The Most Controversial Woman in Maine


Roxanne Quimby: Queen Bee in the North Woods
by Edie Clark
for the March/​April 2008 issue of Yankee

In the early summer of 1974, 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. Their journey had taken them to Northern California (too expensive), Oregon and Washington (they didn't like it and no one liked them, bearing as they did those nasty California license plates), and Vermont (too expensive). Northern Maine, they were told, was the last place to find cheap land. In Guilford, a mill town fifty miles northwest of Bangor, they found 30 acres of woods on a back road for that sum. Like thousands of other young people at that time, they planned to build a cabin and live off the land, there at the edge of the fabled North Woods. On that 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 just slightly beneath her feet, for the state of Maine would never be quite the same again after that moment.
Just a short while later, in 1976, the last logs of the North Woods tumbled down the Kennebec River. This last log drive brought to an end a legendary world that late in the 19th century and all through the 20th had been alive with teams of oxen, timber cruisers, camp bosses and river drivers wearing spiked boots, a place that resounded with the ring of the axe, the stomp and snort of the horse or ox, 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, the end of the log drives seemed like progress. Logs would move on rail cars and on trucks, as they had been increasingly for many years. It seemed as if nothing much else would change. That chapter of the Maine woods was over but the framework that had supported it all those years – the paper companies who owned all that land – would remain. The woods, everyone assumed, would continue to regenerate and the need for wood and paper would never end.
The purpose in owning this vast timberland was to harvest the trees. Whatever else went on on that land didn't much matter to them. While these rugged Paul Bunyons labored in the woods, creating myth and legend in order for the rest of the world to build shelter and read newspapers, another, less predictable, but very durable culture was forming. Men came to hunt and fish, brought their sons to bond and search for wild game, a search not only for meat but for roots, the kind that bring us back to our ancestors, some say to our nature. Later, as the fist of the man's world loosened its grip, daughters and wives came too. Guns and kayaks, canoes and fly rods packed into the Jeep, the perilous trip up the Golden Road became a rite of passage. The Golden Road, which supplanted the river drives, carried logs downcountry to the mills. Thousands of hunting camps rest between those pines and those spruce and at the edges of those ponds, there by virtue of the hundred-year lease, given out 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. The paper companies allowed a special kind of privilege: public use of private land. Their only law: logging trucks have the right of way.
Roxanne knew little about any of this at that time of her arrival. She was not a woodswoman but an aspiring artist. Having just graduated from art school in San Francisco, she envisioned a life in the woods where costs would be low enough so that she could paint canvases and sell her work. But first, there had to be shelter. She and her soon-to-be husband, George St. Clair, used a bow saw to clear enough of the trees to build a 20x30 cabin. There would be no running water, no electricity, no phone, which they did not regard as a hardship so much as a challenge to their spirit. They opened a space in the woods for a garden, which would feed them. And life began for them in a place unlike anything they had ever known. “We were very idealistic. We did a lot of wood splitting, a lot of bow saw work, a lot of hauling of things. It was very different from the way I had been raised,” Roxanne says now. “It was really important for me to be able to prove to myself that I didn't have to live the way my parents lived.”
Roxanne had grown up in Lexington, Massachusetts, and had gone from there to San Francisco. So there was much to learn, about the place and the culture of northern Maine. Roxanne found work as a waitress and George worked occasionally as a disc jockey at a local radio station. The old VW bus died and so they walked where they needed to go. At the end of each year, they had enough money to pay their taxes and buy the small things they needed. Four years later, Roxanne gave birth to twins, a boy and a girl. After a few years, George found a life elsewhere.
So it was Roxanne and the twins, in the cabin. Roxanne needed more money than what she was making. One day, she stopped to buy honey from a pickup truck parked by the side of the road. She became friendly with the man selling the honey, a gruff, bearded beekeeper named Burt Shavitz. He was older than she by 15 years and was having trouble with his back. She offered to help him, lifting supers and moving hives, and he gladly accepted as he could use a woman with a good strong back. So, for that summer, she worked for Burt, learning how to keep bees, learning how to render honey. “I was really inspired by the bees, the way they all worked together, I thought, oh, what good little communists they are. Well, except for that queen in there,” she says.
