There’s this cartoon map of Benedict Arnold’s March on Quebec hanging on the wall where you can stare at it while lying in bed up to my husband’s family camp in Eustis. It’s one of those reproduction maps made around the Bicentennial
which were printed on brownish paper made to look like old parchment yet the drawings and the lettering were definitely nineteen seventies. Revolutionary soldiers were depicted with perfectly groomed hair neatly tied up in a ponytail held with a ribbon wearing pristine white shirts, tidy vests and shoes, and sporting wide grins with full sets of teeth.
My father-in-law, George Keef, was a true Mainer. Born in Vanceboro he was a river driver as a teenager and when he had endured enough of his own father’s viciousness he moved out and camped out on an island in the middle of the St Croix River. Trees were always an important part of his Being. He planted them everywhere. He would find saplings and transplant them into his yard at home and into the land around the camp. He’d find saplings and give them to us to plant in our own yard. He planted butternuts he found deep in the woods growing around a massive single old butternut around which scores of saplings sprouted. He once was digging up a red pine seedling down near the Cathedral Pines in Eustis when the local forest ranger at the time, Duluth Wing, happened by and yelled at him for doing it, even though there was nothing wrong with what he was up to.
Duluth’s family and my mother-in-law’s family were both from the town of Flagstaff and both families were moved from Flagstaff to Eustis when the power company built the hydroelectric dam in 1947 which fused the Dead River with Flagstaff Pond to create what is now Flagstaff Lake. If you drive down the road at night from Eustis to the town of Stratton you’ll see a stretch of roadway by the Cathedral Pines which is lit with streetlights. There is little commerce in this section and very few homes. They’re streetlights lighting up nowhere. This was one of the gifts the power company gave to the displaced people of Flagstaff, free streetlights in perpetuity. These entrenched personal histories of a region breed a fierce loyalty to the area. That is probably why Duluth yelled at George when he was digging up the seedling. Someone was disturbing his homeland. And he couldn’t let that happen. He was the forest ranger too and he had the power to scold anyone.
George never forgot that. Any encounter he had with Duluth as the years rolled by he would cringe in advance, as if waiting for Duluth to find something else he was doing that was scold-worthy.
We went on a family outing one late summer long ago to pick wild blueberries in the woods. We headed to Horseshoe Pond where George had picked before. We arrived to find a thick stand of wild lowbush blueberries filled with full ripe berries and began picking. As we wound our way through the woods we heard some activity in a clearing nearer to the Pond and came upon Duluth Wing digging the ground. I watched George steel himself as if ready to get yelled at for picking berries in the woods.
We had a good talk with Duluth. I bet he didn’t even remember the scolding he gave George so many years before. Turned out Duluth was searching for artifacts from the Benedict Arnold Expedition to take Quebec. Duluth, or “Dude”, was a history buff and was devoted to researching the Arnold Expedition. I’ll bet he even had one of those same Bicentennial maps of the Expedition on the wall of his camp.
The Expedition was a disaster from the beginning. Arnold was misled into having Kennebec River Bateaux to be built by Reuben Colburn of Pittston. Others recommended the lighter canoe to be used instead. The bateaux had to be made quickly and the green wood that was used added to the overall weight the soldiers ended up carrying. The Bicentennial map depicted the neat and tidy soldiers carrying these bateaux at the Great Carrying Place. The real picture should have depicted disheveled threadbare shoe-less and gaunt soldiers struggling with the weight of the bateaux; the real picture needed a bunch of soldiers running off too. Many soldiers abandoned the Expedition as the burdens were too much to bear for many of them.
The troops that endured the Great Carry stayed at Horseshoe Pond as they tried to find their way through maze of ponds which make up the Chain of Ponds. Kenneth Roberts’ historical novel Arundel depicts the scene at this juncture to be where the troops are starving and freezing. They didn’t have the knowledge to forage and they had lost a lot of their provisions along the way. And, when reading the novel, you know things don’t turn out well when he introduces a dog into the scene. The story goes that at this point they were reduced to eating shoe leather. Every time I think of this I can’t help but think of the prison scene in Raising Arizona where Nicolas Cage’s cellmate tells him a tale of his own culinary hardship:
You can see the artifacts Duluth was digging up that summer afternoon at the Colburn House in Pittston. When you go there and see the shoe buckles on display, you can ask the guide, “They ate what?”