Book Review: Nine Mile Bridge, Three Years in the Maine Woods

My copy of Nine Mile Bridge.

My copy of Nine Mile Bridge.

Helen Hamlin's book, "Nine Mile Bridge, Three Years in the Maine Woods" is an amusing personal account of her early years, first as a teacher working at a small logging camp near the headwaters of the Allagash River, and later living with her game warden husband at his wilderness outposts. Chalk full of details about traditional woodsmanship, both sporting and professional (e.g., loggers, trappers, bush pilots, guides and wardens), Nine Mile Bridge is requisite reading for anyone who dreams of living in a rustic off-grid cabin deep in the woods.

Helen was warned repeatedly that the logging camp was "no place for a woman," but she went anyway. Although not really that long ago (1945), the life Helen describes at the logging camp and the years following is incredibly isolated and primitive by today's standards. While she clearly loves the woods and waters of Maine and was excited by their lifestyle, there were times she longed for modern day luxuries, which were distant at best and basically unobtainable once she and her husband were snowed in for the season. Her description of their Winter days and being snowed in at one of her husband's more remote posts is filled with wonderment at the natural world, but she doesn't hide the boredom, hunger, and monotony. One of her few luxuries was batteries for a radio (other than a frequently broken party phone line, this radio was her main link to the outside world). She cared for these batteries with great delicacy as she baked them in the wood stove each night to help preserve their charge, if only to hear a few minutes of the eight o'clock news each night.

Even with the dark days of Winter, it's clear Helen loved the woods and was excited about their lifestyle choice as she described:

Helen Hamlin (circa 1945).

Helen Hamlin (circa 1945).

  • Canoeing the beautiful Allagash and excitement of running whitewater on the St. John River
  • Being surrounded by abundant hunting and fishing opportunities
  • Putting together a dog team and learning mushing via seat of their pants
  • Meeting and getting to know fellow northwoods characters, who she described with an entertaining and visual flair 

As an outdoorsman with a love of history, I found "Nine Mile Bridge, Three Years in the Maine Woods" to be the perfect Winter armchair adventure. With the lakes and rivers here currently frozen, Helen's descriptions of their canoe trips, both for pleasure and out of necessity in their largely roadless region, were especially satisfying.   

You can buy Helen's book on Amazon or go to your local library to check out a copy. I opted for a clean, old, hard cover version, and I'm sure I'll be pulling it off the shelf again before too long for a relaxing evening read.