She and Burt became partners, partners in life and partners in business. She put the honey into prettier jars, pouring the golden sweetness into little bears and hive-shaped containers. Packaged in this way, their honey business picked up.
In his barn, Burt had a lot of wax. Burt saw it as waste from the hives; Roxanne saw it as candles. “What are you going to do with that wax?” Roxanne asked him one day. “You can have it if you want it,” was Burt's reply. So she started making candles and decided to take these two products, honey and candles, on the road to craft fairs.
The honey sold steadily and the candles sold well in the fall and through the Christmas season but people didn't seem to want to buy candles in the summer. They melt. They have no allure. So Roxanne looked around for something else to do with the wax and found an old book with some recipes that called for beeswax. On her woodstove, she made up cauldrons of boot polish and furniture polish and poured the substances into little tins. She liked the tins. They looked old-fashioned and homey. And then she discovered a recipe for lip balm. She labeled the products Burt's Bees. Burt had all his hives stenciled, Burt's Bees, and when Roxanne was out there working the hives, “I used to think that was so funny, as if anyone could actually own a bee!” So she put it on the tins. She found that when people came by her table, even if they didn't buy anything, they liked the name. “People would go, 'Look, honey, Burt's Bees!' and they would laugh and keep walking, saying things like, 'Burt's Bees, Burt's Bees! Mind you own beeswax!' They seemed to love to say it. It was so simple, down to earth, two syllables, nothing fancy, sort of like Burt, sort of like the product, sort of like the lifestyle I was trying to paint. So I thought, OK, yeah, that's a good name.”
Some may have chuckled over the name but most of them bought it. Once she put the lip balm out onto the table, it flew. She couldn't make enough of it. She moved all her wax and the cauldrons to the abandoned schoolhouse in Guilford. It didn't have running water or electricity either but she barely noticed, setting the cauldron onto the woodstove and working sometimes till midnight by the light of kerosene lamps. She added a drawing of Burt onto the label, his bearded face representing anything but beauty. Buyers embraced the product even more, enjoying the straightforward approach.
This was the beginning of Burt's Bees, which today is the best-selling natural personal care brand of cosmetics in the country, a brand market researchers call “lightning in a bottle.”
But this little handcrafted product was hardly so back then. Roxanne followed the destiny of her creation one step at a time, a road without a map that led her, after 20 years living and doing business from this remote Maine town, to North Carolina where she felt the business climate was more favorable than it had been in Maine. Maine was high on taxes and low on accessibility. Shipping her products now all over the country and beyond, she discovered Raleigh, North Carolina, was exactly halfway between New York and Miami. It was 1994. Her twins were in boarding school. As much as she hated to leave, Roxanne left Maine for the south, where she had never been. She had seen Easy Rider back in those days and she had clung ever since to the idea that the south was a scary place. Now she was not only going there but she was moving there, not with a backpack but with a 3 million dollar business of her own creation in tow.
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The same year Roxanne left Maine, Scott Paper, one of the two largest landowners in Maine, sold everything they owned to SAPPI – South African Pulp and Paper Inc., which represented, if anyone was watching, a shift in the global market and a shift in the life of the Maine woods at least as significant as the end of the river drives. Four years later, in 1998, SAPPI sold the land to a Seattle-based company called Plum Creek. In all, it was nearly a million acres surrounding Moosehead Lake, New England's largest lake. If the arrival of Roxanne Quimby caused a tremor, Plum Creek's arrival caused an earthquake throughout this, the largest expanse of wilderness east of the Mississippi.
Apparently no one foresaw that opening the world to free trade would one day steal away the North Woods. Markets in China and South America became easier places to find wood and paper. And much cheaper. As if by the work of a thief in the night, the North Woods went up on the block. Suddenly, the ringing silence of those wilderness woods shouted for attention. Tracts of thousands of acres of land came up for sale. One of the early buyers was Plum Creek, a timber company from Seattle. Shrine to many, Moosehead Lake is a place almost as stoked in memory and legend as Katahdin.
