A View Untouched by Time


“This was that Earth of which we have heard, made out of Chaos and Old Night. Here was no man's garden,
but the unhandselled globe. It was not lawn, nor pasture, nor mead, nor woodland, nor lea, nor arable, 
nor waste-land. It was the fresh and natural surface of the planet Earth, as it was made forever and ever,
— to be the dwelling of man, we say, — so Nature made it, and man may use it if he can.” —Henry David Thoreau – “The Maine Woods”

Chapter No. 1

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.

As many as 45 people participated in parts of the 16-day expedition organized by Maine Woods Discovery
and known officially as the Thoreau-Wabanaki 150th Anniversary Tour.

A core group of eight team members completed the entire voyage, among them Thoreau scholars, members of the Penobscot Nation and the expedition’s intrepid leader—Maine Master Guide Kevin Slater. This core group would paddle approximately 300 miles through waters both peaceful and pounding in retracing the original route of Thoreau’s voyage.

The team embarked from Indian Island, then travelled the full length of Moosehead Lake, continuing—after a two-mile portage—to the Penobscot River’s West Branch. In time, they would ply the waters and rapids of the Allagash Waterway and Webster Stream, reaching Grand Lake Matagamon and the Penobscot’s East Branch before beginning the return trip to Indian Island via the main length of the Penobscot.

Deep Respect for the Rapids

That was the outer journey. The inward version was every bit as engaging and was rooted in the daily sharing of historical and cultural information among the team members. Each night, after the evening meal, the group would read selected passages from “The Maine Woods” and discuss Thoreau’s words as they related to their own observations and experiences. A highlight on special evenings was the singing of traditional Penobscot songs, led by the hauntingly beautiful voice of Chris Sockalexis, Tribal Historic Preservation Officer for the Penobscot Nation.

And, of course, all that occurred before each member of the expedition had a chance to quietly reflect or meditate on the day, the night and, especially, the privilege of experiencing the pristine and majestic beauty of Maine in a way that was virtually unchanged from the time of Thoreau.

These same experiences of a natural world untouched by time await all future visitors to the wilds of Maine. Whether you’re looking to retrace the routes of Thoreau yourself with an expert guide, or chart your own course for adventure—camping, canoeing, river rafting, fishing, hunting or just plain being—the Maine woods would love to share some of its secrets and all of its beauty with you.

Yes, you really can transcend time here. Now as far as the time machine thing? Well, most cars have been known to get folks to the starting gate just fine. From there, the experience will be uniquely yours. As it was for Henry David Thoreau. As it was for the members of the Thoreau-Wabanaki 150th Anniversary Tour. And as it will be, as far as the scholars and storytellers can see, for ever.

Chapter No. 1