The idea of time travel has long captivated the imagination, resulting in a multitude of works in literature and film—from the novel, “The Time Machine” by H.G. Wells, to the more recent Hollywood production, “Interstellar.” Yet it was a book of non-fiction published a century and a half ago that held the secrets of not only transcending time but of planting one’s boots firmly in its primordial ground, of slipping one’s hand gently into its timeless waters.
At least that was the case for a recent group of travelers to the wilds of Maine. The book that contained the secrets of their teleportation? “The Maine Woods” by writer, philosopher, naturalist and time travel buff, Henry David Thoreau. And what better way to honor and celebrate the 150th anniversary of the publication of Thoreau’s accounting of his three forays into the Maine woods than to recreate the path and the experience of his third and final venture.
As a publication, “The Maine Woods” stands shoulder to shoulder with “Walden” as the embodiment of the philosophy, vision and life’s work of Henry David Thoreau. All the elements of Thoreau’s unique perspective on the natural world and humanity’s place within it are abundantly present in the book’s collected essays. However, new elements appeared as well, as the wilds of Maine provided Thoreau with places and people—and insights into both—that pushed his mind and kindled his spirit.
Thoreau’s introduction to the Penobscot Tribe and in particular the guides for his second and third trips, Joseph Attean and Joe Polis, gave Thoreau a new perspective on America’s Native peoples. It also granted him access to experiences that would not have been possible without the knowledge, skills and resourcefulness of the Penobscot Guides.
Among the seminal experiences during Thoreau’s Maine excursions were his epiphany on the power and purity of nature during his climb of Mount Katahdin, the highest peak in Maine; and, of course, his 1857 canoe voyage with Joe Polis which, unknown to him, would be revisited in a thrilling, challenging and, ultimately, richly rewarding experience more than a century and a half later.