Skiing With Henry Knox represents a bit of a departure for Islandport Press of Maine. This book is not written by a Mainer nor does it take place in Maine. However, Skiing With Henry Knox is really not about skiing either, and you certainly don’t have to be a skier to enjoy it. Henry Knox may be best known as the first United States Secretary of War. Yet before there was the United States, Knox was instrumental in getting cannons from Fort Ticonderoga to Cambridge, Massachusetts, a trek of 300 miles during the winter. Sam Brakeley, an avid outdoorsman and armchair historian, undertakes a similar journey, the 300+ mile Catamount Trail, from the Massachusetts border north to Quebec.Aside from being devoted New Englanders, there seems to be little in common between the two men and their journeys. There are the distance and the winter conditions, but there is also another factor: love and attachment. Henry Knox continually laments (in his preserved correspondence) to being separated from his wife Lucy, who was pregnant with their first child. Mr. Brakeley is in love too, with his longtime on-again-off-again girlfriend Elizabeth, who has accepted a doctoral internship in Salt Lake City, Utah. Sam is now compelled to make a choice: stay in the New England area he loves where he has friends and family (and a business) or follow Elizabeth to Utah and essentially start a new life. Skiing the Catamount Trail will help him focus on what is important in his life, and hopefully, at the end make an important life choice that he can live with.
“But does this meet the standard of something that has an indisputable, irrevocable hold over me? Do I actually love Elizabeth enough to change my life? Am I just being selfish in wanting what I want, without considering her career or her needs?
Probably, I decide. But I can’t help it. I know where I want to be. Here. In New England. And while I don’t have a single-minded drive toward a specific career, like she does, I do know where and what make me happy. And if that’s selfish, well, so be it. I’m selfish.”
While Mr. Brakeley appears to have no prior writing experience, he manages to meld history with a running commentary on his own travels through Vermont wilderness and somehow makes it all work. There are relevant segues from the past to the present as in the amusing stop Mr. Brakeley makes at the Edson Hill’s Manor House. Thinking it too posh for a trail-weary traveller like himself, he is pleasantly surprised by one of the owners inviting him in for coffee and muffins, to be enjoyed by a roaring fire. He parallels this with Knox’s caravan of cannons being kindly received by the folk in Westfield, Massachusetts. Earlier, he had made this observation:
“Throughout my travels, I’ve found that people love to be a part of any trip, even if it’s only in a small way. It allows them to step outside their own, everyday lives and be a part of something different, something unique.”
The same holds true for the reader of this book. I find myself living vicariously through a good book, once again.
The folks at Islandport Press have the knack for knowing a good, enjoyable read when they see one and Skiing With Henry Knox is no different. A little history, a little adventure (past and present), love and loneliness on the trail (but never saccharine) makes for a story that was very pleasant to read. I hope Mr. Brakeley has more books in him! Skiing With Henry Knox is a Miramichi Reader 2020 “Pick”!
Skiing With Henry Knox by Sam Brakeley
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