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The Maine Atlas and Gazetteer

A well-known legend in Maine speaks of a classic book whose contents can lead you to near infinite treasures, endless discovery, and uncover untold secrets and singular experiences.

It's available in many places for about twenty bucks.

Called The Maine Atlas and Gazetteer, it's a cherished badge of a true Mainer, a book that maps out Maine over a comprehensive 96 pages. It has both prevented people from getting lost and encouraged the thought of getting lost all at the same time. It's pervasive in Maine's culture. No hunter, fisherman, adventurer or traveler can live without it. As one Mainer called it by its alternative title, “The Maine Adventure Dream Planning Book.”

You'll know the Gazetteer when you see it; the tattered, coffee stained tome strewn across backseats and trunks; the rolled up stack of torn pages tucked into a motorcycle's saddlebag. The beat up, taped-together volume in the back of a road-worn pickup truck. People are known to have numerous copies, one for each vehicle and one for the house. It's a book awaiting winter exploration for the plotting out of the next spring or summer road trip.

There are, of course, the brand new, pristine, unblemished copies looking for a willing traveling companion.

But recently, the prospect of brand new printed Gazetteers was put in jeopardy. GPS giant Garmin purchased the company that produces the Gazetteer, Delorme. Mainers panicked. The Gazetteer was rumored to be on life support. The thought of potentially losing this universally lauded book inspired Troy R. Bennett, banjoist and songwriter to write an ode to the Gazetteer. It seems that, while the book is full of boundaries, the passion for the book knows none. In his song “Keep Your Hands Off My Gazetteer,” Troy sings,

I don't care how many satellites are whizzing ‘round in space
All them high-tech gizmos can never take its place
It's a thing that shows us just who and where we are
And it's waiting for adventure in the back of every car

Keep your hands off my Gazetteer
Keep your hands off my Gazetteer
Ain't no doubt about it, I'd be lost without it
Keep your Hands off my Gazetteer

To Troy's and thousands of others' good fortune, Garmin announced that they would continue to produce the book. While this was a victory for the Gazetteer and its loyal readers, it was a resounding victory for something else: the nearly unending and thrilling desire to explore Maine. To fully understand this, it's important to note the true nature of the book.

GPS devices and mobile phones are an important evolution of the map world and they perform a simple task: To get you from point A to point B. But it is not often enough that we take the time to appreciate and experience all that's around us, to see the details that don't fit into the small screen of a phone or GPS. The GPS-world focuses mostly on points A and B.

The Gazetteer offers a larger picture, a view of the world we navigate in (approximately) 16“ by 11” format; one that includes your route, your location and the topographical nature of where you happen to be and where you want to go. It's a book that invites exploration through the curiosity of your surroundings, harboring random left turns and unplanned stops. Because let's face it, between point A and point B there are an infinite amount of points that can offer a remarkable discovery. With the book, no algorithm chooses your route, you do.

In other words, the Gazetteer transcends the idea of a basic map, especially in Maine. It does not simply offer up locations, it offers up perspective. Real life is in that book. It's about the journey, not the destination. Trails, waterways, highways and logging roads are merely conduits to what awaits in Maine for all who traverse within state lines. It's a Maine icon.

So if you find yourself in Maine, do what a Mainer would do: Get out your Gazetteer and explore. It's always right next to you, and needs no satellite or data plan – only your unbridled desire to find what you're looking for – and discover so many things you weren't.

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