Boy escapes poverty by living life outdoors in Maine

The Cove by Bud SimpsonThe cover photo will grab you. It features a young woman in a dress, wearing a red felt hat, holding a dead fox in one hand and a rifle in the other, with a dead deer hanging two feet from her, just in front of the clothes line. Bud Simpson’s mother didn’t bag the fox or deer, and the hat and rifle were not hers, but obviously, she was game for anything her family came up with.

Bud grew up in probably the poorest family in Brewer during the Great Depression, and The Cove is a book of fascinating stories about how Bud spent all of his time outdoors, from the Penobscot River to Mantawassuk Cove, making his own fishing rods, scavenging from the dump when he could walk there across the river in the winter, escaping from his dilapidated house and sometimes-dysfunctional family. He and his brother figured out that the bakery truck threw out old pastries at the dump every Thursday, still in their boxes, and they brought the pastries home to eat.

Bud says he was inspired to write his stories by “Bill Geagan, outdoors writer, author, and artist of a past era, and Tom Hennessey, outdoors writer, author, and artist of this era.” Hennessey, the retired long-time outdoor writer for the Bangor Daily News and a wonderful artist, wrote the forward for the book. I can’t say it any better than Tom did.

“Following Bud Simpson’s trail of words will take you back to a time when boys growing up in Maine’s river towns didn’t have much but didn’t need much to master the art of ‘making do.’ With woods and waters at their doors, literally, they were educated and entertained in the grand theater of the great outdoors. Herein, then, are accounts of how a boy raised on the banks of Maine’s most storied river, the Penobscot, grew, matured and prospered by learning, firsthand, lessons of patience, discipline, responsibility and respect for nature and its often harsh and unforgiving forces.”

Bud started writing this book in 1982, set it aside for many years, and finally finished and published it in 2010. I am indebted to him for calling my attention to it last month. I thoroughly enjoyed the book and you will too. Some of the stories are amazing.

His family lived in a two-story frame house that was never finished beyond the tar paper stage. His father salvaged logs from the river, just a few hundred yards from their lot, to build the original house. They had no indoor plumbing or running water and carried drinking water in galvanized, steel buckets from a spring on their neighbor’s property. “If you lived like we did,” writes Bud, “diversions became an important part of your life.”

The main diversion of Bud and his brother Trevor was fishing. “One of the reasons fishing was important to me was because it produced a very important by-product – food!” writes Bud. I was fascinated by how Bud and his brother – too poor to be able to buy fishing rods and lures – made their own.

For a while, they were limited to fishing from shore, tortured to look out on the water and see anglers catching big fish in boats and canoes, neither of which they could afford. So they built a raft, and that story is very entertaining! I will tell you it got pretty exciting because Bud never learned to swim.

Bud also caught all manner of critters from snakes to mice, hoping to turn them into house pets, none of which his parents allowed. But his grandfather gave him a pet skunk Bud called Stinky. It was in the stories about dump picking that I really appreciated Bud and Trevor’s determination. They found and brought home everything from food to furniture, but the discarded items Bud most treasured were magazines.

“I found old books and magazines strewn about,” he writes. “To me, this was the real treasure. It was hard for me to imagine anyone actually throwing away a perfectly good issue of “Field & Stream” or “Outdoor Life” or “True, the Man’s Magazine” if they were only a few months old. After all, they cost twenty-five cents apiece!” He even came up with copies of “Romance Magazine” for his mother.

The book includes lots of photos of Bud’s family and his favorite places, almost all of them brooks, streams, and the Penobscot River.

Bud now lives in Logan, Ohio, writes a weekly column for the Logan Daily News, and is a photographer, sculptor, and artist in several media. He emphasizes that this book is “not an autobiography. It is a collection of stories about a boy’s discoveries in the world of nature.”

It is all of that, for sure, but it is also inspiring, entertaining, and a wonderful look at what the great outdoors of Maine can deliver to a young man who found his life and his inspiration there.

George Smith

About George Smith

George stepped down at the end of 2010 after 18 years as the executive director of the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine to write full time. He writes a weekly editorial page column in the Kennebec Journal and Waterville Morning Sentinel, a weekly travel column in those same newspapers (with his wife Linda), monthly columns in The Maine Sportsman magazine, two outdoor news blogs (one on his website,, and one on the website of the Bangor Daily News), and special columns for many publications and newsletters. Islandport Press published a book of George's favorite columns, "A Life Lived Outdoors" in 2014. In 2014, George also won a Maine Press Association award for writing the state's bet sports blog. In 2016, Down East Books published George's book, Maine Sporting Camps, and Islandport Press published George and his wife Linda's travel book, Take It From ME, about their favorite Maine inns and restaurants.