“Plum Creek is now the largest landowner in the United States,” Jym St. Pierre says. Jym is the Maine Director of an organization called RESTORE: The North Woods. In 1994, RESTORE put out the idea of creating a 3.5 million acre park they decided would be called the Maine Woods National Park (MWNP). “I saw the signs on the horizon, even back in the 1980s, that things were going to change. What I didn't predict was the speed of it. I didn't think it was going to happen this fast. This is not a evolution. This is a revolution.”
By 2005, Plum Creek had proposed a plan to develop 400,000 acres surrounding Moosehead. The plan would include 2 large resorts and nearly a thousand residential lots. “This is the largest, most controversial project ever proposed in the history of Maine,” St. Pierre says.
Unable to gain approval from the state's LURC (Land Use Regulatory Commission, which acts as a zoning commission for the unorganized townships of Maine), Plum Creek has revised the plan three times. The current proposal is under review. Plum Creek has emphasized that much of the land will be placed under conservation easement, a move to calm the fears of environmentalists. St. Pierre explains that the easements, which will continue to allow forestry activity, road construction, sawmills, cell towers, herbicide spraying, mining, even subdivision, are not for conservation but for continuous forestry. “You can shape these easements any way you want. Some of them are very good. These Plum Creek easements have no value.”
Plum Creek, however, has forced the hand of many in these perilous times in a state where employment is way down and poverty is on the rise. St.Pierre quotes statistics: 5,000 people once worked in the mills of Millinocket and E. Millinocket. Today, only 500 are employed there. “I don't blame people for clinging to the hope that some of those days will come back. The forestry industry will survive but it won't be the driver anymore. The biggest industry in the state of Maine is tourism and Plum Creek is trying to tap into that in a way that will give them maximum profit. They buy land cheap and sell it high. They still make money by cutting trees but they make most of their money cutting up land.”
The debate in Maine over what should happen to this abandoned kingdom gets louder with each passing year. RESTORE has been vocal in their efforts to create the Maine Woods National Park (MWNP) but their proposal has been rebuffed by many an independent Mainer. One bumper sticker reads: RESTORE BOSTON: Leave the Maine Woods Alone. “For a long time, we had this big place, over 10 million acres, as big as the whole rest of New England, that people just forgot about. It was a big blank spot on the map and now everybody's scrapping for it. Everything about this is big. It's the last big place. Look around the country. I don't know of any other place that's in play like this. Even Alaska. We're all trying to figure out what the brave new world will be up there.”
St. Pierre cites the paper companies indulgence in allowing the public to use their private lands. “The biggest reason we don't have a national park in Maine today is because we've had a defacto park for generations. People feel entitled to that land, just because it's always been there.”
St. Pierre's father and grandfather worked in the mills and in the woods. “People thought this land was like a permanent institution, like the US government. They thought it was going to be there forever and always be the same. Well, no matter what happens, that is not the case.”
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Roxanne, who has never worn a wristwatch and never will, was by then surely the most unorthodox CEO in America. In her corporate headquarters in North Carolina, she conducted herself, no surprise, in the spirit of who she had been, back in those hippie days. Dogs and children were welcome in the workplace. She didn't have a private office, but instead kept her desk in the art department, making herself available to any of her 300 employees. She shunned focus groups: “They only confirm what you already know. A consumer cannot vocalize what is missing in their lives. You have to give them something they don't know they want.”
She never advertised Burt's Bees. “I always felt it was much more important what people said about us than what we said about ourselves,” she says of the product that sold mostly by word of mouth. Roxanne found that a key to the success of her products was the process of discovery. “Once (the consumer) found Burt's Bees, they felt like it was theirs, it became personal. They put their flag in, as if to say, this is mine, I discovered it! And they became really loyal.”
Burt accompanied Roxanne to North Carolina but lasted only two months. He kept losing his car in the parking lot. And so Roxanne bought out his share of the business and he returned to his converted chicken coop in Guilford, where he still lives, an abandoned bee hive in the front yard, goldenrod growing high all around it.
In 2003, having grown the business to a phenomenal 60 million dollars a year, Roxanne Quimby sold Burt's Bees to AEA, a New York investment company, for nearly $200 million. When she sold it, she retained 20% ownership. Not exactly overnight but in the comfort of time, Roxanne Quimby, she of the long skirts and wood-heated spaces, had become a vastly wealthy woman. “At that point, I said to myself, 'Now what, Roxanne? You are only 56 and you've got another 20 years of life on this earth, what do you want to do?'”
