industry…reading the L.L Bean and Farmall Tractor catalogs thoroughly.” The letters themselves are gems, but inclusive of two well-known works by White make the collection all the more a must-read.—AW
Stories of Aroostook: The Best of Echoes Magazine, by Kathryn Olmstead (Islandport Press, 2020) Kathy Olmstead published Echoes for nearly 30 years with Gordon Hammond. The magazine celebrated life in “The County” for readers across Maine and beyond. In Stories of Aroostook, Kathy selects some of the best stories, written by residents and featuring the rural life that is now an echo of times gone by. The stories pulsate with life, describing youngsters picking potatoes, women cleaning house, teaching taking place in old schoolhouses, the “connective” houses that kept people and stock animals warm in the winter, car trips into the big town of Presque Isle, skiing across legendary piles of snow, the Potato Blossom Festival in Fort Fairfield, and the all-star basketball team from Patten. I wish I could meet these writers and congratulate them on their keen power of observation and thank them for their memories. At least, I can thank Kathy for taking the time to record this history of small town America.—Lisa Pohlmann, CEO
Beyond Acadia: Exploring the Bold Coast of Down East Maine, by Rich Bard (Down East Books, 2019) Since moving to Maine, I have been wanting to take a trip with our family to explore the Bold Coast, so it was with great interest that I picked up Beyond Acadia by Richard Bard, the former executive director of the Downeast Coastal Conservancy. Like most guides, this book is organized by topics but the breadth struck me as providing something applicable to people of all interests, ranging from outdoor activities like hiking and paddling, to scenic destinations and other activities. To help orient the reader, Bard starts the book with some helpful background information into the history and places that make up the Bold Coast. The tips and information Bard provides are infused with his personal experience and years of exploring the region, which really helps to give a sense of what to expect. He has included some wonderful photos to inspire you to begin your trip! —Colin Durrant, Media Relations & Advocacy Communications Director
Katahdin Woods & Waters National Monument, by Eric E. Hendrickson (The History Press, 2020) Unlike your typical history book, the 164-page Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument is a quick read, offering tons of well-researched tidbits of knowledge and old photos. Hendrickson promises history on forestry and conservation efforts in Maine’s Katahdin region but delivers much more than that, including information on Maine’s ecosystems and geology. Katahdin features prominently early on, and through Hendrickson’s descriptions I enjoyed picturing what Baxter State Park and the National Monument looked like not so long ago. On forestry, he covers everything from tools of the trade to living conditions (including logging camp cooking!) and the process by which timber got to the mill back in the day. The fortitude of early loggers is remarkable. I’ll also forever be impressed by the foresight of Percival Baxter and the perseverance of the Quimby family in conserving two significant tracts of public land in the North Woods, which the book touches on. This is a great book for the Maine history buff and public lands lover in you. As a heads up, though, it’s important to know that the book’s purpose doesn’t include sharing the perspective or experience of tribes who have long inhabited modern day Maine. Regardless, I’d recommend packing it on your next multi-day outdoor trip.—Melanie Sturm, Forests & Wildlife Director
The Puffin Plan: Restoring Seabirds to Egg Rock and Beyond, by Stephen W. Kress and Derrick Z. Jackson (Tumblehome Books, 2020) Steve Kress came to Maine to teach at the famous Hog Island Audubon Camp in Bremen in 1969 and has been working to restore and manage seabird populations in the state ever since. It’s ironic that we first met Steve, not here in Maine, but 500 miles away in landlocked Ithaca, New York, when we were students at Cornell University! Despite having known Steve for years and knowing well the story of his work, we were totally enamored with this latest book. In a delightful style that makes the reader feel as though they are having a conversation with Steve himself, the book recounts the fascinating details of the journey that eventually made Eastern Egg Rock the site of the world’s first successful seabird restoration project. Along the way Steve and his team had many ups and downs, and they pioneered new techniques now used around the world to restore and manage seabird populations. We loved the tales of how the tools and techniques were used to bring back murres to a sea stack off the California coast, help endangered Short-tailed Albatrosses on a Japanese island, relocate Caspian Terns to a safer island in the Pacific Northwest, and manage African Penguins in South Africa. A chapter on how climate change is impacting the Gulf of Maine—and the puffins—is engrossing as well as alarming, but Steve ends on a positive note, explaining why he has hope for puffins and other seabirds. We heartily recommend this wonderful book for bird lovers, nature enthusiasts, and lovers of the Maine coast.—Jeff and Allison Wells, NRCM’s “Birding with Jeff and Allison” bloggers
