An Outdoorsman’s Life Well-Lived, and Well-Told
Manly Hardy would not have understood what happened last week at the Maine legislature. A nineteenth-century businessman from Brewer, Hardy died in 1910 after spending much of his life hunting, trapping, fishing, exploring and observing nature in the North Woods.
William B. Krohn, a wildlife research biologist with the U.S. Geological Survey stationed at the University of Maine, Orono, and leader of Maine’s Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit, wrote a fascinating biography of Hardy, who was the father of Maine historian Fannie Hardy Eckstrom. The book was published by the Maine Folklife Center in Orono.
Krohn presents Hardy in his own words. After a brief interesting biography, the author offers a selection of Hardy’s columns published in Forest and Stream, a popular outdoor and natural history magazine of its time.
My wife gave me this book for Christmas one year and I was so captivated that I sat down and read it all in a single day. I love those potboilers penned by the best mystery and crime writers, including Maine’s own Gerry Boyle. But Hardy’s story is more compelling – because it’s real. I just could not stop reading.
But you won’t have to be a sportsman to enjoy this one. Hardy’s keen observances of nature are amazing in “A Maine Woods Walk in Sixty-One,” during late winter and early spring. Hardy’s writing offers insight into a time and place that is nearly impossible to imagine today.
Of course, there’s plenty of killing and Krohn offers a warning that “Hardy was often most explicit when describing a struggle with a wounded eagle, the killing of a moose, and other hunting or trapping incidents. These graphic descriptions will be offensive to some readers,” he notes, suggesting the possibility of skipping those passages. Don’t. They’re not that bad. And you ought to understand how far sportsmen have come in their favorite activities.
There’s also history here. While pondering the possibility of civil war as he hiked through the forests of northern Maine, Hardy reported that Frank and George Fairbanks had “killed eighty-two moose north of Katahdin, between Telos and the Sowadnehunk Mountains.”
Within a week of exiting the Maine woods after their successful hunt, both Fairbanks brothers enrolled in the Seventh Maine and headed to war. And they weren’t alone. Indeed, Hardy reports, “I know of no class of men who furnished a larger proportion of their number than our hunters.”
Joshua Chamberlain and Hardy were close childhood friends, and Hardy’s account of a lecture he attended at Norumbega Hall by Governor Chamberlain on Lee’s surrender is worth the price of the book if you love history.
But for this sportsman, Hardy’s accounts of hunting and trapping in the North Woods are the chapters that will be re-read many times. Here are accounts of caribou, cougar, and wolves that I have seen nowhere else. Krohn selected some of Hardy’s writings precisely “because the wildlife species discussed are of special interest in today’s conservation debates.”
“By making available some of Hardy’s writings, I hope that more people will appreciate just how dynamic Maine’s natural and social environments were during much of the nineteenth century,” wrote Krohn. “If we are to understand current natural and social change, we must continually take into account the dynamic nature of these systems.”
Hardy himself would have a hard time understanding the dynamic nature of legislative action last week. A bitter fight over the rights of ATV riders would certainly confound him. He covered most of the North Woods on foot.
He would find the constant presence of animal rights activists at the Capitol perplexing. He killed and preserved many birds and other animals for scientific study and museums, with nary a hint of protest.
Likewise, bemusement might have been his response to the debate over new Department of Environmental Protection rules requiring improved installation of culverts to allow fish passage. In his time, the environment needed no protection, and fish were plentiful, culverts less so, nor were vernal pools something that showed up in his journals as places of importance.
This makes this book all the more important. To put our own environmental challenges in perspective – and to anticipate the challenges ahead – we ought first to look back, to reflect on how far we’ve come, how much we’ve lost, and how much we have to protect. This book can help you do that.