Wilmot Robinson — “Wiggie” to his hundreds of friends — was a guide long before he received a license that officially verified his title.
Back when he was 10 years old, he’d tell you, he hiked into Baxter State Park with his 8-year-old brother, and spent the summer leading tourists up Mount Katahdin.
Sometimes, he’d also tell you, he’d do two trips up his beloved mountain a day.
It’s entirely possible, of course, that some of Wiggie’s tales included a bit of hyperbole.
That’s the way Maine woods tales work, you see.
But when the jolly little man told you his stories, you didn’t just listen and grin. You listened, wide-eyed, and believed.
Even if the tale sounded unbelievable. Even if it couldn’t be true.
On April 10, the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries & Wildlife, in cooperation with the Maine Professional Guides Association, handed out the first Legendary Maine Guide awards at a banquet in Brewer.
Fittingly, the award will be known as the Wilmot “Wiggie” Robinson Legendary Maine Guide Award, in honor of the longtime guide who died in 2007 at the age of 85.
And fittingly, Robinson was one of two guides honored with that award during the banquet.
The other: Gil Gilpatrick of Skowhegan, a life member of the MPGA.
Gilpatrick is a well-known river guide who has led hundreds of youngsters on trips down the Allagash River. He has also taught many to build and paddle canoes, and has written books that serve as references for those looking to build canoes and snowshoes or lead canoe trips of their own.
Robinson was a Master Maine Guide for more than 50 years, and a member of several sporting associations. According to a press release about the banquet, he founded the Maine Bird Dog Club and the Millinocket Fin and Feather Club and helped found the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine.
He took particular pride in his role as an outdoor communicator, and traveled across the northeast as a representative of the DIF&W and the state at trade expositions in his later years.
He was an outdoor writer, broadcaster and photographer, and earned the prestigious Jackie Pfeiffer Memorial Award from the Outdoor Writers Association of America.
According to the OWAA’s Web site, the Pfeiffer Award is given to a person who embodies Pfeiffer’s “genuine warmth and radiance, goodwill, helpfulness, generosity and kindness to others.”
Ask any of the outdoors enthusiasts lucky enough to have met Robinson, and they’ll tell you the description Pfeiffer’s traits could just as easily be used to sum up their friend, Wiggie.
Wiggie’s wife, Joyce, was on hand to receive the award, as were children Judy Robinson, Patsy Huston and Jay Robinson, and Wiggie’s brother, Earl.
I’d heard about Wiggie Robinson for years before I finally met him. I had made the transition from sportswriter to outdoor columnist, and he made a point to offer whatever help I might need.
Looking for sources? Want to take a trip to the place he called “Katahdin Country” for some bird hunting or fishing?
Done, he said. Just call.
Eventually, after he kept offering, I realized Wiggie wasn’t just being polite to the new guy.
He was being himself.
And over the next few years, I took him up on his offers. I fished with him, and with his son, Jay. We chased bird dogs through coverts. I listened to his stories, and absorbed as much as I could.
Then Wiggie was gone. He’d had a long, rich life, but he still left us too soon.
Thanks to the DIF&W and the MPGA, the new award will honor the man who made such a profound, if subtle, impact on so many.
For Robinson and Gilpatrick, it’s an honor that is certainly well-deserved.
And for the rest of us, the Wilmot “Wiggie” Robinson Legendary Maine Guide Award ought to be cherished as a reminder of one man’s grace and kindness in a world where those traits are not always apparent, nor celebrated.
Slogging through Kenduskeag
One of the words many paddlers used to describe the conditions during Saturday’s 44th Kenduskeag Stream Canoe Race was “slog.”
As in, “That was a slog.” Or, “we slogged the whole way.”
Veteran paddlers know that low water conditions make the going a lot tougher.
The fact that more rocks come into play during low-water years is obvious. But those who don’t regularly paddle in moving water might be surprised to find out that it’s not just the threat of rocks that makes the race slower.
It’s all about the water … and how a boat reacts when it’s in it.
Jeff Owen of Orono, who teamed up with Cumberland’s Steve Woodard to win their canoe class and take third overall, took time out after the race to explain the dynamics of slogging a bit more clearly.
“The waves that your boat makes, the wavelength gets shorter,” Owen said. “Usually the waves don’t bother the boat, but when the wavelength gets short enough, the stern drops into the hole between two of your waves. It feels like an anchor got thrown out of your boat.”
That’s what happens when the water is moderately shallow. There comes a point, Owen said, when the water gets shallow enough to actually help the paddlers.
“When it’s really shallow, the stern comes up on the next wave and a boat like this, [a canoe built specially for racing] can just fly through,” Owen said.
“If it’s this deep,” he said, holding his hands several inches apart, “you can scream through it and it’s really fun.”
Not that Owen and Woodard were really hoping to find any of that extra-shallow, screaming-fast water, mind you.
“Well, no, because there’s a lot of ledges out there, too,” Owen said with a laugh.