Good books can relieve winter blues

Posted Feb. 26, 2010, at 7:22 p.m.
The Wildest Country book cover - with Viles
BRAD VILES
The Wildest Country book cover - with Viles
Glaciers & Granite book cover - with Brad Viles
BRAD VILES
Glaciers & Granite book cover - with Brad Viles
Katahdin and Historic Journey book cover - with Brad Viles
BRAD VILES
Katahdin and Historic Journey book cover - with Brad Viles
Mountains of Maine book cover - with Brad Viles
BRAD VILES
Mountains of Maine book cover - with Brad Viles

When I’m not hiking I participate in my other hobby: reading about hiking. Guidebooks, how-to’s, and field guides fill my bookshelves.

I have a few favorites that I read time and again. Those are the ones that I rely on to get me through the last few weeks of winter. These select volumes I pull off the shelf to fend off the onset of cabin fever, usually about this time of the year.

There are four titles I read the most often. These books belong on every hiker’s reading list.

One’s a classic that has been reprinted recently; another has received some renewed interest. There’s a new publication that’s sure to become a must-have and one more that’s dedicated to one mountain. They all explore Maine’s outdoors.

Katahdin: An Historic Journey, by John W. Neff, published by Appalachian Mountain Club Books, 2006, $19.95. 354 pages.

This book is quickly becoming a classic. In this one volume Neff has compiled everything you ever wanted to know about the mountain and the surrounding landscape. It’s the most thorough single book of all the works on the subject. In it, Neff uncovers the entire history of the sporting camps, lumbering and recreation in the woods around and on the mountain.

There are sections on the early history starting with the Native Americans who named it the “greatest mountain,” Ktaadn, in their language. It then follows lumber camp history, trail building and campsites, sporting camps and Percival Baxter’s 30-year effort to create the park, keeping it “forever wild.”

The well-written book has a glossary of place names in the region and an extensive bibliography. If you don’t have this book, then you haven’t read the last word on Katahdin.

Glaciers and Granite: A Guide to Maine’s Landscape and Geology, by David L. Kendall, published by North Country Press, 1987, $19.95. 240 pages.

Covering such diverse geologic topics as glaciations, geologic time and weathering on rocks, this book is written for the nonscientist. Kendall has made the topics easy to understand in this book that covers the entire state.

There are chapters on glacial periods, the regions of Maine, the battered coast, the mountains and plate tectonics. The author has included several clearly drawn illustrations and photos to accompany the text.

In the back of the book are chapters on road trips where examples of the topics are obvious to the viewer. The author’s strength is that he makes a difficult topic understandable. For anyone who wants to know about the ground under their feet, this book is a must read.

The Wildest Country: Exploring Thoreau’s Maine, by J. Parker Huber, published by Appalachian Mountain Club Books, 2008, $19.95, 216 pages.

This book could be called a guide to Thoreau’s three major excursions in Maine, in 1846, 1853 and 1857. Thoreau traveled extensively with Indian guides in a birch bark canoe. His travels included the West Branch of the Penobscot after paddling the length of Moosehead. In other years he paddled the East Branch of the Penob-scot, Chesuncook Lake and Chamberlain Lake and climbed Katahdin.

The author retraced his routes in a canoe and stayed in campsites where Thoreau spent the night. The result of his journey is this book. It’s probably the single source for the canoe routes Thoreau paddled. It’s illustrated with beautiful color photos and maps showing the routes, mileages and itineraries.

Mountains of Maine: Intriguing Stories Behind Their Names, by Steve Pinkham, published by Down East Books, 2009, $16.95, 224 pages.

Virtually every mountain in the state with a name is covered in this book. From Tatnic Hill, elevation 323 feet, in Wells, to Haystack Mountain in Aroostook County, this author researched them all — and every hill and mount in between. It’s one book on Maine mountain names that should have been written a long time ago.

Pinkham has uncovered the history of each one in this thoroughly researched volume. The book is organized by region and is illustrated with historic photos. Scattered throughout are sidebars describing other features such as lakes, view points and lesser hills.

Chances are if there’s a hill, knob or mountain anywhere in Maine, its history is in this book. For anyone curious about how mountains got their names, this book is for them.

There you have it: four books, any one of which should hold off the symptoms of cabin fever until spring. I keep them all out in various places around the house. That way if I feel a sudden onset of cabin blues, the cure is never more than an arm’s length away, just in case.

Actually, I’ve been known to take one of them in my pack so I can hike and read when I stop, satisfying both hobbies at the same time.

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