Dead by Dawn, by Paul Doiron (Minotaur Books, 2021) I always look forward to reading Paul Doiron’s latest book, but after reading Dead by Dawn my initial reaction is WOW! I think I had an adrenaline rush as I was turning the pages of this latest one. The alternate chapter technique that Doiron used to describe Mike Bowditch’s current predicament and the hours that led up to it heightened the drama and suspense for me. Usually Bowditch is saving someone else, but here he has to save himself. I wasn’t sure he was going to be able to do that. As always, the attention to detail in describing the experience of hypothermia, various types of firearms, and the characters was stunning. Most of the characters were the unsavory type of which Maine has its fair share, I am sure. After finishing this book, the thought that came to mind was, “Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.” Just read Dead at Dawn and I think you’ll agree.—Betty Hartley, NRCM member, Brunswick
Glass Eels, Shattered Sea by Charlene D’Avanzo (Maine Authors Publishing, 2020) Being a newcomer to Maine, I was excited to get to read this book! I only recently learned of the elvers industry here and was deeply intrigued by what a fictional view of both the industry and its challenges would be. Glass Eels, Shattered Sea is the fourth book in a series that tackles a different environmental issue in Maine with each installment. Don’t worry about not reading previous installments, because Charlene makes it easy to know, understand, and root for the main protagonist. This novel uses all the hallmarks of what you’d expect from a mystery and suspense tale, but it successfully weaves in education along with the fun, which I felt was well executed. You’ll close the back cover satisfied with the story and knowing you’re leaving with more information that you came in with, and a deep desire to get to know Maine more.—Veronica Scofield, Membership Manager
Looking Back: New and Selected Poems, by Diane Schetky (Just Write Books, 2021) While we mourn many different losses this year, Diane Schetky’s new collection of verse, Looking Back, offers a glimmer of joy. The colorful and engaging collection includes some autobiographical poems and others centered on observations and interactions with nature. Experiencing the world through Diane’s eyes is a treat. Her reverence for all that nature displays is palpable, and her personal poems on aging, mentors, and loss are witty and real. In my personal favorite from the collection, “Composting as Seen by the Vegetables,” Diane tells the story of compost from a perspective I had never stopped to consider. This vivid and funny tale has stuck with me. Any reader is sure to find something to their liking in Diane’s work.—Fiona Gordon, Leadership Giving Director
Living Every Season: Photographs and Musings, by Wendy Weiger (Achor Earth Ways Publications, 2020) “The ice is running” means something special to someone who grew up on the banks of a river. It represents a culture, passed from generation to generation, that holds
people together forever. Whether it’s logging or farming or fishing, people whose culture is rooted in nature have a confidence that home will always be there, no matter where they go in life. The ice runs every spring. (p. 110) That passage perfectly encapsulates the observations and connectedness highlighted in Living Every Season. This book is a lovely, short read and celebrates the beauty of nature in all four seasons in Maine. It reminds me again of how many years (42) that I, too, have been warmly embraced by the nature of Maine in all its forms. I love the four seasons here—even the harsh winters and short summers—and Weiger’s book is a reminder of why. There is simply no better place to be if you love being out in the natural world. I suggest this book for anyone who likes to keep good photography and gentle words about nature nearby.—LP
Finding Faeries in the Woods at Wolfe’s Neck Park, by Laura Lander (Booklocker.com, 2019) As someone with a background in child development and who has spent a lot of time at Wolfe’s Neck State Park, I was excited to read this book. The first page starts, “I went for a walk one misty, magical day in the woods by Casco Bay.” Those words, along with the vibrant blues and greens of the illustration, will capture a child’s attention immediately. As you read further and pause to let your child’s eyes scan the uniquely illustrated trees, you will find many opportunities to engage with them, looking for faeries and their home entrances. I really appreciate that this book describes the mysterious openings at the base of each tree as “faerie houses” without actually encouraging the building of faerie houses. The feature is the natural forest without adding human-made constructs, even out of nature-based materials. Its bright colors and easy-to-digest language would be a great read before heading out to Wolfe’s Neck or any local woods. I can imagine children excitedly looking for these types of trees and “faerie entrances” as you walk through any beautifully forested area. A great way to spark imagination and create engaging conversations on your adventure!—Beth Comeau, Communications Manager
