For instance: Three nights ago I was in Sangerville, Maine, playing "The House on the Hill," a song written by my bandmate Sid Stutzman about his farmhouse, which was built in Sangerville in 1851 on land that his family has farmed ever since. Last night I was reading Thoreau's description of a September 1853 walk from Bangor to Moosehead Lake: "The country was first decidedly mountainous in Garland, Sangerville, and onwards, twenty-five or thirty miles from Bangor. At Sangerville, where we stopped at mid-afternoon to warm and dry ourselves, the landlord told us that he had found a wilderness where we found him."
That's not an earthshaking statement; but given who and where I am, in place and in time, this description and others like it have been pulling me into a kind of netherworld that is both real and imagined. I have an eerie sense, as I read Thoreau's accounts, of standing in two places at once. Past and present overlap; the trees creak in the wind, and the fish hawks wheel over the lakes. There is something about the interior of Maine, some essential loneliness, an ends-of-the-earth circle of sky and forest, that lingers today, despite highways and log trucks and Wal-Marts. My eyes look through Thoreau's eyes. This is not what I expected when I opened the book.
Thus a man shall lead his life away here on the edge of the wilderness, on Indian Millinocket stream, in a new world, far in the dark of a continent, and have a flute to play at evening here, while his strains echo to the stars, amid the howling of wolves; shall live, as it were, in the primitive age of the world, a primitive man. Yet he shall spend a sunny day, and in this century be my contemporary; perchance shall read some scattered leaves of literature, and sometimes talk with me. Why read history, then, if the ages and the generations are now? He lives three thousand years deep into time, an age not yet described by poets. Can you well go further back in history than this?