Many game wardens, woodsmen and guides of the past spent most of their lives in Maine’s remote north woods. Some of them brought their wives, and some of those wives wrote stories and books about their experiences that remain with us today. Louise Dickinson Rich, Helen Hamlin, Dorothy Boone Kidney, Annette Jackson and others fascinated readers with their stories about life in the Maine woods.
Louise Dickinson Rich
Louise Dickinson Rich is certainly the most well known and accomplished of these female writers of the Maine woods. Born in Massachusetts in 1903, Louise Dickinson met her future husband, Ralph Rich, on a canoeing trip to the Rangeley area in western Maine in 1933. Ralph, an engineer, and Louise, a teacher, were both fed up with everyday life and ended up falling in love and living together in a cabin in the woods of Forest Lodge on the Rapid River.
Both of the Riches were skilled writers, but Louise found the most success. She began writing articles for numerous magazines, which was very lucrative in those days. With her writing income, she was able to help provide the basic necessities for her and Ralph’s growing family. The stories eventually morphed into books. Rich was a prolific writer and eventually authored 24 books and dozens of short stories and articles published in magazines.
Louise Dickinson Rich is best known for her popular book “We Took to the Woods” and its sequel, “My Neck of the Woods”, which told stories of the Riches’ life away from it all in the Maine woods. She wrote several historical books including “State O’ Maine”, and outdoor fiction for young adults, including my favorite, “Start of the Trail”, an adventure story of a young Maine guide. Rich’s life and writing are summarized in a biography written by Alice Arlen in 2000, entitled “She Took to the Woods”.
Born in 1917 and raised in Fort Kent, Maine, Helen Hamlin wrote one of Maine’s most beloved books, “Nine Mile Bridge”, a New York Times Bestseller, which describes her life for three years in the Maine woods. Hamlin finished school and went to the woods to become a teacher at the lumber camp at Churchill Lake. Most of the students and their families were French Canadians. The area was then a bustling little community in the north woods, where today it’s a quiet area frequented only by park rangers, game wardens, recreationists and commuting woods workers.
Helen met and married a young game warden and lived with him in a cabin at Umsaskis Lake, and later at Nine Mile Bridge on the St. John River. Hamlin was an excellent writer, and her and Curly fully enjoyed their lives in the woods. The book is a real pleasure to read.
Hamlin wrote another book, “Pine, Potatoes and People, the Story of Aroostook”, which describes life in Aroostook County during the booming potato farming days of the 1940’s. It’s another really great read. Hamlin left the woods and lived quite an adventurous life until her passing in 2004.
Around the same time and in the same area, Annette Jackson, wife of legendary Maine game warden Dave Jackson, was writing stories of her experiences. Her book, “My Life in the Maine Woods”, was published in 1954. It provides another great perspective on the area and lifestyle in those days. Jackson was a very skilled writer. She was a regular columnist for the St. John Valley Times newspaper in the 1960’s.
Dorothy Boone Kidney
For 25 years, Dorothy Boone Kidney lived with her husband Milford at Lock Dam on Chamberlain Lake, in the Allagash Wilderness Waterway. Milford operated the dam and helped canoeists who were travelling the waterway. Kidney wrote a popular book about her experiences, “Away From it All”, which was published in 1969. The success of this book led to the publication of two more, “A Home in the Wilderness” (1976) and “Wilderness Journal” (1980). Kidney was a prolific writer who authored several other books on various topics before her passing in 2001.
There’s no question that these women and others played an important role in documenting history of the Maine woods in their time, as well as thoroughly entertaining readers from Maine and beyond. Their works deserve more attention.