Cold rain soaked the roads from Bangor to Unity, but in Knox, the rain turned to heavy snow. Registered Maine Guide Terri-Lynn Fowler was waiting for me in her red Chevy at Hill Top Restaurant.
After a handshake, I followed her car down Knox Ridge Road to Montville and the rockier Halldale Road, which leads to the hiking trails of the Sheepscot Headwaters Wildlands. For Fowler, who lives in Thorndike, these are local trails that she started exploring last year as a place to bring clients for day hikes.
She founded Maine Wilderness Adventures guiding company with her best friend and fellow guide Joanie Withee in 2007. Her mission: to bring more women into the Maine wilderness.
“Because women too often see themselves as weak or incapable in many situations, being in nature gives them the opportunity to explore the natural world and recognize their own inner wisdom and strengths, as well as recognizing the significance of every creature on earth,” Fowler, 31, said.
For our day hike, Fowler carried everything you might need if lost in the woods: an emergency kit, heat packs, extra food and maps. A compass and an orange emergency whistle swung back and forth on the outside of her L.L. Bean pack as she hopped the snowy ditch and headed into the woods.
“Pack for the worst,” she said. “My friend Melissa once asked me if I packed my kitchen sink. If someone forgets something, I usually have it.”
We paused for a moment near the tree hollow home of a porcupine she’d been tracking, but we could see no tracks in the shallow layer of snow that just reached over the toes of our boots.
We moved on slowly, enjoying the warmth of winter’s first afternoon.
Fowler has wanted to be a guide since when, as a little girl, her family brought her to Haymock Lake, where her father was helping to build the lodges of Macannamac Camp Rentals in the Allagash Lakes Region. There she spent time with Maine Guides Jack McPhee, who was one of the first two warden pilots in Maine, and Bobby Wiseman
“I spent several years up there as a child, wandering the lake shore and woods with Jack’s dog Bandit and flying over the Northern Maine Woods with Jack,” she said.
At age 12, she paddled the 92-mile Allagash River Corridor and spent a month tenting in Alaska with her family. On another occasion, when her mother became intimidated by the swift-moving St. John River, Fowler took the paddle.
In 2006, she successfully completed the intimidating Registered Maine Guide three-part examination. Since then, she has guided day trips to weeklong adventures on land and water. In addition to her all-women trips, she leads youth and family trips.
Now she’s passing on her love of the wilderness to her two young daughters, Willow-Mae, 6, and Iva Fern, 3.
“The girls are natural naturalists. Willow loves to find treasures and learn about nature. Iva is the adventurous one. She’s tiny but mighty,” Fowler said.
In the fall, Fowler began attending Unity College for degrees in environmental science and teaching and learning.
“Nature is my religion,” she said. “Sometimes it’s hard to get people I guide to see what I see. I’m hoping the education will help me explain why what they see is important.”
We followed the blue blazes standing out against snowy tree trunks, starting on the Hemlock Hollow Trail. Our boots sometimes slipped in the slick snow as we hiked up and down small hills. Fowler pointed out squirrel and coyote tracks.
In a less-snowy section of woods, sheltered by a fir canopy, Fowler crouched to look at the ground. I thought she was looking at tracks, but then saw that she was staring at broken branch with fresh green needles. Her pale blue eyes moved up the trunk of a tall hemlock beside us.
As she circled around the tree with her face turned upward, she pointed out the many fresh hemlock branches lying on the ground and explained that porcupines climb trees and snip off the branches.
“It’s their food,” she said, still looking up into the tree’s branches. “Porcupines are slow, so it’s not safe for them to spend a lot of time on the ground.”
Again, the porcupine was nowhere to be seen, and we moved on.
We passed over tiny flowing brooks, balancing on narrow wooden bridges or navigating over snow-covered steppingstones. The Hogback Connector Trail brought us to the Bog Brook Loop Trail. We traveled around the north arc of the loop to Whitten Hill Trail, marked in orange blazes, which leads back to Halldale Road.
Big drops of water fell on our fleece hats as a strong wind shook the branches above. In the woods, all was calm. We shed our coats, our bodies heated from the hours of walking.
We crossed the road and headed back into the woods to connect back to Hemlock Hollow Trail. My guide needed to be back to the cars by 2 p.m. to pick up Willow-Mae from school. Fowler thinks that this summer Willow might be able to join her on her guided trips.
For information, visit Fowler’s guide site at www.mainewildernessadventures.com. For information on the Sheepscot Wellspring Land Alliance, visit www.swlamaine.org.