Moosehead Breweries Limited, in Saint John, New Brunswick, keeps a close eye on other brewers who might think of putting a moose on their label. They own multiple U.S. trademark registrations for the words “Moose” and “Moosehead” and for “moose-based” images. Their legal department carried on a long discussion about such images with the Hop’n Moose Brewing Company of Rutland, Vermont, in 2017, before voluntarily abandoning an infringement suit in 2018.
Baxter Brewing Company, of Lewiston, Maine, also features a moose of sorts on its cans but I imagine any conversation with the folks at Moosehead would have been short, due to the fact that Baxter Brewing’s moose has the body of a man, claws, and wings.
A moose, with claws and wings?
That’s no ordinary moose. That is Pamola, a legendary spirit believed by the Algonquin people to inhabit Mt. Katahdin, the tallest mountain in Maine. Pamola is the spirit of thunder and cold weather, and he is the protector of the mountain, always doing his level best to keep people from its summit. Even Henry David Thoreau wrote of Pamola’s determination, and I once found myself approaching Katahdin’s base, dog paddling through the flooded woods lining the rain-swollen Penobscot River, towing my backpack, which was lashed to my air mattress. The mountain was completely hidden by clouds, the rangers closed the trail, and I’ve still never been to the top of Katahdin.
Mark Leroy Dudley, known to all as Roy, was a guide on Katahdin from the 1890s until his death in 1942. Guiding during the summers and trapping in winter, Roy worked mainly north and east of Katahdin, roaming into the mountain’s Great Basin and camping at Chimney Pond. It was there he had his first of many encounters with Pamola and began sharing the tales with guests around his fire, including many prominent personalities of the times, distinguished scientists, and even Governor Percival Baxter, who bought the mountain and created Baxter Park for the people of Maine.
Roy Dudley wrote his stories in his head and told them out loud, something not many people do these days. Year after year he told his tales, not always the same way as the time before, and he entertained hundreds if not thousands of visitors with his wild yarns. In 1937 a man named Clayton Hall lugged an Edison dictation machine seven miles in to Chimney Pond, where he recorded Roy’s tales on wax cylinders, intending to turn them into a book. They would not be the same, transcribed and printed, but they would be preserved.
That book never came about but Clayton Hall’s old manuscript was found in an attic by his niece, Beth Harmon and, with help from her friend, Jane Thomas — who had heard Roy Dudley’s stories when she was a child — Chimney Pond Tales, Yarns Told by Leroy Dudley was published in 1991 (Pamola Press, ISBN 0-9631718-0-1).
Characters like Roy Dudley are few and far between. He cared for anyone who found themselves on Katahdin, fixing tea and keeping them comfortable while giving advice that could save their lives should the benign spirit of the mountain give way to its moody and dangerous side. Pamola was that moody and dangerous spirt of Katahdin and Roy got to know him well in his years at Chimney Pond.
Pamola’s first attempts to evict Roy from his shelter at Chimney Pond were violent, with thunder and winds that scattered his belongings far and wide. The stones from Roy’s fire pit were stacked in his lean to so he had to excavate sleeping room, and Pamola even downed a pot of boiling tea in a single gulp while screaming at him to leave. Roy held his ground and the two of them eventually reached an uneasy truce that gradually grew into true friendship.
Roy smoked a pipe and enjoyed blowing smoke rings, which fascinated Pamola, who decided he’d like to give it a go himself and asked Roy if he could have a pipe, too. Unwilling to deny the twenty foot tall Pamola’s request, the next time he was in Millinocket, Roy searched for an empty beer barrel to use as a bowl. For some strange reason, every beer barrel in town was full so Roy procured an old tar keg and found a ten-foot length of three-inch pipe for the stem. Pamola was pleased.
Roy did not have enough tobacco to fill Pamola’s bowl so he gathered balsam boughs and birch bark, along with some tarred paper with which he’d been repairing his roof. While Pamola puffed he built a small fire in the barrel and after a while Pamola was enjoying a good smoke and blowing rings that filled the basin. He declared it to be “delightful.”
With the smell of balsam, birch bark, and tar filling the evening air, Pamola puffed harder and harder until a “mean little piece of birch bark, no bigger’n your hand” caught ablaze and Pamola’s head was engulfed in flame! Off he shot, from the peak of the mountain to Chimney Pond, followed by a trail of fire a hundred feet long.
The water in the pond boiled as Pamola plunged in, and was undrinkable for quite some time afterward. Worse, Pamola’s tremendous beard had been burned and he was so embarrassed that he retreated to his cave in shame. The flames, as it turns out, had been spotted from miles away and a crew of men came into camp the next morning looking for a fire to fight. Roy convinced them it must have just been a group of college boys building a bonfire and, after a cup of tea, the men left, none the wiser.
Of Roy’s tea, it was said you could pour a yard of it and stand it in the corner.
Tall tales and fantastic yarns like the ones told by Leroy Dudley were part of an oral tradition that goes back as far as language itself. Without a book like Chimney Pond Tales, these stories would have died out with their teller. While Pamola figures prominently, this collection includes other pieces about porcupines, prune whip, and more, including why fifteen frying pans hung on Roy’s wall.
Chimney Pond Tales has a special spot in my collection of folklore and tales of the outdoors. The hunting, trapping, and fishing abilities of Maine guides are legendary, as are their story-telling skills, and Leroy Dudley was one of the best.