A simple, healing trip through the Maine woods

Last Friday, with another hectic week behind me and a holiday weekend looming, I sent out texts to a few friends, looking for help.

BDN outdoors editor John Holyoke fishes the West Branch of the Penobscot River. (Chris Lander photo)

Not that I actually told those pals exactly that. In fact, I never used the word “help” once.

Instead, I explained that my wife had been away all week on business, wouldn’t be back until late Sunday, and the prospect of a holiday weekend spent kicking around the house was getting me down. I was desperately in need of a bit of time in the woods or on the water, and was looking for a partner in crime.

What I didn’t say was this: It had been far too long since I’d spent time in the woods. And I was really beginning to miss the rejuvenating power of our less-populated spaces.

I know, I know. The solution was easy: Just pack up some gear, jump in your car, and go.

That’s what I’ve always done. And a year or two ago, that’s exactly the advice I would have given myself.

But in December, my life changed in ways that I’m still getting used to.

I’ve made no secret about my stint in the hospital after suffering a stroke — my third, I learned — at the ripe old age of 52. But I suppose I haven’t been entirely honest to dedicated readers, nor to myself.

For months since, I’ve been approached by plenty of well-wishers who have asked how I’m doing.

And each time, I smiled and  said I was OK. Or fine. Or great.

That, after all, is what guys like me — guys who go a dozen years between visits to our primary care physicians — always say.

Everything’s all right. Honest.

Except, it’s not. Not really.

In the months since my health scare, I’ve celebrated how lucky I was. Lucky that I wasn’t out in the woods deer-hunting when I had my stroke. Lucky that I can still type, and read, and speak, and do most of the things that I always have.

My fingers still tingle, though. And if pushed for the absolute truth, I’d mention that my left leg seems a bit clumsier, and that food tastes different than it used to.

Unspoken, however, was this: I’ve been a bit uneasy since my health scare. Wary about wading  in rivers, fly rod in hand. Not too eager to venture too far off the beaten path on my own. Reluctant to live the carefree life I always lived.

Not terrified. Not scared. But different. No doubt about it.

So on Friday, I asked for help. Not that I ever said that word, of course.

And my buddy Chris Lander, perhaps reading the truth between the lines of my text, stepped forward and suggested a trip in the woods was definitely in order.

Pack a fly rod, he told me. And a camera. We’ll head north. Maybe we’ll find some moose. Maybe we’ll fish. It’ll be great.

And it was.

We spent the day tracing a huge loop through some of my favorite spots on earth, driving first to Millinocket, then stopping for lunch at River Drivers Restaurant, where we enjoyed a stunning view of Katahdin.

Then it was on out the Golden Road, where we peered out into the likely spots that we’ve seen moose before. When we reached the West Branch of the Penobscot, we found a place to pull over, rigged up our fishing gear, and took turns trying our luck.

When we walked to the river, brown mayflies hovered everywhere, and fish hungrily broke the surface, feeding on them. I had a similar fly in my box. I scrambled slowly, tentatively, over the rocky ledge, tied it on, and caught a pair of frisky salmon in 10 minutes time.

Then we moved on, driving farther west, before hooking south, toward the tiny town of Kokadjo (Population: Not many), Moosehead Lake, and Greenville.

No moose joined us on the trip, but who’s complaining?

During the trip, we talked about our families, and jobs, and fishing, and hunting. We brainstormed future adventures, and spent imaginary lottery winnings on huge tracts of forest every time we passed a “For Sale” sign.

And yes, we even talked about our health. Just before sunset, hours after we left our homes, we arrived back in Bangor, a bit road-weary, but smiling.

“Thanks,” I said, after we finished unloading all of my gear. Then I summed up the day the only way I could.

“I really needed this,” I said.

Chris nodded.

“Yeah,” he said. “Me, too.”

John Holyoke can be reached at jholyoke@bangordailynews.com or 990-8214. Follow him on Twitter: @JohnHolyoke

John Holyoke

About John Holyoke

John Holyoke has been enjoying himself in Maine's great outdoors since he was a kid. Today, he's the Outdoors editor for the BDN, a job that allows him to meet up with Maine outdoors enthusiasts in their natural habitat. The stories he gathers provide fodder for his columns, and this blog.