Nature Notes from Maine, by Ed Robinson (Brynmorgen Press, 2018) A playful book, Nature Notes from Maine is a joy for anyone with a curiosity for Maine’s natural features and wildlife. Robinson strikes a balance between natural classification and personal anecdote. From discussions of Bald Eagles and moose to apple trees and ostrich ferns, he introduces the reader to a tasteful cocktail of natural Maine. I found his descriptions to be ludic and tranquil. For instance, he writes, “Ancient mariners told wonderful tales about seeing mermaids near distant shores, no doubt because of long voyages, poor nutrition, sparse female companionship and too much rum. It often turned out that those mermaids with lovely dark eyes, long lashes and haunting gazes were harbor seals.” His passion for nature carries throughout the pages, which in turn made me all the more intrigued. For those who have experienced Maine wildlife firsthand, Robinson’s stories and descriptions are relatable and will likely trigger personal memories of your own. Those who wish to learn more about nature in Maine will be in good hands as well. His stories, ecosystem descriptions, animal behavior run downs, and fun facts source his book’s saturated educational component. Nature Notes from Maine will surely supplement an appreciation for the wild side of Maine.—Henry Morjikian, Public Affairs & Communications Intern
How To Cook a Moose, a Culinary Memoir, by Kate Christensen (Islandport Press, 2015) My family and friends would find it amusing that I wanted to read a book focused on cooking and culinary experiences. When going to family parties, I am often asked to bring napkins or drinks. I do not enjoy cooking, but in this book, I enjoyed reading about cooking and the Portland food scene. This book begins with the story of how the author arrived in Maine after growing up in Arizona. She describes time spent living in New York City and quickly moves on to how she arrived in New England and ends up living in Portland in an old home in need of renovation. Along with stories about her life—including a very relatable tale of going to get her driver’s license once she moved to New England—she shares recipes (I may even try to make one or two—the Harissa Haddock sounds delicious!) and stories of Portland and its people. I especially enjoyed reading about her time volunteering at a soup kitchen at the Florence House. She writes knowledgeably and fondly of very “Maine” foods like bean hole beans, potatoes, blueberries, and more, including their history and best ways to prepare them. As a Mainer born and raised, I enjoyed this book and the author’s clear love for her now-home state.—BC
True North: Finding the Essence of Aroostook, by Kathryn Olmstead (Islandport Press, 2020) My heart was singing and my head was nodding as I read True North. It was great to become more familiar with the author’s life through her stories. Olmstead is a long-time NRCM member and currently an NRCM board member, and I’ve enjoyed getting to know her. Both of us are Midwestern transplants, true “flatlanders,” but we have both been in Maine since the 1970s. Her stories of life close to the land and stars, wild animal encounters, cultural events, caring
neighbors, and a naturally sustainable attitude toward life represent the kind of rural living we both chose in coming and staying here. I have had the good fortune to know several folks from Aroostook County over my years in public service, and these colleagues have always been kind, soft-spoken, a little stand-off-ish (compared to the Midwestern hugging I am used to), but are always willing to help out a neighbor. I applaud Kathy’s stamina as a writer and as a northern Mainer. I highly recommend this enjoyable read to anyone who wants to understand a little more about why they are attracted to being in Maine and continue to find their way here.—LP
Parrot of the Sea: (a Puffin), by Pat Lammers (Self, 2016) Reviewed by Ford Lakeman, Age 6, Grade 1
“I don’t have a favorite part. But I like the first half more than the second half. The second half has kissing. I don’t like kissing because I am a boy. I would maybe read this book again. I read it to my little brother, he is 4. He said he liked it. He would read it again. He likes kissing.”
Explore More Online: Columns & Blogs
A Bird’s Tale NRCM’s bird experts Allison Wells and her husband Jeff, authors of Maine’s Favorite Birds, write a weekly column in the Boothbay Register. Check out their “Birding with Jeff and Allison” blog at NRCM’s Nature of Maine blog, too!
Book of Days Poet and naturalist Kristen Lindquist finds poetry in the every day.
Nature of Maine Visit NRCM’s blog regularly to read the latest from staff members and guest writers.
ScootersMaine If you have a scooter and love Maine, check out John Neal’s travel blog chronicling scooter and RV trips throughout Maine, New England, and Atlantic Canada.
Walk (Vicariously) with Wendy From December 2020 to May 2021, Wendy was deep in the Maine woods. Read about the adventures, joys, and challenges of remote, off-the-grid living at her backwoods home.