She went to Hawaii and to Antarctica and all the places she had always wanted to go. She shopped for a home in Palm Beach. She bought six. “I was questing,” she says now.
And then she returned to Maine where the fight for the North Woods was on.
She came to realize that “money itself is totally worthless. You can't eat it. You can't cover yourself up with is at night and stay warm. Money is only what it does and so I was trying to find the most meaningful thing I could do with the money I had.”
And so she began to buy up the North Woods.
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Maps spread before her on the long table, Roxanne Quimby draws red outlines onto the map of northern Maine. Roxanne is formidable, tall and imposing, dressed in black, her long dark hair hanging loose. It's as easy to see her swinging an axe as it is to imagine her in command of a large platoon. “Everything in red is mine,” she says.
On the map, Baxter State Park cuts a clean, elongated block right in the center of the big ragged cranial head of the state of Maine. Baxter State Park is the creation of Governor Percival P. Baxter, who served as Maine's governor for only four years (1921-1925), during which time perhaps his most controversial act was to lower the flag at the statehouse when his beloved Irish setter, Garry, died.
A bachelor and a tireless supporter of animal rights, Baxter also appeared to be a tree-hugger. During his administration, he tried and failed to make Mt. Katahdin, which he regarded as the state's crowning glory, a state park. In spite of that failure, “Mr. Maine,” as he was sometimes known, never lost sight of that goal. Not a particularly vigorous outdoorsman, Baxter once climbed Katahdin and became feverish and ill. Through his fever that day, he vowed to himself that, if he lived, he would ensure that one day, the mountain, which then belonged to the Great Northern Paper Company and to one other private owner, would belong to the state of Maine forever.
Starting in 1930 and ending in 1969, Baxter quietly purchased 32 separate pieces of land, a crazy quilt of mountains and streams, ponds and waterfalls that he put together to form what is now known as Baxter State Park, 202,064 acres, more than 314 square miles of stark wilderness, a place Baxter willed to be “forever wild,” and which will remain so through the deeds of his trust. These were not simple purchases, given over for the asking price. As he bought more and more land, angry citizens raised their voices. He was taking their favorite hunting grounds and closing them off to wilderness. People, especially from Millinocket and Patten, showed up to protest. A park, Baxter discovered, was not something everyone embraced. At the end, he conceded a section of the park to hunters and forestry. He realized the passion of these people and made these concessions.
Roxanne's red rectangles are to the east of the park. She is starting her own crazy quilt. These are plots of land she has bought. There are others she hopes to buy. Some are scattered and separate. By bargaining and swapping, she is trying to put together a whole. In concert with RESTORE what she has in mind is a park, a national park. “I feel like my reason for being put on this earth will have been fulfilled because this will live on after me,” she says. “A park is a demonstration that there is something in America that I can love,” she says, her counterculture re-emerging. “It's very democratic, a Mexican immigrant or a millionaire, for ten bucks, they both get the same experience.”
She is sitting in the front room of one of her many homes, far from the cabin in Guilford. This particular house is in Portland and it so happens to have once belonged to Governor Percival P. Baxter, whom she admires a great deal and from whom she has learned a few things. “He is very inspiring to me but there is a difference between the two of us. Governor Baxter inherited his money. He didn't earn it. That makes for a whole different outlook. The way Percival Baxter went acquiring his land must have been different, spending someone else's money. I fight tooth and nail for every dollar. I'm a business person. I don't want to be taken advantage of.”
That Roxanne Quimby and Percival Baxter live and lived at the opposite ends of the American spectrum is true. The North Woods are Roxanne's passion now, as once were the bees. “It was part of the culture of our family, to be out in the woods. Both my kids hiked the entire Appalachian Trail. The fact that the paper companies were downsizing came at the right time for me. There were all these opportunities. They used the woods and owned the mills and that did, in some ways, preserve the wilderness because they never cut it up into pieces, so it's still fairly intact. Chesuncook, Northeast Carry, Kakadjo, people carry those places in their minds and even if they don't get there, it's important that it's there, that they could be there if they wanted to.”
