Hampden resident Chris Packard spends his days teaching science at Bangor High School, where he uses evidence-based thinking and scientific data to educate students on biology.
But when he’s not teaching, he’s often researching something that flies in the face of science. Primarily, the mythological and folkloric creatures that populate North America, specifically in Maine — from the Tote Road Shagamaw, a creature spotted by lumbermen in the Maine woods, to the Mikumwesuk, the “little people” of the forest known to the Wabanaki people.
“It’s really the opposite of what I do as a teacher and a scientist, and the irony is not lost on me,” Packard said. “But, to me, it’s not a contradiction. These are real stories that people told and still tell, Even if these creatures aren’t real, the stories are, whether science confirms it or not.”
That passion for mythology and folklore led him to write a book, “Mythical Creatures of Maine,” published in September by Down East Books, with illustrations by Belfast-based artist Dan Kirchoff. In its colorful, clever 187 pages, readers will learn about some of the spirits of the Wabanaki, creatures that have their roots in French, Irish and British culture, and monsters that came out of Maine’s lumbering, hunting and maritime traditions.
Packard is a native of Ohio, though he has Maine roots stretching into the 18th century, mostly in Piscataquis County, where generations of the Packard family ran Packard’s Camps on Sebec Lake in Willimantic. Every summer, he’d go visit his grandparents in the Dover-Foxcroft area, where his grandfather, Marlborough Packard, would tell him stories about the ferocious creatures that lurked in the Maine woods.
“I became obsessed with these stories, and as I got older, I started to do research,” Packard said. “Maine has this really rich folklore tradition that spread across the county as people moved into the Midwest and further out west.”
In 2007, Packard moved to Maine with his wife, Jill, and they and their two sons now live on a homestead in Hampden. After years of more research, he began work on what would become “Mythical Creatures of Maine.”
Despite his extensive knowledge of these legendary creatures, however, he says he can’t name a specific favorite, though he does have a special fondness for the Sidehill Gouger, a deer-like creature with uneven legs that allow it to navigate hilly terrain, and for the Loup Garou, a kind of French Canadian werewolf with its roots in the old country.
“I love all of them in their own ways,” he said. “I love the idea that everyone who has lived in Maine has some of these similar stories, whether it’s Indigenous people or Europeans. These stories are one of the ways that people are connected with the natural world, and how they have a relationship with it. There’s a universal commonality to it.”
“Mythical Creatures of Maine” is available wherever books are sold.