There isn't anything in the Maine woods that wants to eat you. Nothing with bigger teeth than blackflies, anyway. If there's an overriding theme to You Alone in the Maine Woods: The Lost Hunter's Guide, it's that you are safe in the forest, even at night. If you find yourself in the unfortunate position of being turned around after dark - which is to say, lost - relax and sit tight. The men and women of the Maine Warden Service will find you, and probably before you run out of M&Ms.
You Alone is small enough to fit in a hunting vest, and the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife (IF&W) has been distributing it for more than thirty years. In that time, literally hundreds of thousands of copies have seen print, making it the most widely read Maine book you've never heard of. The blaze orange pamphlet looks like it has a few decades under its belt, with its homespun tone and cartoons (at right) of barrel-chested "Old Maine Guides." If you didn't know better, you'd be tempted to dismiss it as a quaint vestige of a bygone era. In many ways it is exactly that - and that's precisely why it works.
Listen closely to those old Maine Guides, and you'll find that they did indeed know a few things about the North Woods, and that their tricks work just as well in the Gore-Tex and GPS era as they did in wool and compass times.
The booklet's sixty-seven pages are stuffed like a rucksack with helpful how-tos. Its eighteen chapters walk a person through most everything they need to know to stay safe in the woods, from map and compass use, to starting fires, to simple first aid, to building shelters. A lot of what's inside is common sense, but there are some tips that aren't as widely known - that the body emits a pint and a half of perspiration every twelve hours, for example, which explains why you don't like being crammed next to your buddy Joe on the long drive to the Greenville moose hunt. By sweating, you're draining your body of necessary fluids that have to be replaced (preferably with something other than beer).
Other valuable tidbits: To start a fire in the rain, bring a few squares of cardboard soaked in wax. You can use your watch as a compass in a last-resort situation by pointing the hour hand at the sun - the point halfway between the little hand and twelve o'clock should be approximately, somewhat, sorta, somewhere near, south.
These tips are all presented in a folksy, sixth-grade sort of prose that tracks toward the anachronistic, but there aren't the typos you find in certain IF&W publications (like the Open Water Fishing Regulations in which Governor Baldacci states that the economic impact of angling in Maine is "nearly three hundred dollars annually"). That's probably because this is the tenth edition of You Alone, and Warden Service editors have hunted down and taken custody of the worst groaners like so many poachers.
There are things that they might consider changing for the eleventh revision, though. (Granted, they've done a good job updating thus far, though some hunter safety classes are still distributing earlier editions of the book that recommend sitting down and "having a smoke" to get yourself to relax.) An example in the newest, latest would be the bit in boldface that implores you to "Believe your compass under all circumstances," which is generally good advice - unless you're wearing an oversized ATV FOR ME belt buckle and you're holding your compass in front of it, a common position. Belt buckles have confused many a needle and sent all kinds of hunters and hikers stumbling off toward some magnetic Shangri-La.
Overall, though, You Alone does an effective job imparting information that could very well save a life. And it does so in a small package that's fun to read.
You Alone proves the adage that old ways are often the best ways, especially in a place as rooted in tradition as the Maine woods. Reading it is like taking a little walk back to the old Maine - a safe and well-oriented walk, of course - and that's always a good thing.
For a digital copy of You Alone in the Maine Woods