In her wonderful new memoir Through Woods and Waters, A Solo Journey to Maine’s New National Monument (2020), author Laurie Apgar Chandler heads her epilogue with a quote from Eleanor Roosevelt which fits the book to a tee.
“The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.”
It is the dreams of those who sought to establish Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument, of Percival P. Baxter who bulled into existence Baxter State Park and of the author herself, which fill the pages of this, Laurie’s second tale of solo adventure.
In her first, Upwards (2017), she becomes the first woman to solo paddle the 740-mile Northern Forest Canoe Trail from Old Forge in New York’s Adirondacks to Fort Kent, Maine. Conquering fears and trepidations caused by the difficulty of her effort, she proves to herself and the reader that attempting such a difficult adventure brings with it an intimate knowing of the natural world.
Through Woods and Waters is a more mature work which not only brings the reader along for the ride, but also portrays the character of the Maine woods and the monumental efforts of those who valued the wilderness enough to want it both preserved and shared with others. In these pages we find Henry David Thoreau, Governor Baxter, Theodore Roosevelt and others of an earlier age. We meet Roxanne Quimby and her allies in the Quimby family foundation called the Elliotsville Plantation, Inc. who donated much of the Monument’s land and waters to the National Park Service. Laurie introduces her parents and all of the friends who supported her throughout the adventure.
I have enjoyed both books, but the second is created with such sparkling language and imagery that it nearly placed me there beside her in the woods and waters. Here is an example that sets the tone of the writing.
“To the west, the sun finally won through a line of clouds to reflect on the evening-dark waters, a subtle, tranquil ending to a day of unexpected blessings.
But, no, I turned again, and the sky exploded in a blaze of apocalyptic color, perhaps beyond the craft of words to capture. From two angles, like giant spotlights, the yellow-orange ember glow of the setting sun shone up upon billowing towers of cloud, purple-gray in the shadows. Below the black silhouette of treetops, two wide paths of coral light shimmered across the water toward camp.
At that moment, a barred owl began to call from deep in the forest, the notes finding their way straight into my soul.”