By the summer of 2007, Roxanne Quimby had spent $39 million of her fortune to purchase some 80,000 acres of wilderness. Nearly 65,000 acres of this surrounds the East Branch of the Penobscot River and substantially abuts Baxter State Park. To her mind, a park is the only reasonable destiny for this land. “If we leave this to chance, we will not have the opportunity to make decisions about what happens next.”
In the process of making these purchases, Roxanne gobbled up hunting grounds, snowmobile trails, a significant portion of the East Branch of the Penobscot River and some beloved primitive camps families and hunters have passed down through generations. “I own it now,” Roxanne proclaimed. “Buying the land also means I am buying the right to call the shots. I can do what I want with it.”
Like a general planning her offense, Roxanne returns to the map. Her strategy is ironclad. “These two pieces of land here effectively stop all east west traffic. This bridge, the Whetstone Bridge, here. It's one of the very significant nails in the coffin because it's the only way to get across the river for something like 30 miles. OK, you can go over the bridge but you can't go across my land with a car. So you can have your bridge but it ain't doin' you any good. I'm closing in and I'm doing this to demonstrate that you can not leave this to chance.”
She is speaking broadly to those who oppose a park, those who ironically also claim they believe in property rights. “Yes, it's a private road but it's been in such permissive use for so many years, people forget that the state does not own that road.”
Up there, where she is pointing, people slapped bumper stickers onto their cars and they fashioned t-shirts emblazened with the slogan, “Ban Roxanne.” Letters to the editor condemned her. (Quote)
This reaction shocked her. “I couldn't believe it, I was really blown away. I could not believe people would come after me like that, so personally and with such venom. I thought I would be appreciated. I mean, doesn't everybody love a park?”
At the time, Roxanne was on the board of RESTORE. “People up there hate RESTORE so I put some distance between us at that point. I didn't need that.”
But Roxanne and RESTORE work in supportive ways. “We are not a land trust,” Jym St. Pierre clarifies. “RESTORE does not buy land. Rather, we are an advocacy group. We promote ideas. The idea of this park is still being hotly debated more than 13 years after it was first proposed. MWNP remains robust, in part, because Roxanne Quimby has made it tangible. There is nothing more real than real estate and Roxanne has repeatedly said she would like to see the lands she has acquired become the seeds of a new national park. What she owns now would be a very credible beginning.”
When Roxanne was growing up, she often played monopoly. “I loved that game. I had two sisters and a brother, all younger, and they were always available to play. I hated to lose, so I always made sure, one way or the other, that I won.”
This is how Governor Baxter got his park, one piece at a time with many setbacks and disappointments. But, in the end, he won.
Roxanne's plan is somewhat counterintuitive. She returns to the bees of her past. “To me, ownership and private property was the beginning of the end in this country. Once the Europeans came in, drawing lines and dividing things up, things started getting exploited and overconsumed. But a park takes away the whole issue of ownership, it's off the table, we all own it and we all share it. It's so democratic.”
But first, she has to own it.
“It's becoming increasingly clear that I can chase them all over the place. I think they see now that I am not going to be stopped.”
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The muscly Piscataquis River runs through Guilford, a town of simple people, about 1500 of them, most of them working at the local mills, mills that have made for years such hardwood products as golf tees, toothpicks, popsicle sticks and wooden nickels. Guilford's town manager Tom Goulette leans on the counter where a local couple are waiting for the deed to their land and talks about the time when surprised townspeople watched the long-haired Roxanne and her company outgrow his town. Everyone has a story about her, like that Burt used to always come over and borrow the town shovel and take it over to Burt's Bees to shovel their walks, like as if they couldn't afford to buy a ten dollar shovel for themselves. Same with the town broom, even the town fly swatter was borrowed. Burt's Bees stood out for their long-haired ways and for their unorthodox ways of doing things. “For all the make-up she made, I don't think she's ever worn any,” he notes dryly. “She made so much money in Maine, she had to leave the state to make more money,” he adds, somewhat sour that she took her business to the south to take advantage of a superior business climate. But he corrects himself. “She was different. Hard-nosed, successful. She's made it and she deserves it, just like Bill Gates. I don't agree with her but I do respect her.” He stops. He's a tall man, bearded and probably the same age as Roxanne. For some years, they shared this town. “Now she's one of those kingdom holders. She's kicked out all the leaseholders. This doesn't go over very well.”
