Jerry Boutin walked along the Winslow-Benton rail trail like it was his own backyard, he knows it so well.

On Thursday it was cold and windy and snow had fallen overnight, though it was late April.

Boutin, 67, didn’t mind the 34-degree temperature. He walks the trail every day with his wife, Susan, he said.

“We actually walked it Christmas morning a couple of years ago,” he said.

As he passed a small pool between the trail and the Kennebec River, Boutin recalled seeing a big snapping turtle emerge from it the other day. There are also eagles and hawks and other wildlife along the trail, which is part of the Kennebec-Messalonskee Trails system.

“It’s a cool place,” he said.

Photographer Rich Abrahamson and I got to hike the trail with Boutin Thursday because a little birdie told me he carves beautiful wooden owls and places them along the trail for people to enjoy. I asked Boutin if he’d show us the owls and he agreed.

We met him at the trail on the Winslow side, which is accessible from Benton Avenue. We parked and walked down to the river to begin our trek. Boutin said he has been carving owls and other figures for about 21 years.

“For me, it’s a winter hobby. I don’t ice fish or snowmobile or ski. This gets me through the winter. Now, I’m fishing. I’ll fish ’til November.”

A wooden owl carved by Jerry Boutin highlights a part of the Kennebec-Messalonskee Trails system that runs from Winslow to Benton. Boutin made 10 owls for display along the trail. Rich Abrahamson/Morning Sentinel Buy this Photo

Boutin placed 10 owls on the trail, but there were only seven left, the last time he checked.

“I’d like to think they’re flying away, but they’re not,” he said.

Shortly, we came upon a 12-by-5-inch wooden owl, perched atop a tall stump from a toppled tree. The gray and white owl with yellow eyes seemed to look right at us.

“They are what I call folk art,” Boutin said. “I don’t put a lot of detail into them because they’d disappear.”

The owl looks pretty detailed to me, and just lovely, a magical touch to the trail that I suspect when discovered, prompts delight from both kids and adults alike.

A wooden owl carved by Jerry Boutin highlights a part of the Kennebec-Messalonskee Trails system that runs from Winslow to Benton. Boutin made 10 owls for display along the trail. Rich Abrahamson/Morning Sentinel Buy this Photo

As we approached several more owls of various sizes and colors, tucked into a tree hole here,  atop a stump there, or perched on a tree branch, Boutin said he placed his first owl on a trail in Yarmouth last fall while hiking with his grandchildren. He graced the Winslow-Benton trail with owls early this spring.

Using special carving knives, he crafts the owls and then paints them.

“I do fish, ducks, figurines, little people, miniature people, elves. I’ve been doing Christmas ornaments for the grandkids. They get a new one every year.”

A retired 33-year electrician at Colby College, Boutin grew up in Winslow, the fifth of nine children, and graduated from Winslow High School in 1972. His mother was the late Rosanne Boutin, longtime and beloved Winslow town clerk who in 1987 was named Maine’s Mother of the Year.

Jerry Boutin and his wife have three children and six grandchildren who love to hike trails all over the state.

As we approached the Benton town line on the trail, we met two couples coming from the opposite direction — Dan and Debbie Zetterman of Waterville and Larry and Donna Genest of Benton. Bouncing alongside them was the the Zettermans’ brown Australian Labradoodle.

The couples walk the trail every day, and when we told them Boutin is the wood carver, they were delighted.

“We just love them,” Donna Genest said. “They’re awesome.”

A wooden owl carved by Jerry Boutin highlights the Kennebec Messalonskee Trail that runs from Winslow to Benton, Thursday. Boutin made 10 owls for display along the trail. Rich Abrahamson/Morning Sentinel Buy this Photo

The owls have sparked many a smile on the trail, she said, commending Boutin for his gifts.

“I think we just needed to smile through all of this time,” she said, referring to the pandemic year. “It’s been difficult, and it’s been wonderful to have it.”

When Boutin told them some of the owls were missing, they said they would keep a lookout for them. He mentioned one, in particular, that had been taken, but they insisted they just passed it moments ago.

Encouraged by that, Boutin walked on, anticipating its return. He conjectured that maybe a child had taken it and a parent ordered it returned.

“I’ll be thrilled if that came back,” he said.

Soon, we saw a plump, 6-inch-tall brown owl, sitting on a stump, staring out at us from the east side of the trail.

Boutin, smiling, offered a possible reason for its brief absence.

“Maybe it just went for a little flight,” he said.

Amy Calder has been a Morning Sentinel reporter 33 years. Her columns appear here Saturdays. She may be reached at [email protected]. For previous Reporting Aside columns, go to centralmaine.com.


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