Last time I was here, I mentioned that a reader noted, with some irritation, how much “describing leaves and things” I do in my books.
Like many Maine writers, crime or not, I figure if you’re going to write about Maine, you might as well describe it, leaves and all. I like to have rivers, real ones and fake ones, tumbling through my prose on the way to the Kennebec, have mountains looming close by or shining in the distance. I have lots of trees, so yeah, leaves, too, and all that stuff.
And you know what? It may become a thing.
This “leaves and things” business may burst through the flimsy bounds of Maine crime writing and actually become a part of regular everyday Maine conversation now that there’s a new sheriff in town who seems to like the leaves and things too.
I had the great pleasure earlier this month of covering our new governor, Janet Mills’ inauguration as a reporter for my day job. It was a lot of fun, with music and plenty of warm good feeling, despite the cold Maine night outside.
Don’t get nervous. This post isn’t about politics. It’s about leaves and things and Maine crime writing. I promise.
Mills is from Franklin County, where my Bernie O’Dea mysteries are set, and one of the really fun things in her inauguration speech was the writer-like focus on setting. There was a big leaves and things vibe.
Here is some of what Mills said:
Many days I awake to see the mist rising from the Sandy River as it steers its course to the Kennebec, the winter’s breath unveiling a new day in my hometown, a new day in this state.
Then I hear the familiar sounds of chickadees, church chimes and Jake brakes.
This is home in Maine.
The Sandy River pours out of Rangeley Lake, meanders through town, and gains momentum on its way to the Kennebec.
There it joins other tributaries to become a powerful waterway, a loud home to eagles and salmon, stripers and sturgeon, on its course to Merrymeeting Bay.
The Sandy River connects my town to those up and downstream.
We become one with the rest of Maine, linked by water, woods, and land.
Former Governor Joshua Chamberlain described this link back in 1876:
“This great and wide sea…these beaches and bays and harbors…these things invite the brave, the noble…Thought comes here and dwells…They will love the land, and the land will give back strength.”
The Wabanaki people know this bond. Their wisdom was passed along by people like Joseph Attean, legendary Governor of the Penobscot nation, a brave, open-hearted and forbearing individual, who guided Henry David Thoreau in his first moose hunt, through the vast and primitive wilderness to Chesuncook Lake.
The plaque that overlooks Attean Lake — named for [Joseph] – reads,
“Rise free from care, before the dawn, and seek adventure.”
Today we rise, a new day before us, and seek adventure.
That was near the beginning. Later on, she went back to it as she wrapped things up:
Maine is our home. We are connected by the rivers and the land, the forests and the mountains.
We are strengthened by our connections.
We are one Maine, undivided, one family from Calais to Bethel, from York to Fort Kent.
We meet this evening, free from care, the heirs of Joseph Attean, Joshua Chamberlain, Fly Rod Crosby and Israel Washburn.
Tomorrow we rise before the dawn — like the mist over the Sandy River — and seek adventure, with hope in our hearts and love in our souls for the brand-new day.
Cordelia “Fly Rod” Crosby, by the way, from Phillips, in Franklin County, was the first registered Maine Guide, in 1897, and Mills quoted her as saying, “I would rather fish any day than go to heaven.”
Mills also gave a shout-out to Stephen King, and quoted Kurt Vonnegut.
Astute crime writers and fans may remember Mills, attorney general at the time, gave a wildly entertaining speech at the 2017 Crime Wave mystery writing conference.
We knew then — didn’t we? — that she was one of us.
Mills, at both her inauguration and in speeches since, closes with “Welcome home.”
This isn’t about politics, it’s about leaves and things, and living and working as a Maine crime writer in the great state of Maine — right back at ya, Governor Mills.