With her purchase, Roxanne closed these lands to snowmobiles, hunting and gave notice to the camp owners. It was hers now. She made outrageous statements in the press that fueled their fire (quote) but then she realized this was not the right path. “I needed to meet with them and hear what their needs were. I feel like we are both at the table as equals, I've never felt I'm entitled to anything more or less than anyone else so I think that puts me in a unique position to work with these folks. And they really like me, I don't feel any antagonism from them. They keep shaking their heads and thinking, you are just like a regular person, aren't you?”
Terry Hill and her husband Craig have run the wilderness resort known as Shin Pond Camps in Patten, Maine, for some 30 years and were among those who felt steaming outrage at not only the fact of Roxanne's acquisitions but at her, this woman who came charging into the woods like a Sherman Tank, money on her belt like repeating ammunition.
“When this started, we were outraged, ready to fight,” says Terry. Their 100 acre resort includes campgrounds, cottages and a hundred miles of snowmobiling trails that cut right through Roxanne's land. Meetings were called. Anti-Roxanne groups formed. But Roxanne came to listen. A year of meetings has made a huge difference. “In the past year, I've done a 180 degree turn in this process,” Terry says. “She's listening. She's extended our rights for the snowmobile trails for another year. She's working hard to be a better neighbor. We don't know what the future of the Maine woods will be, none of us do. But we do know that we all love the woods, we love our land and maybe, in the long run, we all want the same thing.”
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The old North Woods opens up like a trunk full of memories, smelling of camphor and pine needles, wood smoke and melting snow. When a river driver died, riding a log or busting up a jam, they would find his spiked boots downstream and hang them on a tree near the river. The shoes would hang there for years as a memorial until they disintegrated. We have nothing to hang on the tree now, no vestige of that life gone by. The Lumbermen's Museum in Patten, Maine, is as close as we will likely get. Exhibits of the way things were in these woods fill nine buildings at this quaint and homey roadside attraction. Bud Blumenstock has been a docent there for several years, having retired from his work as a forester, managing wood lots from Fort Kent to Kittery. He sees these changes in the woods more optimistically than most, retaining the hope of a forest that will always support the people of that area. “Logging and lumbering have always been a big part of our economy. It's changed in that Maine is now a village woodlot in the global economy. We're up against Brazil and China. To be competitive, we have to be efficient. It's a very complex situation.”
And the players have to bring themselves into that competitive mix: “A logger is no longer a man with an axe on his shoulder. It's not unusual for a logger to have a million dollars invested in his work. When people like Roxanne Quimby come along, they have a lot of money and they want to buy land. I once told Roxanne that I'm a tree hugger and a logger and she said, 'How do you do that?' Well, I told her, I hug the tree and then I cut it down. Parks are nice but they don't produce any lumber.”
The great trees of these woods are long gone and much of the newer growth, thinner and less substantial, are not good enough for lumber. These trees are chewed up for wood chips or used in pulp mills to make paper. The country of the pointed fir is no longer – most of the pointed firs are lying on the beds of the logging trucks, zooming south to the mills. Most of the land Roxanne and Plum Creek have bought has been damaged by extensive logging. Plum Creek is proposing trophy homes and resorts. Roxanne wants her land to heal and return to wilderness.
Like many people around here, Blumenstock keeps his opinion of Roxanne to himself. “I don't want to say anything negative about Roxanne Quimby. She has her plan. It's her choice and her prerogative but logging is an important industry to the state of Maine. Trees grow. That is my one-liner. As long as we harvest them wisely, we'll always have a strong working forest in the state of Maine.”

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“Oh, Roxanne Quimby? She is my hero!” Wallis Drew is at the check-in station at the Matagamon gate of Baxter State Park. Inside the log-built ranger station, Wallis, in her earth-brown uniform, makes out the ticket. Free for a Maine resident, $12 for the out-of-stater. “We compare her to Governor Baxter. When Baxter was buying up the land for this park, people were mad about that too. He has it in the deeds: forever wild, that means no paved roads, primitive campsites. Most of us understand that these lands need to be preserved. Otherwise, they would be cut and cut forever.”
