This holiday season, we reached out to Maine outdoors scholars, scientists, guides, hikers and birders to get their favorite reads.

Responses came back in short order from Mainers working and playing outdoors in spots as far-flung as Belize, Antarctica and the North Maine Woods. We asked each to name one book that had deepened their love of nature, or even changed their lives; the books needn’t be newly published, we specified, nor must they be about Maine (although bonus points for that).

At the same time, we told them not to assume that an outdoors book has to be a work of nonfiction or a field guide. Didn’t Samwise and Frodo hike a lot on their quest for the ring? Wasn’t Harry Potter’s most trusted friend a snowy owl? Given that, we call anything that gets you contemplating nature a good read.

“A Field Guide to the Birds,” by Roger Tory Peterson, originally published 1934

“This book sparked my passion for birds and opened up a whole new world to me. When I was first exposed to birding, I used to study that book: reading the descriptions, studying the range maps in the back of the book, checking off birds when I saw them and note where I saw them. It got me to pay attention to time of year, habitat, behavior and all the intricacies of birding. Birding is, of course, what inspired my career and my love of travel. I have traveled through much of North and South America — all birding trips. Travel is about much more than a list of birds for me, but they are what drives the destination and they are one of the primary motivations for an exotic trip or adventure. When I think about my work life and my personal life, I would say (this) simple field guide changed my life.”

~ Judy Camuso, Commissioner of the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries & Wildlife

“The Barefoot Sisters: Southbound” by Lucy and Susan Letcher, 2008

Cover courtesy of Stackpole Books

“I read this book to help me mentally prepare for hiking the Appalachian Trail. It’s a true story about two girls from Maine who hiked the AT barefoot. It’s witty and entertaining and offers an honest glimpse into everyday life on the AT. It helped ground my expectations for the hike, instead of romanticizing it and being disappointed. A very empowering story.”

~ Christi Holmes, Registered Maine Guide and founder of the Maine Women Hunters group

“Journey to the Center of the Earth” by Jules Verne, 1864

“I was not a prolific reader during my younger years but the books which did tap my imagination mixed adventure, stories of survival and science. The book that stands out to me — which encompasses adventure, survival, and science — is “Journey to the Center of the Earth.” Now considered a science fiction masterpiece, this book had it all, and I have read it multiple times over the years. I’m proud to let my prior teachers know I am a far more prolific reader now and have made it through many literary classics. Better late than never, perhaps?”

~ Seth Campbell, assistant professor at the University of Maine Climate Change Institute

“Lost on a Mountain in Maine” by Donn Fendler, 1939

Cover courtesy of HarperCollins

“My family moved to Maine from Connecticut when I was 11. Our first family vacation in the state was a week-long camping trip to Baxter State Park. It was a lot of firsts for me: first canoe trip, first mountain climbed and, of course, my first experience in the big woods. It was a great adventure but, at the same time, terrifying on occasion. My next school year was sixth grade, and it was there that I found “Lost on a Mountain In Maine.” I was captivated by Donn’s story and, in many ways, it reinforced what I loved about the big woods, and also what scared the hell out of me. The big woods are a very special place and should be on everyone’s must-visit list —and every Maine kid should own a copy of this book.”

~ Bob Meyers, Maine Snowmobile Association executive director

“The Lure of the Labrador Wild” by Dillon Wallace, 1905

“I don’t know if a better true wilderness survival story has been written. I have read it a bunch of times and still can’t put it down. The book is a must read because it is a shocking true story of what a few men went through on a trip to the middle of nowhere. Most of Labrador is still this wild today, and you can imagine that Maine was very similar at one point in time, too. I like hearing what it was like to travel to a place like that with a canoe and a tent. No float planes dropping you off. No roads. No cell phones for help. If you survive, it’s up to you and your friends.”

~ Matt Libby, fifth-generation owner of Libby Camps and Registered Maine Guide

“My Wilderness: East to Katahdin” by William O. Douglas, 1961

“This mid-20th century environmental classic by the U.S. Supreme Court justice is worthy of sharing bookshelf space with the likes of Henry David Thoreau, John Muir, Aldo Leopold and Rachel Carson. I cherish Justice Douglas’s personal accounts of his travels to locales, such as Ontario’s Quetico Provincial Park and the Boundary Waters of Minnesota, the Allagash and Katahdin. My travels on foot and by canoe in these areas have deeply affected my wilderness ethic. I encourage others to delve into these essays to capture Douglas’s call that Nature be ‘left undisturbed in ever-widening circles, so that she can heal the wounds of civilization.'”

~ Howard Whitcomb, Baxter State Park historian and author

“The Outermost House” by Henry Beston, 1928

Cover courtesy of Henry Holt and Co.

“Beston chronicles his life and impressions during a year spent in a small cabin beside a dune on Cape Cod’s then-remote Nauset Beach. Besides his brilliant use of words, he movingly shares his meditative perception of the elemental importance of nature to the journey of the human spirit. I was deeply moved by this American masterpiece, and it has inspired me through all the years of my own personal lifelong journey in the outdoors. I am always recommending the book. Beston moved to Maine in the 1930s to a farm in Nobleboro so he is, by adoption, a Maine author as well.”

~ John Neff, retired pastor, author and Baxter State Park trail volunteer for over 50 years

“Reading Trout Water” by Dave Hughes, 2010

Cover courtesy of David Hughes

“One of my long-time favorite fly fishing books. Every body of water presents a new set of challenges for fly fishers, and Dave Hughes lays out detailed strategies for determining where the fish might be and how to best fish for them. It is informative for beginners and advanced alike, and also provides great winter reading by the fire when our favorite waters ice over.”

~ Evelyn King,  founder of Maine Women Fly Fishers, and vice president of Sebago-Trout Unlimited 

“The River Why” by David James Duncan, 1983

“This book, about a fishing-obsessed family, has everything I look for in a book: humor, drama, complex relationships and, most of all, fishing. Every once in a while I read a book that I will put down because I do not want it to end. This is one of those books. The protagonist is the son, torn between his fly fishing father and bait fishing mother. Eventually, he drops out of society to dedicate his life to fishing. In doing so he discovers the importance of relationships and family.”

~ Mike Pratico, Maine native, fly fisherman and director of the Maine Reel Recovery retreat

“Sportsmen Say” by Gene Letourneau, 1975

“My all-time favorite author, Gene wrote about hunting and fishing for central and southern Maine newspapers every day for 50 years. (When I was) growing up, Gene was my hero. This book is full of great stories about fishing, hunting and wildlife. One of my favorites is about Gov. Percival Baxter’s 8-pound brook trout that he caught when he was only 7 years old. The photos are wonderful, too.”

~ George Smith, sportsman, author and columnist


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