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Wilderness Camps in Maine | An Allagash Love Story

Wilderness Camps in Maine | An Allagash Love Story
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He made her knitting needles from telephone wire and copper found at an abandoned logging camp, and Patty readied for winter, unraveling sweaters, using the yarn to knit stockings and mittens. Nuge’s uncle taught her a secret family pattern, and she’d spend hours knitting “Patty caps” that she would line up every fall to sell to hunters. “There are hundreds of my Patty caps in these woods,” she says.

In November they had their first paying guests — hunters drawn by Nuge’s reputation as a deer guide. They paid $10 a day per man for Patty’s cooking and the privilege of sleeping on a bare cabin floor with their coats for bedding. The business was finally started, but the Main Forestry Service, which administered the land, wanted them out.

“We asked for a lease,” Patty says with a trace of anger lingering through time, “but they just wanted to drive us out. They tried to stop us from cutting timber, but we went right on cutting what we needed for the camps. They didn’t know what to make of us. They figured we had some big money man backing us, what with Nuge having guided and knowing so many rich folks.

“A telephone line ran through the woods back then, and after awhile Nuge got us a phone and hooked us in. At least we could talk to the dam keepers, and it was company. The forestry service kept coming down and cutting us off. And Nuge, he’d just wait a few minutes for them to leave. Then he’d hook right back on. After eight years I guess they thought we were here to stay. They gave us a lease, $10 a year. I told Nuge we’d have them eating out of our hands, and before long all the state officials and the governor were having big to-do’s at Nugent’s Camps!”

When winter came Patty sewed parkas from the tent fly off the raft, fished through the ice, and wore double sets of long underwear when she did the wash. At Christmas the dam keeper at Lock Dam, seven miles distant, and at Telos, 12 miles, came for dinner along with Dave Hannah, and Patty served stuffed partridge and deer hearts. Now and again they’d snowshoe to Chesuncook Village, 17 miles away, to pick up mail. Nuge made tables and beds and carved sinks for the camps, and they survived, barely, on small loans from Patty’s father…

By 1938 they finished building the camps, including the cabin where Patty lives today. And luck — or fate — dealt them a curious break. For it was then that Dave Hannah died and Nuge was freed from his promise and could finally trap the country.

“Nuge started me on weasel,” she says. “They weren’t bringing too much then. He figured if I cut the skin we wouldn’t have lost too much. Then we went to bobcat and fox, and when I mastered those, to beaver. Skinned them right in this room by kerosene lantern and I never cut them.”

Nuge ran over 100 miles of trapline. He’d be gone two weeks at a time, living off beaver and muskrat stew, sleeping in tiny, outlying cabins he built along the route. Each day the dam keepers, like worried aunts, phoned Patty. “They needn’t have worried,” Patty says. “I didn’t have a care in the world then. There was nothing I didn’t feel I could handle.”

She set her beaver traps around the ponds, mink traps around the edges of streams, and bobcat traps back in the woods. There were a lot more trappers in the country back then, but there were a lot more animals, too. Come spring Nuge hauled the furs to Chesuncook, then to the buyers in Greenville. “We’d never have made it without the trapping,” she says. “One year we made over $4,800. That came in awful handy.”

One year Nuge told her he wanted to give her a coat of her choice, beaver or otter. “That winter,” she says, “we were getting a dollar an inch for beaver and they were all running large. I said I’d take the otter ’cause it was cheaper.” They took the skins and a pattern to a furrier, paid $200, and waited. When the coat arrived, a note was attached. The furrier was offering $2,000. “I asked Nuge and he said, ‘It’s yours. You decide!’ Well, I didn’t sell the coat. You know what they say about otter? It makes chorus girls’ mink look like floor mats.” She laughs. “Not that I had as many places to wear it as a chorus girl”…

Go anywhere along the Allagash today and ask people about Allen Nugent and the first thing they’ll mention will be his strength. Once it took five men to load a cookstove into the boat at Telos. Single-handedly Nuge got it out of the boat, over the knoll, and into the kitchen. He filled the icehouse with 400-pound blocks of ice, hauling them on a sled harnessed to his broad back as if he were a team of oxen. He’d pick up 500-pound gasoline drums, roll them along his leg, and set them into his boat…

She laughs, a congested, throaty laugh always on the edge of a cough. “Nuge was powerful, but when guests got rowdy I took care of them. You never saw that man without a smile. He’d get up in the morning and it’d be raining or snowing and he’d say ‘It’s a beautiful morning.’ I’d say, ‘Nuge, what’s so beautiful about it?’ ‘Any morning you wake up, darling, is a beautiful morning,’ he’d say. That’s how he was. No matter what happened, he always said, ‘Just right. Just right.’ He wouldn’t fight with me even when I’d fly off the handle. So I gave in. On the 17th of September 1942 we were married. Just a couple stood for us in Lincoln”…

They entertained governors and celebrities and outdoorsmen from around the country. Nuge was a gifted storyteller and at night, after the meal, everyone gathered in the dining room in the glow of the lanterns and listened to Nuge while Patty rocked and knitted. They were taking in over $1,000 a day now, and they bought a house in East Millinocket and a Winnebago for getaways right after deer season. And without telling Nuge, Patty bought a second set of camps up the lake a bit because she knew they would fill them, too, as long as the name said “Nugent’s.”

“Every day lasted so long,” Patty says, “yet time went so fast. People who don’t know the woods will never understand. It’s the first thing they ask me. And I tell them. We were never lonely. Never. Never.”

It is evening now of another day. In the morning, a plane will arrive for the visitor. Eight years have passed, but it is still difficult for Patty to talk about the tenth of February 1978 when Nugenpatty became simply Patty.

Mel Allen

Author:

Mel Allen

Biography:

Mel is the fifth editor of Yankee Magazine since its beginning in 1935. His career at Yankee spans more than three decades, during which he has edited and written for every section of the magazine, including home, food, and travel. In his pursuit of stories, he has raced a sled dog team, crawled into the dens of black bears, fished with the legendary Ted Williams, picked potatoes in Aroostook County, and stood beneath a battleship before it was launched. Mel teaches magazine writing at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst and is author of A Coach’s Letter to His Son. His column, “Here in New England,” is a 2012 National City and Regional Magazine Awards Finalist for the category Column.

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