“Thoreau’s Maine Woods: A Legacy for Conservation” by Dean B. Bennett; North Country Press, Unity, Maine, 2021; 152 pages, large format paperback, $29.95.

Longtime science educator and environmentalist Dean Bennett has added to his lengthy list of writings on the conservation and appreciation of Maine’s natural world with the beautifully illustrated book “Thoreau’s Maine Woods: A Legacy for Conservation.”

“Conservation,” Bennett tells us, “means the preservation, protection, and restoration of the natural environment,” and the book seeks to foster that “spirit” by tracing the routes Henry David Thoreau took on his excursions to Maine in 1846, 1853 and 1857. Thoreau recounted his journeys in three lengthy essays – “Ktaadn,” “Chesuncook” and “The Allegash and East Branch” – which were later collected in one book titled “The Maine Woods.”

Bennett turns his careful reading of these essays into summaries of Thoreau’s stops along the way. The text of each chapter notes some of the principal imagery described by Thoreau at each stop, and then presents a roundup of related present-day conservation efforts or facts of natural history in that area, or both. When crossing the West Branch of the Penobscot in the “Ktaadn” section, for example, Bennett tells us about Thoreau’s fascination for lichens, leading to a little discussion of their presence in the Maine woods. In the Chesuncook section covering Thoreau’s 1853 excursion, we get a nice snapshot history of Mount Kineo, discovering how a state park grew out of conservation efforts there. Further on, along the West Branch of the Penobscot where Thoreau reports he and his Penobscot guide spotted a moose and her calf, we get a brief discussion of how the basic ethics of hunting have not changed in 150 years.

The really arresting element of Bennett’s book is the illustrations. Each chapter provides a colorful, meticulously detailed map showing the exact location we’re hearing about. The maps are accompanied by landscape images made, Bennett tells us, from “combinations of digital images of both photographs and watercolor paintings.” These illustrations make up the real weight of the book, and provide an accurate guide, both geographic and aesthetic, to Thoreau’s Maine woods essays.

Dean Bennett is the author of “Maine’s Natural Heritage: Rare Species and Unique Natural Features,” “Allagash: Maine’s Wild and Scenic River” and “On Wilderness: Voices from Maine,” among others. “Thoreau’s Maine Woods” is available from North Country Press and local and online book sellers.

Off Radar takes note of poetry and books with Maine connections the first and third Fridays of each month. Dana Wilde is a member of the National Book Critics Circle. Contact him at [email protected].

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