Charlie Poulin trudged along the path by the Kennebec River, remembering what a job it was to help clear the trails so people could hike, ski and snowshoe there.

He often referred to his old friend, Jim Blakeslee, who worked alongside him.

“Me and Jim cleared the trail. We used a scythe on the grass and bushes, and if we had anything bigger, we’d take a chain saw and get rid of it. We took a lot of stuff out of here — shopping carts, tires. As a matter of fact, we put dumpsters down here and filled ’em right up.”

Poulin, 73, had met me at the Hathaway Creative Center parking lot where we marched south past a boat landing and into the trees leading to a large island abutting the Kennebec and surrounded on three sides by a small stream that flows around it.

The city’s Parks and Recreation Department, with help from City Engineer Greg Brown and Peter Garrett of Kennebec Messalonskee Trails, built a bridge to the island.

The area is lovely with old, giant maple trees towering overhead and a spectacular view of the Kennebec where seagulls perch on a rock island and a fisherman stood on the opposite shore casting a line.

Poulin, who visits the park all the time, crafted four wooden signs to mark the trails that say “Lockwood Mill Island Park, Carry In, Carry Out, Enjoy the Kennebec Trail.” He also carved an eagle head and a fish on the signs.

“You see the bald eagles go by, and you see the ducks, and once in a while you see a beaver,” he said. “I’ve always liked the outdoors. I didn’t play sports when I was young. I didn’t like football, I didn’t like baseball and I didn’t like hockey. None of that stuff interested me, but the outdoors did. Even today, every Saturday and Sunday, I go into the woods with my son.”

Poulin, who has close-cropped hair, glasses and a faint French accent, was wearing green work pants, work boots and a black and white T-shirt with a fish design on it and the words “Discover the Kennebec.”

He likes to fish and loves the Kennebec River and all the wildlife he sees there. Having grown up in the South End, this is like home.

“My father, Alfred, used to come here when he was 80 years old. He’d come down here and he used to fish. My father walked down from Beauceville, Canada, with another guy. They had a can of beans and 25 cents between them. They were young people in their 20s, and they were looking for work. They had to stop farm to farm and try to work for an hour or a half a day to get a meal or something, and they ended up over here.”

“My father’s mother died when he was young, and his father couldn’t take care of him. He ended up in an orphanage. When he came here, he got a job at the Hollingsworth & Whitney mill in Winslow.”

The mill later was named Scott Paper Co. Poulin’s father worked in the yard there, driving trucks. Then he became a pipe fitter, and one of the best in the business, according to Poulin.

“They used to call him Joe Hollywood. He used to walk around with a cigar and it wasn’t lit, and he carried a pipe wrench on his back, and he’d go into a paper machine to work on it.”

His father eventually married, and Poulin and his sister were born. They lived on Clark Street across the road from where Poulin and his wife, Mary Jane, live now. His father died at 90 in 2010.

Poulin graduated from Waterville High School in 1962 and in 1964 was drafted into the U.S. Army, where he served as a tank driver in Alaska.

“I came back to Waterville. I ended up working at Ware-Butler. I worked in the yard unloading railroad cars. I used to deliver lumber and did shop work. I worked on doors, I put windows together, made counter tops. I used to do a lot of work for LaVerdiere’s Drug Store. I made their counter tops. I retired when I was 69 and a half.”

We left the park and drove to Poulin’s house on Clark Street, where he showed me his workshop in the basement. There he carves beautiful ducks, loons, geese and other birds out of wood. He also creates lovely birdhouses, walking sticks, vases, Santa Clauses, fish and picture frames. They are more than just wood carvings; they are works of art.

His workbench is covered with pieces in various stages of completion, interspersed with wood-carving magazines and wood scraps.

“I make a mess because I got too many projects started,” he said. “My mind goes all the time.”

“I tie flies, too,” he said, leading the way into a little room set up for that purpose. “I tied flies all last winter because I couldn’t do much. I can stand up now. Before, I couldn’t.”

He explained that a year ago he went into the hospital to have back surgery and was laid up a long time.

“I couldn’t snow blow or shovel. That bugged me. I like to do my own stuff.”

He and Mary Jane gave me a tour of their lovely yard, all trimmed up and surrounded by a wooden fence and stone wall he built around a garden.

They say they have had a good life, and each has been a Godsend to the other.

“We’re blessed, I think,” she said.

“I wouldn’t change my life for anything,” he added.

 

Amy Calder has been a Morning Sentinel reporter 27 years. Her column appears here Mondays. She may be reached at [email protected]. For previous Reporting Aside columns, go to centralmaine.com.