How I Spent My Summer Vacation

Laura Aden Packer, Arts Program Director

Kennebago River Moose

Common Loon Borestone Mountain

Roots A-Walk-in-the-Woods

My husband, Mark and I returned not too long ago from a glorious two-week vacation in northwestern Maine, where we stayed on a beautiful, pristine body of water with the unlikely name of Mooselookmeguntic Lake. Or perhaps the name is not so improbable as there are more MOOSE per square mile inhabiting this part of the state than human beings. And these animals are both majestic and “giguntic”.

Actually, I have no idea how this lake got its name, but this place is a gateway to an astonishingly beautiful, and vast country of 4,000 foot mountains, enormous lakes, raging rivers and abundant wildlife. The last (or first) section of the Appalachian Trail (AT) winds through the unbroken forests of pine, maple and birch in this area, and encountering “through hikers” (those who attempt to hike the whole length of the trail from Springer Mountain, Georgia to Mount Katahdin in Baxter State Park, Maine) is as likely as seeing those gangly, four-legged creatures.

Maine comprises over 33,200 square miles – almost as big as all the other New England States combined, and most of it is uninhabited. I think most Maine vacationers hug the rugged coast and never venture farther west than Route 1, a few miles way. But oh-my-goodness, if you love the outdoors, want to see a million stars at night, want to hike up a mountain and never encounter another biped all day, sip water from a spring, kayak on expansive, pristine lakes, and breathe crisp, clean air, this is THE place. Maybe it’s one of the last places in the northeast where one can experience what it means to be in a “wilderness.” There are over half a million acres of state and national forests in Maine.  Black bear, deer, fox, bald eagles, trout and salmon abound.  Ahh, Maine. I miss you.

Another ubiquitous animal to habituate this area is the common loon. But take my word for it, there is nothing common about the song of this large, beautiful aquatic bird (click on the “wail” call here) . It produces an eerie and haunting call, mostly at night just as you’re drifting off to sleep, and it can be heard for miles across the open water. I keep a stuffed animal version of the loon in my office that replicates this sound. Other Dodge staffers unabashedly pilfer it from my desk just to give it a squeeze.

When we come to this part of Maine, which Mark has been doing since he was six years old, it’s impossible not to wonder what New Jersey, and all of the mid-Atlantic and northeast region, must have looked like hundreds of years ago.

It also reminds us of the stewardship and awesome responsibility that is required of all of us to preserve what remains of the magnificent forests, woodlands and open space in our own State. My colleague, Michelle, and my best bud, Dee, both tell me there’s a beautiful little stretch of the AT that crosses through northwestern New Jersey. We’re thinking of planning a nice fall hike…any takers?

And I never miss an opportunity to recommend that everyone read one of my absolutely favorite books of all time,  “A Walk in the Woods,” Bill Bryson’s hysterical, laugh-out-loud classic about hiking the Appalachian Trail. For more information on the Appalachian Trail, visit the Appalachian Mountain Club’s website.

First Row
Kennebago River (which we have to kayak down at least twice during our vacation…just awesome); a “giguntic” moose (photo by Betty George)

Second Row
Loon (photo by Chris LaCroix); Borestone Mountain (maintained by the Maine Audubon Society) (one of our favorite mountains to climb)

Third Row
Tree Roots in the Kennebago River (cool, huh?) ; A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson

10 Responses to How I Spent My Summer Vacation

  1. Dee says:

    I am totally inspired by this ode to the wilderness! It makes me want to put on my hiking boots right now and get onto the AT for some beautiful Fall foliage. What are the odds of seeing a moose in EnJay? Now, that would be AWESOME!
    Thanks for this lovely musing on your annual trek that, I am sure, is never mundane.

  2. Sidney Hargro says:

    This was a great and thoughtful post. I look forward to working with you soon. By the way, I’ve been tweeting GRDF blog posts and think you all do one of the best jobs of organizational blogging in philanthropy.

    Sidney Hargro

  3. Nina Stack says:

    Thank you so much for sharing all this!!! Speaking of imagining what New Jersey and New York might have been like before Henry Hudson found us there is a wonderful exhibit at the Museum of the City of New York that Bobby and I saw last week on just this topic. Manhattan/Mannahatta. Scientists and the Wildlife Conservation Society have been able to uncover/determine what the natural terrain was, the plant and animal life, the streams and lakes. The website for the project is excellent and fascinating.

    Loving the Dodge Blog! Thank you for sharing

  4. Carol Herbert says:

    Laurie has written a beautiful and exquisite saga of her vacation in Maine. Though I haven’t been there in years I was transported back to my memories of the Waterville area, Colby College, Acadia National Park, Freeport and Bar Harbor. How wonderful that Laurie was able to share this experience with her husband Mark.

    I wonder…. how do we sustain these pristine environments for future generations ?

  5. Ruth Fost says:

    Laurie — Loved your story and thoughts about your glorious vacation in northwestern Maine. My husband, Art, and I have spent a few weeks of each of the last few summers hiking and exploring some of the many natural wonders in and around our vast and magnificent country — Utah (Bryce, Escalante, Zion); Montana, British Columbia (Canadian Rockies). We find these journeys to be not only invigorating and refreshing — but humbling as well. Ruth

  6. Wonderful story! I was fortunate to have spent a few days camping on an island in Mooselook back in June. Have been visiting the region since childhood and glad the development (and the moterboats!) have been kept to a minimum-so far. Anyone interested in keeping this place pristine and beautiful should visit the Rangeley Lakes Heritage Trust website ( for more info on conservation efforts. As for Dee’s comment about moose in NJ-we had one up near High Point about 10-15 years ago. A visitor from PA apparently-he didn’t stay long.

  7. Laura Aden Packer says:

    Wow, loving all these comment! And Dwight, thank you for yours…I’d love to see YOUR photos/artwork from Maine…mine are mighty amateur, but they help me to remember all year round the beauty and majesty of that region…

  8. Laura Aden Packer says:

    And thank you, Sidney…Our blog master, Molly de Aguiar, deserves much of the credit! We’re all looking forward to your move to NJ to assume the executive leadership of the Community Foundation of South Jersey!

  9. Bill Pierce says:

    What a Great blog on an amazing part of the world. I am blessed to actually live here and work for the organization (The Rangeley Lakes Heritage Trust) that helps to conserve many of the places you mentioned. The West shore of Mooselookmeguntic Lake is forever wild as are 3000 acres of land surrounding the Kennebago River that you canoed on your vacation. The name “Mooselookmeguntic” is an Abnaki word for “moose feeding place”.
    The RLHT was founded in 1991 and has thus far worked to conserve 24 separate parcels of land. These unique natural assets comprise over 12,300 acres of forest lands including 15 islands, and over 45 miles of lake, pond and river shorefront! These lands are open to the general public to enjoy a wide variety of recreational opportunities such as hiking, camping, angling, hunting, wildlife watching, kayaking, canoeing and snowmobiling. The Rangeley Lakes Heritage Trust places a high value on preserving the magnificent natural beauty and character of the region. Check out the video on the homepage of our website, called “Headwaters” to get a taste of some of what you missed. Glad you had fun and please come by when you visit again.

  10. Joanne Lockwood White says:

    Laura……I do a professional development hike for teachers once a year on a small section of the NJ AT…..I’ll let you kinow when we go next spring.
    How do you think your Maine trip would be in November? Do you think there’s any chance of seeing the Auroras there at that time?

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