If anyone decides to travel inland from Maine’s coast, it is hard to find buildings that tower over the trees. Yet, at the right vantage points, it is easy to see rolling hills and mountains unfold in the distance along with the vast forests.One that stands out above the trees, lakes and hills is Mt. Katahdin. It is the tallest mountain in Maine and sits at the heart of Baxter State Park. The name comes from the Penobscot language and means “Greatest Mountain.” It sits at the northern end of the Appalachian trail.
Residing on this mountain, Pamola was a godlike creature who was feared and respected by the Wabanaki tribes of Maine: The Penobscot, the Micmac, Maliseet and Passomoquoddy tribes. He was credited with the creation of heavy snowstorms or ‘Nor’easters’, that even in prehistoric times ravaged Maine.
Pamola’s appearance is a hodge-podge of Maine’s mightiest creatures:
-The head of a moose
-the legs, talons and wings of an eagle
-the arms and torso of a man
According to the graphic novel adaptation of ‘Lost on a Mountain in Maine’, which features quite the illustration of Pamola in one page, Pamola was known to hunt and abduct trespassers and keep them prisoner for eternity. Other sources suggest that Pamola can inflict nightmares upon trespassers, especially those who sleep at a nearby lake.
But not all people who interacted with Pamola were doomed to freezing and a purgatory in the forest. www.native-languages.com relates two examples of people who experienced his hospitality: one man and one woman.
In the man’s story, he visits the forests at the foot of Mt. Katahdin, only to be caught in a freak snowstorm. To appease Pamola, he burned offerings of oil and fat until the god of thunder himself came down to take the offerings. He thanked the man for his piety and generosity and took him to his abode inside of Mt. Katahdin, where he lived in comfort with Pamola’s family. He even married Pamola’s daughter and as a result was not allowed to marry anyone else, or else he would be taken prisoner inside of Mt. Katahdin for good. Unfortunately, this man didn’t heed the threat when he came back to his tribe, and he was never seen or heard from again.
In the woman’s story, she was young and didn’t believe in the legend, but decided to investigate. She left her village, which was located where the city of Old Town resides, to see for herself if Pamola is real. Instead of greeting her with a sudden nor’easter, Pamola took her back to his home inside of Mt. Katahdin. She lived with him there for a year before coming back to Old Town with Pamola’s son in tow. He warned her not only to never re-marry, but also warned her of their son’s strange, frightening power. His son could point at any living thing with his right forefinger and it would die instantly. She had to contend with trying to raise a child who could use this power as well as fellow villagers who wanted her to remarry. Just like the man in the first story, she relented. Because of this, she vanished on her wedding night and was never seen again.
Today, the fear that used to be all around Mt. Katahdin is no longer visible.
Every year, people regularly climb up Mt. Katahdin. there is even a narrow peak called ‘Pamola Peak’. Being a knife edge like peak, it is not safe to climb on. Yet many people take pictures of it and the sign that accompanies it. Despite this lack of fear, Pamola still holds a place of honor in the imagination of Mainers.
Examples of this include the reference in “Lost on a Mountain in Maine”, where fear of unpredictable nature found a face in Pamola.
In Maine’s Growing Craft Beer Industry, Pamola is the mascot for The Baxter Brewing Company, New England’s first brewry to sell their beer exclusively in cans.z
Pamola is also the face for the local death metal band, “Katahdin”, with one album and several songs named in honor of this creature.
An more innocent context to Heavy Metal, Pamola is also the mascot for Pamola Lodge in Camp Roosevelt: a summer camp run by and for Maine’s Boy Scout troops. The hall was named Pamola Lodge in 2009 after being named The Roosevelt Welcome Room. The hall seats about 420 people (a size fit for a thunder god).
Another example of this can be found in Milinocket, which has the Pamola Motor Lodge. This motel offers a variety of amenities, including outdoor and nature tours and camping rentals 22 miles away from Baxter State Park.
An even earlier reference of Pamola can be found in the writings of Henry David Thoreau. According to Wikipedia.com, Hendry David Thoreau had this to say: “Pomola is always angry at those who climb ktaadn.” He wrote about his visit to Mt. Katahdin while touring Maine.
With these examples, it is clear to see that even in the post-modern age, there is still a memory of a Maine that was more wild than in days past. While no one burns oil and fat for this god of storms and snow, many a local and visitor can pour a libation of craft beer that is brewed in his name. In doing so, a toast is given to a past full of myth, danger and wonder that is like no other place on earth.
Lost Trail: Nine Days Alone in The Wilderness by Donn Fendler, illustrated by Ben Bishop, additional contributions by Lynn Plourde
Maine Ghosts and Legends: 26 Encounters with The Supernatural by Thomas A. Verde
Photographic credit by Raymond Burby
For additional reading material, look up Chimney Pond Tales: Yarns Told By Leroy Dudley, written by Clayton Hall