Finally one afternoon I get around to this bright blue book that’s been in my reviewing stack for months. I don’t even know where it came from, the newsroom I guess. The author’s name, Jim Krosschell, is not familiar to me. The title — “One Man’s Maine: Essays on a Love Affair” — is pretty clearly a play on E.B. White’s canonic essay collection “One Man’s Meat,” so that could signal either literary acuity or literary cliché — another bunch of word-postcards about Maine by someone who never spent the winter here.

So anyway, I start skimming the first essay, “Berries.” Wait a minute. By paragraph two, it’s obvious these sentences were not written by a dilettante. So I slow down from skimming for imagery and thesis elements, and start reading words. Sure enough, these sentences are polished. Still, a book can skillfully convey imagery, plot, characters and clever ideas, but still not mean much. But by page three, I’m not just reading, I’m listening to sounds and rhythms, where the energies are.

“Berries” starts out with a touching introduction to the author’s love for his daughters and goes on in discrete sections to ruminate over berry picking and family life in Maine midcoast summer. The second essay, “Blueberry Hill,” wanders around the landscape where these summers take place. But they’re not prose poem postcards. A tug of war, explicit and implicit, is under way between fast, techno-living Boston, which is the author’s home base, and Owls Head, where he slows down. “The blueberry is not spectacularly beautiful except close-up, but it stands for what we lack, the ability to be close and humble, on our knees, and its cultivation is like mimicking mystics as they imagine death, their essences spreading eternally through dirt and root.” He slows down, I slow down. Something more than verbal polish is at work here.

Then three startling things happen. One is my discovery that Jim Krosschell, despite being from away, understands that April isn’t spring: “Rain pelts down; the sun comes out minutes later. On the garage the weathervane swirls, helpless to offer guidance. Minute by minute summer approaches and withdraws. … Somewhere in Maine, inevitably, snow will fall before the month is up.” This is down-Maine backyard naturalism.

The second thing that happens is that I start seeing the ghost of Thoreau, even though his name is not mentioned (yet). Just as I think, “This is backyard naturalism from the original source,” I encounter the sentence: “What good is knowledge unless it leads to a tremulous joy?” And I’m telling you, this is a rearrangement of Thoreau’s quintessential sentence: “Let us not underrate the value of a fact; it will one day flower in a truth.” In Krosschell’s world, joy is a form of truth. He is not saying so. It’s transpiring out of the words.

The third thing happens when I think, “Boy, this sounds a lot like Sarah Orne Jewett.” Updated to 21st century idiom and skepticism (see above), no doubt, but words somehow channeling the feel and energy of Maine that the writer from South Berwick seared into our consciousness. So then I turn a couple of pages and find a chapter titled “Pointed Firs” and feel kind of elated. Is this as deliberate a play on words as the book’s title? Anyway, even if he wasn’t consciously thinking of her, she’s there. But of course: In the third paragraph he starts talking about reading “The Country of the Pointed Firs,” Jewett’s masterpiece.


Later, I flip ahead to “With Thoreau in Maine” to find out if he’s going to make what I felt to be implicit, explicit. It turns out to be a delightful rehearsal of his experience reading “The Maine Woods,” with ruminations on time wasted on the computer; the curious, fascinating and alienating experience of DeLorme maps; and throughout, the tug of war between the need for civilization and the need for the wilderness — a central preoccupation of Thoreau.

But what I really want to convey to you about this book is that, while all the things Jim Krosschell says here can be merely said, however skillfully, the writing in it channels powers and energies beyond the saying. It’s practically impossible to explain what I mean by this. But I found a sentence right in the book that comes close.

In talking about the curious way in which burning wood releases carbon, he says: “I don’t understand how atoms can be all this — pure energy in themselves, nothing really but imagination and belief, a god if you will.”

Beautiful, I think. And then, somehow inspired by the energy in the combustion, I replace “atoms” with “words,” re-read the sentence, and am suddenly inhabiting the elsewhere of the words.

All backyard naturalists, and everybody in the vicinity of Thoreau, will want to read this book.

Jim Krosschell lives part of the time in Newton, Massachusetts, and part of the time in Owls Head. He’s president of the board of directors of the Coastal Mountains Land Trust in Camden. He is also the author of “Owls Head Revisited,” published by North Country Press in Unity (

Off Radar takes note of poetry and books with Maine connections the first Thursday of each month. Contact Dana Wilde at

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