OLD TALES OF THE MAINE WOODS by Steve Pinkham, May 2012, Merrimack Media, 338 pages, paperback, $19.95; e-book on Nook, $9; e-book on Kindle, $9.99.
Have you heard of the outdoorsman who escaped a pack of wolves by ice skating down the Kennebec River? What about the black bear who saved a hunter from a mountain lion in northwestern Maine? Has anyone told you about the Phantom of Nahmakanta Lake? Or the Wild Man of Lucky Brook?
These Maine-based tales indeed exist, filed away in various library archives and private collections, hidden in the pages of musty old books and faded magazines. They’re tough to find, but Steve Pinkham has made searching for such stories an art. An author and outdoorsman, he has compiled a selection of these enduring stories in “Old Tales of the Maine Woods,” published in May 2012.
The majority of these stories are expertly told yarns, meant to entertain outdoorsmen by campfirelight.
“But it’s still valid,” Pinkham said in a recent interview. “And who doesn’t like tall tales?”
Even in the most exaggerated and fabricated stories, a reader can find a lot of truth — aspects about the land (or water) and time in which the story is set.
Each of the short stories, written between 1849 and 1913, are accompanied by brief biographies, written by Pinkham, and portraits of the known writers. And for the many anonymous authors, Pinkham has included pictures of the region where the story took place and other information to add context.
Born in Farmington, Pinkham spent much of his childhood in the western Maine. His father was a lumberman, and his grandfather had been a guide on the Rangeley Lakes. The book is dedicated to Pinkham’s grandmother, Lillian Ellingwood Smith, who told him stories about growing up in Rangeley and urged him to read and learn all he could.
“We were reading Thoreau together when I was 12,” Pinkham said. “She introduced me to an unbelieveable world. I think of her all the time still.”
Though Pinkham now lives in Quincy, Mass., he often returns to Maine. An avid outdoorsman, he has hiked 180 Maine mountains, as well as the 100 highest mountains in New England. It was his love of hiking that led him to pen his first book, “Mountains of Maine: Intriguing Stories Behind Their Names,” published by Down East in 2009.
About 10 years of research went into “Old Tales of the Maine Woods,” starting with the first outdoor magazine in the United States, “American Sportsman” in 1871.
“I started going through, page by page,” Pinkham said. “I had to if I was going to do it right, collect everything on the Maine woods — and I did.”
The Boston Public Library, New York Public Library, Library of Congress, the National Rifle Association’s private library and the University of Maine Fogler Library are a just a few of the many places he scoured for intriguing Maine tales.
From a collection of more than 22,000 articles and stories of the Maine woods, Pinkham selected the most exciting and unusual old hunting and fishing tales, as well as stories of animal encounters, lumbering, canoe expeditions and even a few ghost stories. These tales — a mixture of truth and fiction — he compiled into two books, the second of which Pinkham plans to publish next year.
“[The stories I chose] had to have some interesting aspect to them — either introduce an area that is very little written about or have a fun component to them or an exciting component to them, or just be different,” said Pinkham, who also took care to seek out stories written by outdoors-women.
In addition to the sequel of “Old Tales of the Maine Woods,” Pinkham is working on a calendar that displays Maine historical events each day of the year — a project that has him sifting through the 190 notebooks he has filled over the years with Maine-related information and resources.
“Someone recently asked me what it’s like collecting this stuff,” Pinkham said. “You know, it’s a cross between detective work and treasure hunting. Sometimes you go looking for a specific item, you turn the page and it’s not there, but there’s something else that’s just a gem to find.”
In coordination with the books, he is selling 18- by 12-inch prints of turn-of-the-century Maine woods maps, which he chose from private collections.
“They fit into camps that don’t have a lot of wall space,” Pinkham said. “And if they haven’t finished off the camp, it will fit between two [wall] studs.”
For information about “Old Tales of the Maine Woods” and to purchase prints of old Maine maps, visit oldtalesofthemainewoods.com.