AROSTOOK, Maine. Lowell Bader has been in the lumber business in the Maine North Woods for over forty years, and his roots extend back two generations further to his grandfather Asa. “Everything I need is right here,” he says as he surveys the family’s timberland. “Everything except high-speed internet connections, frozen lattes and a video store that stocks something besides Chuck Norris films.”
Maine North Woods
But that simple way of life is changing, and Bader says he’s resigned to the fact that his children may not be able to eke out a hardscrabble existence from the rolling hills of beech and pine that rise to the sky. “Times have changed,” he says, shaking his head slowly from side to side, like the plastic dachsund on the rear window deck of his 2002 Toyota Camry. “People used to buy a cord of wood to get them through the winter,” he says bitterly. “Now they get their logs at the grocery store.”
Across State Highway HH, his neighbor Clell Furnell doesn’t share Bader’s pessismism. “This will be my biggest year ever,” he says with a smile as he wipes the sweat from his brow with a stereotypical red bandana. “Lowell’s problem is he’s not up-to-date.”
And indeed, the difference between the two men and their stands of trees is immediately apparent, since Furnell plowed up his natural woods several years ago and planted Duraflame and Java-Log seedlings, which have matured into a bumper crop of single-serving fire logs that can be sold at high margins.
“Your typical housewife trying to achieve a Martha Stewart moment has learned that you can’t leave a roaring fire to a clutzy husband,” says interior decorator Marci Wilbur. “Just as you’re about to sit down for brie, green apples and white wine around the coffee table, Nature Boy is balling up newspapers and stinking up the room with a sulfur match. It ruins the mood.”
Fire logs have rapidly displaced natural wood since they were first introduced in 1960’s as a use for recycled Joyce Carol Oates novels. “Lumber mills and literary critics found that they were paying so much to haul the stuff away they couldn’t make any money,” says Mark Harbaugh, editor of Lumber Industry News. “Ms. Oates was averaging two books a year, and the stuff was piling up out back of the literary quarterlies.”
Bader claims he appreciates the role that fire logs play in reducing the strain on the nation’s book shelves, but says prolific authors such as Maine’s Stephen King shouldn’t ride to the bank on the backs of family farmers. “I don’t know why I should suffer just because he’s got logorrhea,” he says. “After ‘Pet Sematary’ the plot’s been pretty much the same.”