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Book Reviews

Milt Gross Book Review: "Mountains of Maine, Intriguing Stories Behind Their Names", by Steve Pinkham
By Milton M. Gross
Sep 9, 2012 - 6:55:04 AM

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Delores found this for me recently while I was looking for another book someone had loaned me. I reread (actually read most of what I read in it for the first time) it and was impressed by how much I don't know or remember about Maine's mountains. Milt Gross photo.
Generally the topic of a book is easy to remember, the title a bit more difficult, and the author -- well, the author doesn't really matter, unless it's me or some impressive guy or gal.

The author of Mountains of Maine, Steve Pinkham, is impressive for what he has done over the years. The back cover of this 009 Down East book (www.downeast.com) states, "Steve Pinkham heads for the high ground at every opportunity, and he enjoys sharing his enthusiasm. He ran the outdoor programs for the Hartford, Connecticut, YMCA for ten years and is currently president of the Outdoor Club in Boston. Steve estimates that he has hiked more than three thousand miles during the past three decades, including treks up the hundred highest mountains in New England. His home is in Quincy, Massachusetts."

When I read that, two questions came to mind: how many of Maine's mountains about which he writes do I know and have climbed? And, how old is this guy, anyway, having hiked over 3,000 miles in the past 30 years?

To the first question, my answer is some -- actually not many. To the second, he must be over my current and ongoing age of 29.5 years.

Whatever, he is a good writer and has obviously been there and done that in most of Maine's high places.

You probably know that "Katahdin" means "Greatest Mountain," the subject of Indian legends of a spirit-god who the Penobscots saw that turned out to be Katahdin. But did you know that the word's meaning, "Greatest Mountain," didn't come from those native Americans. Henry David Thoreau gave "Greatest Mountain" as the meaning of "Katahdin."

I didn't know that. The author let me in on that tidbit.

I do know that today's newspapers and TV news descriptions, calling it Mount Katahdin must be in error if the word itself means "Greatest Mountain."

Being a member of both the Maine Appalachian Trail Club and the Appalachian Trail Conservancy for many years, I assumed the Appalachian Trail, climbing Katahdin on the Hunt Trail, was always the Appalachian Trail from the time Baxter State Park was begun. But no, wrong again.

"In 1916, during the Appalachian Mountain Club's (AMC, to be distinguished from ATC or MATC and confused as one group by most people) second excursion to Katahdin, the crew....cut a trail to the mountain from the east, to connect to their camp at Chimney Pond. They named it the Appalachian Trail."

So there was an Appalachian Trail east of Katahdin before there was the Appalachian Trail coming from the west and up that end of the mountain.

Did you know that 4,170-foot Old Speck in Grafton Notch was once known as Lincoln Mountain in honor of Maine's fifth governor? And did you know that Old Speck was also called Speckled Mountain, but the name was changed to its present to not confuse this high mountain for a lower one in what is now Maine's part of the White Mountain National Forest?

I didn't until I read the book.

Although I think Dolores and I were on its summit once, I never knew that the name of 4990-foot-above-sea-level Belgrade Hill stems from when Prescott and Carrs Plantation became Belgrade in 1776, the name coming from the inhabitant's calling it that in honor of the capital of Yugoslavia.

I used to walk up Pleasant Mountain west of Bridgton in Denmark. I didn't know, as Pinkham wrote that, "Evidently the early settlers of Bridgton and Denmark were delighted with this mountain's graceful appearance as it rises above Moose Pond and named it accordingly.....

"In the 1840s, Caleb Warren built a simple shelter on Green Pinnacle, the highest point of Pleasant Mountain. A decade later, Joseph S. Sargent bought the top of the mountain from Warren and constructed a two-story hotel, which he opened in 1850. Warren's shelter was converted into a bowling alley, and a carriage road was opened on the western side of the mountain. Warren's business thrived until the hotel was destroyed by fire in 1860."

And I used to live down that way. Imagine all that happening before I moved there!

Which shows that I'm not prehistoric. If anything, I'm posthistoric.

Pinkham's book goes on and on with most interesting -- at least to me, a lover of Maine's mountains -- history and other facts, such as about Aziscohos Mountain, way over in northwestern Maine. My father and I climbed it many years ago, and what I remember were crevices about a foot or two wide we had to step across as we walked.

According to Pinkham, "This mountain's name is from the Wabanaki language and means 'little or small pine.'"

"From the official town history of Wilson's Mills," he wrote, " we learn that an inn called the Aziscohos Hotel was built in the late 1800s at the western base of the mountain."

I don't know if I appreciate more the wealth of information Mountains of Maine offers to a guy like me who thought he knew a bit about Maine's mountains or the thought of how long and tediously Pinkham conducted research to write the book.

I suppose you can purchase it at many bookstores or from Down East itself for $16.95 by going online.

At any rate, it's one of those books which will remain by the lamp next to the sofa and be nibbled at informative bit by informative bit as I feel in that mood.

If you love Maine's mountains or her history, get yourself a copy.

A great book!

Mountains of Maine contains numerous old photos, mostly of postcards, such as this undated apparent postcard shot from Hanover of "Tip Top Rock on Old Lead Mountain, near Indian Rock Camps." Milt Gross photo.

Milt Gross can be reached for corrections, harassment, or other purposes at lesstraveledway@midmaine.com.

Milton M. Gross Copyright 2012

Milt Gross Down the Road A Piece Column

Milt Gross Book Reviews


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