Considering everything from pre-Columbian fisheries to next Tuesday, the Penobscot River is Maine's dominant stream, draining the better part of the state from the Canadian boundary to ocean-swept Matinicus Rock halfway to the Azores. The Penobscot celebrates the tribe of that name, now reduced to Indian Island at Old Town.
The Great Maine North Woods are Penobscot country. End to end, the Penobscot embraces far better than 250 miles of choice Maine real estate. Thoreau saw some of it but didn't always know where he was.
Using the Great Northern Paper Company's logging road from Rockwood at the Kineo end of Moosehead Lake, in 20 miles you will check in at Twenty Mile gate, and just beyond that find Pittston Farm, a functioning depot in the past for Great Northern operations but now privately operated as a public house specializing in lumber-camp fare. Reservations are advised. Try the baked beans and the sugar pie. And just beyond the farm is a campground at Canada Falls, which is one of the places where the several Penobscot River branches start.
A natural falls there has been made into a dam to hold back water for lumbering purposes, so a long stretch of bog, swamp, and moose pasture lies behind the dam back to the Canadian line. This is Canada Falls Deadwater.
In winter, pulpwood cut in that area used to be sledded onto the deadwater ice and left to await the Penobscot River drive on the spring freshet. When the ice went out, the river-driving crew would sluice the mountain of pulpwood over the dam, and the drive began. More wood was added, brow by brow downstream, until weeks later the drive arrived at the paper mill in Millinocket.
Since those days, roads have been built and the wood comes to the mill by all-season trucks, so Canada Falls is just a happy place to set up a tent and reflect on the heroic days gone by. The tenting area is well-used. Here, not too long ago, when men began the log drive, the cookee and chore boy brought their breakfasts in two pails. A pail of baked beans and a pail of hot biscuits. Then, in two hours, the cookee and the chore boy brought the second breakfast of baked beans and hot biscuits.
The last time our family tented at Canada Falls, two incidents marred the occasion.
The place was well-occupied by various recreational vehicles, with a few wall tents like ours. A lot of folks were from away, as we found by visiting about. Two boys from New Jersey were in a pick-up near us and I showed them where to try for some trout. When they came back they had seven brookies, and I dressed them out for them. We rolled them in wet newspaper, covered them with moss, and laid them in a tin dishpan to stay cool for breakfast. They set the dishpan on the roof of the truck and shortly bade us goodnight and went to sleep on an air mattress under a tarpaulin in the truck body. I think I never saw anybody so happy over a mess of trout.
The campground quieted down except for a radio somebody left hanging on a limb off to the left. It had the volume on full gain and was tuned to a Canadian station that blatted only modern noise. Most impolite. Nobody was really asleep because of the radio, but when the dishpan of trout landed on the pick-up hood the noise brought us to attention. The raccoon that had knocked the pan off after he'd taken the trout had prudently departed.
Canada Falls campground quieted again except that the radio hanging on the tree limb played on. Wouldn't you think they'd have sense? How can they sleep themselves with that racket going on?
The man's name was Emile Bousquet and he lived in Valley Junction, Beauce, Quebec, because the next morning I went and asked and I thanked him, and shook his hand. I think he was in Maine and at Canada Falls not so much to camp out as he was to poach a deer, for he had brought a five-cell flashlight and a 30-30 rifle, essential tools in night hunting, although any other caliber will serve. He told me he put up with the radio as long as he could and then he pointed his flashlight at it hanging in the tree, and then he shot it.
When the gun went off, the silence that ensued was deafening, and then everybody cheered. The folks that owned the radio left at daylight. And didn't bother to take down the empty strap on the limb. It may still be there.
Let me know if you chance that way. If you don't tent, you can stay at Pittston Farm. Call first from Tessier's store in Rockwood and tell 'em I sent you. Tessier may have something to take in, since you're going that way. It's a Maine woods custom and a friendly thing to do. And remember that you always go in to the Maine woods, and then you always come out. And if you get lost, don't ram around, but sit down and wait and somebody will come and find you. It's irksome to have a lost person who keeps trotting around so you can't catch him.
Â• We will celebrate John Gould's 60 years of writing for The Christian Science Monitor with special coverage on Monday and a live Web 'chat' with him on Wed., Oct. 23, from 2 to 3 p.m. ET. See Monday's paper or www.csmonitor.com for details.