Laurie Apgar Chandler is the first woman to solo paddle the entire 700 miles of the National Forest Canoe Trail. She wrote a fascinating chronicle of her paddling challenge in her first book titled “Upwards.”
As if that undertaking wasn’t enough to sate this courageous woman’s apparently insatiable appetite for adventure, she once again picked up her paddle, donned her hiking boots and set out. In her newest book, “Through Woods & Waters,” Chandler recounts her solo journey, both on foot and by canoe, through Maine’s most fabled watershed, the Penobscot River. From its upper beginnings and on down through the East Branch and the Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument, Chandler paddles it all.
With the exception of portages, Chandler paddled the West Branch of the Penobscot from the west end of Seboomook Lake all the way to Grand Lake Matagamon, where she picked up the East Branch of the Penobscot River that flows southward through the National Monument.
Before Chandler paddled the East Branch, she hiked and backpacked up the west side of the East Branch on the International Appalachian Trail (IAT), from Barnard Mountain up to the outlet of Grand Lake Matagamon.
An educator and forester by training, Chandler clearly possesses gifts in her nature that not only spur her to tackle big undertakings like this, but also to recount her adventures with soulful prose and the razor-sharp eye of a naturalist with a journalist’s instincts.
By itself, the mere magnitude of this outdoor adventure is book-worthy, no matter how pedestrian the writer. But Chandler is anything but pedestrian with a pen. Her depth of feeling for natural things and her keen powers of observation and introspection make her book a special read, on a par with the works of the iconic Mr. Thoreau himself.
Above all of this, the book offers well-researched and factual historical extras that I found both informative and transformative. Historical anecdotes about the logging industry and overall backdrop of this formidable wild watershed are woven skillfully throughout this book. Transformative, at least for me, as a former outspoken opponent to the establishment of the National Monument. Not until Chandler’s report on her experience and fetching bird’s-eye look at the East Branch’s flora, fauna and vistas has this once-controversial natural treasure been so persuasively portrayed and revealed.
Chandler told me that the urge to wander in wild places and to write about it is a growing personal passion that runs deep and cannot be denied. In the epilogue of her book she writes, “The spirit of wild places was still within me, and I did not want to let it go. There, I had affirmed my true self, the one I rediscover on each long journey. The river makes me stronger, surer, and more thankful, awes me and empowers me.”
“Through Woods & Waters,” by Laurie Apgar Chandler, is available for $18.95 from Maine Authors Publishing in Thomaston (www. maineauthorspublishing.com).
The author is editor of the Northwoods Sporting Journal. His email address is [email protected]