The big woodstove in the kitchen warms the log structure on this cold, rainy day. The curtains in the log-framed windows are decorated with salmon, tail curled in, emerging from the water, hook in mouth.
From the station, you return to your car and leave this earthly world. It is almost impossible to describe the feeling. With grass growing between the dirt tracks, the narrow park road wanders, twists and turns, mile after mile, edged tightly by trees and canopied with their branches. At openings, there are marshes or streams, and eventually, the majestic Katahdin. The silence is prayerful, the treetops like spires, the park nothing less than an open-air cathedral, worship to nature, to the way things were.
Baxter's struggle to climb to the Katahdin summit remained his single experience on the big mountain, which rises nearly a mile high from the bogs of the lowlands. Instead of returning to the park in climbing boots, Baxter often visited the mountain in his chauffeur-driven Cadillac. This must have been a strange sight, the old man viewing his most important legacy from the back seat of a black limousine. He thought about that park every day, his chauffeur reported.
That is true for Roxanne as well. But her struggle is a sharp contrast.
Once, years ago, Roxanne came home from selling candles and lip balm at a craft show. It was midnight and she was very tired and very discouraged. She had not sold enough to even pay for her gas home. When she got home, the wind had blown the windows of her cabin open and there was two feet of snow inside. “Sometimes you feel like giving up. I did that night. But then you pick yourself up again. You lose a lot of battles but you just have to win one more than you lose. That's all there is to winning.”
In November of last year, Burt's Bees was sold for nearly a billion dollars to Clorox, who stated they were anxious to “grab market share in so-called green products.” Twenty percent of that sum went to Roxanne. (Quote from her here.)



In the late 1970s Roxanne Quimby experimented with ways to make money selling beeswax. She tried candles then she made some lipbalm. Burt's Bees is now something of a household name. The multi-million- dollar profits she made when selling this company are now funding her effort to create a massive national park in the Maine north woods which will displace many snowmobile trails and cabins once thought to be available in perpetuity.

Selected Works

Articles
In 1992, the Bishop of Worcester condemned St. Joseph's Catholic Church and ordered it closed. The parishioners refused to leave, sleeping on cots and on the hard pews. For thirteen months this was their life. In July of 1993, they were removed by the police. In many ways this was the blossoming of their faith. Originally published in Yankee Magazine in November 1993.
Growing up, nothing I could do seemed to please my mother and nothing she said made sense to me. But when my mother, on the threshold of death, came to live with me, I found what seemed to have been lost forever. Originally published in Yankee Magazine, May 1995
(The follow-up article to Miracle at St. Joseph's.) The Bishop turned to them and said, "Your prayers have been answered, the hard hearts have softened." Originally published in Yankee Magazine, December 1996
A reflection on the power of cooking and friendship and the concept of family. Originally published in Yankee Magazine, November/December 2007
Memorial Day, Harrisville, New Hampshire 1995. Originally published in Yankee Magazine, May 1996
My Articles
Libraries occupy a special place in the heart of a town. Evening events at the library give a strong sense of community and make it seem like a great place to live. And in the wake of the online revolution small town libraries have found a way to not only survive but to be indispensable.
In December 2008 an epic ice storm left virtually the entire state of New Hampshire without power. The residual effects of that storm paralyzed the Monadnock Region almost through Christmas. A first person account.
In 1994, sixteen-year-old Billy Best was diagnosed with Hodgkin's Disease. After several treatments, he ran away to avoid chemotherapy. What happened after that may have been a miracle.
Roxanne Quimby once lived primitively in the Maine woods. Today she owns 90,000 acres of those woods, and her goal is to create a national park to preserve the landscape forever. So why do so many people wish she'd just go away?
Multi-million dollar border stations are rising along our line between US and Canada. What was once the "friendliest border" has become deadly serious.
Renowned short story writer, Andre Dubus, reflects on the accident that cost him his legs.
A trip to Poland discovers a beloved family friend
An elegy for the master of the short story.
Fall comes to The County
Thousands seek healing from this innocent, comatose child.
A complete listing of articles published since 1978
Fiction
An encounter with a sick fox brings a young woman to the heart of her grief