Maine has a lot of writers, and a lot of them write about how beautiful it is here.
It would be reasonable to ask why, or whether, the world really needs another book with advice on bug repellent, reservations for camping in Baxter State Park and the odds of seeing a moose on Moosehead Lake.
But the new book “Return to Moose River: In Search of the Spirit of the Great North Woods” has a major advantage: it was written by Earl Brechlin, founder and former editor of the Mount Desert Islander. He knows his way around the woods and waters of Maine and wove together as fine a collection of campfire tales as you’re likely to find.
Brechlin wrote the book in a year of early mornings while he was still working at the paper, from a study in his home on what he likes to call “the low-rent side of McFarland’s Hill” on Eagle Lake Road in Bar Harbor.
The reader can imagine the twinkle in Brechlin’s eye as the veteran newsman and Maine guide shared thoughts on history (“the lumber barons who owned the stumpage rights in that area bristled at having to pay duty on those logs to Canadians”), outhouses (“How did our Paleolithic ancestors know what to do for eons without benefit of such authoritative references?”), and, yes, “bug dope.”
But the book has a powerful through line, too. It’s a moving tribute to Brechlin’s late twin brother, Carl.
“On that very first Moose trip,” he wrote of wilderness adventures with his brother, “we discovered how special it was to spend time with each other away from the artificial pressures that inexorably expand to preoccupy modern life.
“It was also more comfortable to paddle side by side in the wilds, far from the inevitable stares and whispers that naturally follow from people surprised at seeing two big men with beards who look exactly like each other.”
Brechlin’s book draws a contrast between his own more risk-averse “What if” approach to life and Carl’s “Why not?” preference for jumping in with both feet.
“He doesn’t take foolish risks. But he doesn’t let anyone, or anything, intimidate him.”
The twins also, of course, have a great deal in common. Some of the book’s descriptions of Carl could just as easily describe the author himself.
“Carl’s organizational skills and innate confidence … are always a comfort … . He does not suffer fools gladly. But he is always looking for an angle, and he is an expert at distilling down the fundamentals of any situation.”
Carl Brechlin died during a Moose River Camping Club trip on the Potomac River in 2008. A blood clot that likely formed in his leg on the long drive is believed to have reached his brain while the group was floating on inner tubes down the river.
Brechlin included details of this harrowing scene that belie his decades of experience covering similar accidents and rescues in Acadia.
“It takes eight of us to lift him into a wire stokes litter for the carry up the steep embankment along the former canal. The trail is narrow, and people on both sides thrash through the thick vegetation. It’s ironic, I think, that in evacuating someone on a trail like this, the only good footing is under the litter, where no one actually steps.”
There’s even room for a rueful chuckle as he pointed out that “the lush, knee-deep greenery we’re crashing through in shorts and sandals is poison ivy.”
Brechlin said that at first, life without Carl was disorienting. Even the light is different, he said, the day after a loved one dies. But he’s found comfort in returning to their favorite places and in the songs and soaring of a few particular birds that seem to carry messages from his brother.
The family decided to scatter Carl’s ashes in the Moose River back in Maine, though most of his immediate family lives in Connecticut, because “those who seek the essence and spirits of the wild will never paddle alone.”
“Nothing, too, about a river remains fixed and unyielding,” Brechlin wrote. “Permanence alone resides in the ceaseless flow — always there, always moving, the rhythm of April flood and August drought — an ageless and unbroken cycle. Channels shift, banks erode, landmarks disappear. Ghosts of Indians, explorers, loggers, farmers, campers, paddlers, the very water itself, call to anxious spirits not yet ready to move on, ‘Follow me.’”
Brechlin to bring ‘Moose River’ to Jesup
BAR HARBOR — Earl Brechlin will launch his new book, “Return to Moose River,” with an author talk and book signing at the Jesup Memorial Library on Thursday, June 7, at 7 p.m.
For more than 40 years, Brechlin has taken to the woods and the rivers of the Great North Woods of Maine, exploring Baxter State Park, the East Branch of the Penobscot and the Appalachian Trail. In his new book, “Return to Moose River: In Search of the Spirit of the Great North Woods,” he explored the wonders, history and traditions of this special part of Maine.
In this series of interconnected essays, Brechlin recounted the annual canoe trips to the North Maine Woods he has made with a small group of friends, the Moose River Boys, closing with the death of his twin brother and the group’s last trip to spread his brother’s ashes in the place he loved best. Brechlin also explored the spiritual connection that many have with the natural world, while weaving in tidbits of history, woods lore and advice.
Brechlin is the communications director at Friends of Acadia, where he is the editor of FOA’s print and online publications. He has been writing and taking photographs on Mount Desert Island and in other Maine locales for more than 35 years. A registered Maine guide, he is the author of Maine and New England history books. He served as editor of the Bar Harbor Times, the MDI editor of The Ellsworth American and was the founding editor of the award-winning Mount Desert Islander. For a time, he owned and operated a bookstore dedicated to Maine writers. He and his wife, Roxie, a retired kindergarten teacher, live on the edge of Acadia National Park in Bar Harbor. Visit earlbrechlin.com.
Books will be on sale that night courtesy of Sherman’s Books. Contact the Jesup at 288-4245 or [email protected].