“True North: Finding the Essence of Aroostook” by Kathryn Olmstead; Islandport Press, Yarmouth, Maine, 2020; paperback, $17.95.

The quintessential essay in Kathryn Olmstead’s new collection, “True North: Finding the Essence of Aroostook,” is “Delivering the Magazine.” It’s a compact, peripatetic view of Aroostook County as the narrator drives from town to town delivering copies of a fresh edition of Echoes magazine of County culture, which Olmstead helped found and then edited and published (and distributed) for nearly 30 years.

She starts out in Caribou, where the magazine is assembled, proceeds to New Sweden, then Anderson’s Store in Stockholm, and on to Fort Kent, where the magazine circulates well. There she overhears a conversation in which a storekeeper offers a customer the use of her barn to stable a horse. At Sue’s Market in St. Francis there is a lot of concern about the spring ice jam around the confluence of the St. John and Allagash rivers, so she delays to have a look. She gets back on the road to St. Agatha, but won’t have time to make it to Madawaska or Van Buren, let alone the southern stops in Presque Isle, Houlton, Island Falls, which she’ll make on her way home to Orono. It’s a series of warm, folksy glimpses of the County community portrayed in the book.

The portrayals are collected mainly from articles written for past issues of Echoes and from Olmstead’s Bangor Daily News column focusing on The County, written in the 2010s at the behest of “editor extraordinaire” Rick Levasseur, himself a dyed in the wool County boy. In very carefully composed journalistic prose, she provides glimpses of “resilient” County natives (there is a very cute photo of little Jessica Meir, the future astronaut, with her mom at the Midsommar festival in the 1980s); moose and squirrels; auroras; gardening; the secrets of the Loring Air Force Base; the Acadian Festival; her early arrival in The County as a back-to-the-land homesteader in the 1970s; a flat tire on lonely Route 11 in which she finds she doesn’t need help from a AAA road crew after all.

It has been observed that Aroostook County is in some ways the Texas of Maine, with a culture and sense of independence that sets it apart from the rest of the state, and Olmstead provides a truly affectionate, appreciative view of its unique diversity, community and quirks in these brief, informative writings.

Kathryn Olmstead honed her career as a journalist in The County in the 1970s and ’80s, then taught journalism and served as an associate dean at the University of Maine, and now lives in The County again. Her other books include “Flight to Freedom” and “Stories of Aroostook: The Best of Echoes Magazine.” “True North” is available from Islandport Press, local book stores and online book sellers.

Off Radar takes note of poetry and books with Maine connections the first and third Thursdays of each month. Dana Wilde is a member of the National Book Critics Circle. Contact him at universe@dwildepress.net.

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