Tuesday, December 07, 2010

The Edge of Maine by Geoffrey Wolff

When I met Bonnie in 1981, she had recently visited the coast of Maine with her family. The rocky shores, woods, and water sounded beautiful to me. For thirty years now it has been one of the places that I have wanted to go but have not. Luckily, I have books. Looking for novelist Geoffrey Wolff's new biography of Captain Joshua Slocum, I discovered his 2005 book of personal travel essays The Edge of Maine.

Wolff has been summering with his family in Maine for decades, usually approaching the state from the water. If they do not arrive in their boat Blackwing, they rent a boat and sails among the many small islands and up the navigable rivers. From this viewpoint Wolff has seen many changes since the 1960s, most of them for the better. Polluting factories have closed, threatened developments have been stopped, and dams have been removed. The result is that many of the dead zones are again teeming with life. Some endangered birds and fish have reappeared where they once thrived. There are still environmental problems (especially overfishing), but the shores and waters are much cleaner now than when the Corps of Army Engineers and manufacturers were making most of the shoreline decisions.

Local interests now support a clean environment, but it has not always been so. Factories were once courted by the many waterside towns to provide jobs and tax revenue, but most of the manufacturers have taken their business abroad to countries with lower wages and fewer regulations. Tourism and retirement living are now more important to the Maine economy, and both require natural beauty restored.

Boating is the interest that draws Wolff to Maine. As he tells it, the waters of Maine are quite challenging for amateur sailors. His hair-raising story about losing his way in unexpected fog while trying cross a treacherous bit of open water makes me certain that if I ever go, I'll stay on shore. Until then, I'll enjoy my armchair and continue read adventurous travel memoirs.

Wolff, Geoffrey. The Edge of Maine. National Geographic, 2005. ISBN 0792238710

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