Kate Flora: In his note to readers in Hellhound on his Trail, the story of the manhunt for Martin Luther King’s assassin, author Hampton Sides writes: “All writers sooner or later go back to the place where they came from.” I’ve been thinking about that as I’ve been trying to figure out what to write to celebrate the publication of my fifteenth book, A Good Man with a Dog, which is actually retired Maine game warden Roger Guay’s memoir. When I think about what to say about the book, I get stuck at the very beginning: How can I call this “my” book when it is someone else’s memoir?
I’m sure by now you’re wondering what any of this has to do with Hampton Sides, and it is simply this: just as he was drawn to write about a murder in Memphis because it was where he was from, I am drawn to write about Maine. As you’re no doubt gathered from my musings on this blog, I am not naturally adventurous. I prefer to sit at a desk, immersed in words, trying to use those words to carry you, the reader, into some world that I’ve imagined, and hold you there for the length of a story. In the world of nonfiction, it is different. And it is the same. You might not find a simple recitation of the dates, names, and events in a law enforcement career very engaging. But in the hands of a storyteller, you might.
The creation of A Good Man is the result of a storyteller in the old fashion oral tradition—Roger Guay—coming to another storyteller in the writing tradition—me—and asking for help. And although I am not by nature a collaborator, and knew nothing about writing memoir (and little about writing nonfiction), the joint venture worked in part because—in the words of Hampton Sides—the world I was being invited to write in represented, in part, a return to the place I came from.
Growing up on a farm in rural Maine, hunting and fishing and the intimate relationship with wildlife, the outdoors, and the rhythm of the seasons were all fundamental parts of life. We walked in the woods and swam in ponds and streams. On summer evenings, my brother and I poled our raft out into the pond and went fishing. The fish and game birds my father brought home provided many delicious meals and if he could get a deer, it would make a huge difference in our food budget, and money was always scarce. Our holiday gifts to relatives were terrariums filled with mosses and plants from our woods, homemade cookies, balsam pillows stitched on the trusty old Singer machine and stuffed with balsam we’d gathered and snipped. We lived in an essential relationship with the land, the plants, and the creatures that inhabited it.
Over the years, I, like many who grew up in small towns, moved away and moved on. College in Massachusetts, then law school, and life in the suburbs. I lived far more in a world where the idea of guns as an everyday thing horrified people, and many had no idea where food came from beyond the grocery store. I would drive down the highway and notice the emerging green of trees or the fat woodchuck in the median, or the sudden swoop of a hawk, while the drivers around me were immersed in their phones. And then Roger Guay’s phone call came—he liked what Joe Loughlin and I had done in Finding Amy, he had stories to tell and didn’t know how to tell them, could I help?—and I was given a chance to revisit the world I’d grown up in, and then go deeper and learn to see it in new ways.
Stories about real people and real events are a great way to illuminate a world, and the wardens’ world is a fascinating one. The book is so rich with information that it’s impossible to list all the things I learned. About poaching. About deer and moose habitat, habits, and survival. About the blind selfishness of some fishermen and the harm that selfishness and careless can do to our environment. I learned about search and rescue and about reading the minds of the lost and the clues they leave behind.
Despite writing about law enforcement for years, I never really thought much about how enforcement goes on all day and all night, in all seasons, and in all types of weather. When people need help, cops and wardens are the ones who get the calls.
Although I grew up with dogs, I’m rather timid around them, but now that I’ve been on trainings and watched them work, and been “lost” and rescued, I see them differently. I think of all the amazing things dogs can do to be assets to law enforcement, including outdoor crime scene reconstruction and locating evidence. I wonder about their personalities and their skill sets and what they can be trained to do.
I pass a Maine warden service truck and I smile.
So if you or someone you know might be fascinated by the world of “off-road traffic cops,” if you wonder what it’s like to rescue lost skiers in Gulf Hagas in the middle of a frozen night, face down a drunken boater who is reaching for his gun, or if you’re curious about the attack of the blind owl, come see me and Roger (and perhaps Saba the yellow lab) at one of our events. And ask your bookstore or local library for a copy of the book.
And that will make me smile.
Buying links: http://amzn.to/1S2HZJ2