Roxanne Quimby | North Woods Controversy in Maine
In the early summer of 1975, 24-year-old Roxanne Quimby arrived in northern Maine, having driven across the country with her boyfriend, looking for a place to homestead. Between them, they had $3,000. In Guilford, a mill town 50 miles northwest of Bangor, they found 30 acres of woods on a back road for that sum. They planned to build a cabin and live off the land, there at the edge of the fabled North Woods.
On the day of their arrival, as Roxanne stepped out of that road-weary Volkswagen bus onto the carpet of pine needles that was to be her home for the next 20 years, you might, if you were paying keen attention, have felt the earth tremble slightly beneath her feet, for the state of Maine would never be quite the same again.
Soon after, in 1976, the last logs tumbled down the Kennebec and brought to an end the legendary world of the river drives, which for generations had been alive with teams of oxen, timber cruisers, camp bosses, and loggers, a place that resounded with the ring of the axe and the smell of fresh sap. When those last logs drifted into the boom, it is possible that no one quite knew the changes that lay ahead for the 10-million-acre kingdom called the North Woods.
Rather than seeming like an end, this may have seemed like progress. Logs would move on railcars and trucks, as they had been increasingly for many years. It seemed as if nothing much else would change. That chapter of the Maine woods might have been over, but the framework that had supported it all those years — the paper companies that owned that land — would remain. The woods, everyone assumed, would continue to regenerate, and the need for wood and paper would never end.
The purpose of owning this vast timberland was to harvest the trees. Whatever else went on on that land didn’t much matter to the paper companies. Thousands of hunting camps rest among the pine and spruce and at the edges of those ponds, there by virtue of a hundred-year lease, given by the paper companies to whoever staked a claim. Hunters and their families built camps, often of logs cut from the property, and knowingly at risk of someday losing the land beneath their efforts.
But nothing ever happened. Hundreds of miles of snowmobile trails were cut through the forest. Recreation became the North Woods’ secondary use. For generations, the paper companies allowed a special kind of privilege: public use of private land.
Roxanne knew little about any of this when she arrived. She was not a woodswoman but an aspiring artist. Having just graduated from art school in San Francisco, she envisioned a life where costs would be low so that she could paint and sell her work. She and her soon-to-be husband, George St. Clair, cleared enough trees to build a 20×30-foot cabin. No running water, no electricity, no phone — not a hardship but a challenge. They cleared space for a garden. “We were very idealistic. We did a lot of wood-splitting, bow-saw work, hauling. It was very different from the way I’d been raised,” Roxanne says now. “It was important to prove to myself that I didn’t have to live the way my parents lived.”