“Our Maine”: New Book Captures Maine’s Uniqueness

Lighthouse on the Maine coast at sunsetBy Sarah Delmonte

From alpine summits to blueberry barrens, freshwater wetlands to estuaries, and everywhere in-between, Maine offers a brilliantly diverse natural landscape to be explored.

Our Maine”, a newly released book edited by Mitchell Center faculty fellows Aram Calhoun and Malcolm Hunter in collaboration with Kent Redford, gives readers an opportunity to explore the natural heritage of the state and learn about the many species and ecosystems found within it. The book includes stories, and other information from experts and academics, members of the Wabanaki, conservation groups, and state agency staff. Additionally, “Our Maine” features beautiful photographs of Maine’s natural landscapes and some of the signature species associated with them.

“Our Maine’ co-editor Aram Calhoun is professor emerita of wetland ecology and conservation at the University of Maine (UMaine). She contributed a few sections to the book, including the freshwater wetlands chapter and a segment on wood frogs. In her piece, she recalls her first encounter with the frogs one spring—following the sound of quacking ducks only to discover a shallow pool with no ducks but a gathering of calling male frogs enticing the females from the forest. Her co-editor Malcolm (Mac) Hunter is a professor emeritus of wildlife ecology and conservation biology at UMaine. He also contributed three chapters including one on forestry, which delves into the history of Maine’s trees from the early colonial exploitation of “King Mast Pines” to the lumber industry today. Both co-editors shared a common goal when working on the book: determine how to combine personal experience and scientific knowledge in order to inform readers about Maine in an engaging and fun way.

“Kent Redford was the catalyst,” said Hunter in a recent interview. Calhoun added, “[He] lived out most of his career in Washington DC, New York, and Florida. He and his wife decided just prior to her retirement to move to Maine and he said ‘if I were moving to Maine, I would like to have a book that introduces me to the ecosystems in Maine’. He hoped that this book would be written so he could pick it up and learn about his new state and start planning where he was going to explore.”

As a result, “Our Maine” was designed so that each chapter introduces a unique ecosystem, complete with historical backgrounds and in-depth descriptions of what you might discover there. Calhoun stated the importance of both passion and expertise in the process of finding contributors for the book. “We wanted to find people who would say yes—people who are experts. These are people who love Maine and are dedicated to their study system,” said Calhoun. As a result, each chapter offers a personal perspective and reads more like a tribute to Maine rather than as a comprehensive discussion of ecosystems.

For instance, Kristina Cammen, an associate professor of marine mammal science at UMaine, contributed a section on harbor seals. In it, she recounts a personal story about her enjoyment at seeing seals surface along the Maine coastline. She also delves into the cultural significance of harbor seals to the Wabanaki, as well as interactions between people and harbor seals throughout history. Joseph Zydlewski, assistant unit leader of the USGS Maine Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit and a professor in UMaine’s Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Conservation Biology, shares his enthusiasm for American eels through another chapter. Within it, Zydlewski describes the mysterious and intriguing mass migration of the eels. Despite their small size, they travel incredibly long distances from the tropical ocean waters to the rivers of Maine.

As co-editors, Calhoun and Hunter explain that geology and climate, the first two chapters of the book, provide the foundation for the following chapters arranged from wettest to driest ecosystems and end with the cultural aspects of natural history unique to Maine.

“You might not want to start such a popular book with geology because it is actually one of the hardest chapters,” said Calhoun. “but it was overridden by the fact that this is how Maine started. It started as rocks and water under ice…it’s the climate that shaped what we have in the state.”

Laura Zamfirescu provided the book’s stunning photography. When asked about the photography, Hunter mentioned their shared vision. “I wanted it to be visually very compelling and not simply a three by five inch photograph to illustrate some geological feature. We set it up from the get go so there would be a lot of full page photographs and it was a design feature that we pushed for…A lot of thought went into what photographs to use.”

According to Calhoun and Hunter, each photo is intended to showcase the state’s natural beauty and uniqueness. For some of the photographs, Zamfirescu used a drone to capture the scenery.

“We knew we wanted some [photos] of the forest meeting the sea because on a global scale there really are few places where the forest comes to the sea in a way that it does in Eastern Maine,” Hunter explained. Their intention was to use one of the shoreline photos as a cover image. “We wanted a fabulous example of that and spent a lot of time looking at maps and thinking of our experience along the coast, identifying the correct place to do it and bringing Laura there so she could fly her drone and take a photograph.”

When asked if they could describe the new book with one word, both Calhoun and Hunter gave the same answer: “Maine”.

“Maine as a word has a lot of cache,” said Hunter. “It’s a powerful word. It’s simple, it’s the only state with one syllable. It brings up images of lobsters and lighthouses and moose to people all across the country and even across the world… Maine is a special place on the face of this Earth and this is a book that covers an awful lot of aspects of it.”

“Our Maine” can be found online and in bookstores.

Sarah Delmonte is a Communications Intern with the Mitchell Center. Sarah is a senior undergraduate student majoring in English with a minor in Journalism.