One year, about this time of day, our lobster-catchin' neighbor, Harold, made a remark that dismayed me. He said that he'd been halfway to England by boat, and knew every rock on the Maine coast, but he'd never been up in the woods.
The Maine wilderness runs back from Harold's own ocean clear into Canada, and my canoe-mate and I have seen it all, tree by tree, and moose by moose, so we very well appreciated what salty Harold, known as Cappy to every fish warden, had missed. We lost no time in getting permits over some logging roads and marking our maps for the big event.
We took Cappy on a guided tour before the wind right up past Moosehead Lake, through the St. John Valley, over the boundary, and into Quebec. He should be exposed to French Canada because of the great importance the Canadian has enjoyed in our forest. We told Cappy there is much in the Maine woods never really appreciated until you've had pea soup and johnnycake in Kaybeck City.
Off we went, a jolly trio that couldn't start off on a trip until we swung by the hahb'h to make sure Blossom, his lobster boat, was secure on her mooring and would idly await out return. Cappy said it lacked 10 minutes of high water.
Cappy, born in sight of tidewater, was not unlike most of the tourists who come to Maine each summer. They follow the coast, and few of them get to know that Maine is the most forested of all our states and has the biggest stretch of uninterrupted wilderness forest left. I think, by limiting the definitions, this covers Alaska, too. At least Maine has no permafrost, even if it snows on Mt. Katahdin every Fourth of July.
Now, a nature note: The black bear is common in our Maine woods. I don't know why, but certain sportsmen come from other states into Maine to bag a black bear. We have guides who specialize in providing such hunters with success.
The black bear is never a threat to humans, as are other, larger bears in other places. He's timid about people, and can disappear amazingly fast if paths cross. He is far quicker on his feet than his bulk suggests. One time I saw a sow and two cubs appear at the wilderness roadside, coming out of the woods on one side, not expecting that I was to be coming along.
When she sensed me, the mother bear said something to her cubs, and like a flash of bolt lightning all three were out of sight in the woods across the road. Agile and fleet, the little ones were as quick as mummy. That was something to see, and now I was hoping I might guide my seafaring friend to his first Maine black bear. It isn't often you see a bear. They see you first and are gone. Harold probably wouldn't see one. I've had veteran woodsmen tell me how many years they went before they happened to see a bear. And then Harold said, "There's a couple of bear!"
No excitement in his voice; no wonder about his good fortune. "A couple of bear!" They were gone so soon that I didn't even try to bring our vehicle to a stop. And Harold was going on, "And as I was saying...." He was unimpressed. In the woods, why not bear?
Then we saw moose and deer, and small game. And lots of birds. Harold knew most of the birds; he'd spy them from his boat as they migrated. We were in pulpwood country and kept meeting loaded trucks heading for Millinocket with tree-length logs.
We kept on past Caucomagomoc Lake to the International Paper Company road, and at the outlet of Baker Lake we crossed the bridge over the St. John River. We were 28 miles from the Canadian border, and about to ride past the "sugaries" where in the spring the Canadians come over and tap trees. The maple season was past, so the camps were closed and unoccupied, but the extent of sugaring in that area is stupendous. The syrup is marketed throughout Quebec, and most of it is trucked into St. Johnsbury, Vt., where it becomes "Vermont Maid." Harold was impressed that so much maple syrup could be made in Maine and that folks down home didn't know much about it.
Then we came to the ferry from Levis over to Quebec City, with the skyline of the citadel and the Chateau, and it jollied us to find that Harold was more interested in the boat than in the scenery. He didn't like the looks of the boat. When we parked our vehicle aboard and the below-deck engines were revved, Harold was visibly alarmed. The vessel, now crammed full of motor vehicles, throbbed with the power of the diesels, and Harold didn't like the sound.
'THIS old tub's had it!" he said. When we left the loading ramp and were under way, with Quebec landing ramp coming at us in good shape, Harold said, "This old tub won't make it!" I was thinking of Harold's Blossom back on mooring, and her pussy-purr inflection as she moved out of harbor to haul traps. The ferry was different. "She'll never make it!" Harold said. But she did, and Harold was glad to be ashore in vieux Qubec.
To us, any restaurant at lower Quebec becomes a shrine when we step in to renew our pleasure with a good habitant pea soup, with the requisite johnnycake. In Rhode Island they make johnnycake with white meal, and tell us "johnny" is derived from "journey," since you eat the cake when on a trip. In Quebec, johnnycake is made with yellow meal, and is called jaune-gteau, which leads lucidly to john-gteau, or johnnycake, and so much for Rhode Island.
But Harold said he didn't care for pea soup and would have cold cuts, and when we were going home he was persuaded to try the old tub again, and it made it. He told everybody how much he enjoyed seeing the State of Maine. And we told everybody what fun it had been to show the wilderness to Harold.