JOHN GOULD still chuckles about the "Exhibition of Art" sign he would plant along the road beside his home in this Midcoast fishing village during the summer tourist season.
"People would come boiling in here thinking they were going to see Wyeth, I guess," Gould recalls. "Then, on the barn, there would be a sign that said, 'Today is Art's Day Off.' They'd drive out of here in high dudgeon."
With a thick crop of white hair setting off a wispy remnant of his trademark Vandyke, Gould remains as whimsical as his weekly columns that have entertained readers of this newspaper for more than half a century.
Gould shows no sign of slowing down. His latest book, "Maine's Golden Road" (W.W. Norton, $21) recounts the week-long sojourns that he and his daughter's father-in-law made to northern Maine for 30 years. (See review, page 16.)
Grandparents-to-be who decided they should try to get to know each other better, Gould and Brooklyn-born Bill Dornbusch entered a world accessible only by private logging roads. From their base at Caucomogomac Lake, they journeyed among moose, loons, bald eagles, and salmon - not to mention the pesky black flies.
The book, named for the 92-mile road built by Great Northern Paper Co. in the 1950s, recalls naturalist Henry David Thoreau's visits to the region a century earlier. Gould's memoir affectionately describes his and Dornbusch's encounters with colorful characters who populated the logging camps, backwoods stores, and checkpoints along the Quebec border.
The grandfathers' visits were timed for mid-July, and one of the highlights was their annual Bastille Day observance that drew woodsmen and wardens to the lakeside camp dubbed the Caucomogomac Dam Institute of Fine and Coarse Art.
The two saw plenty of changes in the region over three decades. Mechanical harvesters supplanted woodsmen with chain saws and skidders while the expanding network of logging roads opened the area to hordes of recreation-minded vacationers.
The author takes a gentle swipe at environmentalists who decry clear-cutting and warn about the need to preserve the Maine Woods for future generations. To Gould, that is a task best left to Great Northern Paper, a company he credits with wisely managing the forests to ensure their renewal for nearly a century.
"They're the best people to take care of it. They're professional foresters," he says. "They're the ones who really know that if they ever do lose their wood, they're out of business."
"Maine's Golden Road" is Gould's 29th book, which likely makes him Maine's most prolific contemporary author, aside from Stephen King. Though Gould doesn't approach the best-selling horror writer in terms of readership, he has a loyal following.
"We have people calling the publicity department quite often just to see when his next book will come out," says Kate Malroney, a publicist at W.W. Norton. "That really doesn't happen with too many of our other authors." Norton does not divulge sales figures, she says, but Gould's books are steady sellers that do best in the Northeast.
With most of his books now out of print, a secondary market has developed to serve Gould fans seeking to complete their collections.
"Some of the earlier books have really become quite hard to find," says Marti Reed, owner of the Personal Book Shop in Thomaston, Maine, and a close friend of the author. It's not unusual for copies to fetch $100 or more, she says.
Although he is most often described as a humorist, the curmudgeonly Gould takes umbrage at that description. He's less uncomfortable with folklorist or storyteller, and prefers being known simply as a newspaper writer.
A BOSTON native, Gould moved to Freeport, Maine, at age 10 and started writing for the Brunswick Record in high school. After graduating from Bowdoin College in Brunswick, he wrote for other newspapers around the country and sent taped commentaries to Canada for airing on the CBC.
He and his wife, Dorothy, who have been married more than 60 years, raised their two children at their farm in Lisbon Falls, the town where Gould founded and edited a weekly newspaper, The Enterprise, in 1958.
The paper folded seven years later. When Gould's children grew up and left home, the couple moved to their present home on a peninsula in the part of Maine made famous by painter Andrew Wyeth.
If Gould isn't the dean of American newspaper columnists, he probably comes close. The column he began writing for The Christian Science Monitor in 1942 continues to appear each week. Gould pecks it out on an old Royal 440 typewriter in a cluttered cubicle of an office in a corner of his barn.
The column on The Home Forum page serves up a quirky blend of opinionated storytelling, larded with memorable characters drawn from small-town Maine. Conservative to the core, Gould is never reluctant to lament the decline of the English language or critique the performance of newspapers in his home state.