Kamikaze Gardening. Antler Camp. Black Flies.

(Join me at the Thompson Free Library this Thursday 5/27!)

At my Moosehead Lake home (camp) I’ve been Kamikaze Gardening.

Kamikaze Gardening is my term for intensely swooping down to remorselessly attack every garden job before black flies drive me indoors. (They know we gardeners are in a time crunch that fits their arrival and dining habits.)  I am planting, weeding, composting, sprinkling Milorganite to discourage deer foraging, and this year, furiously hoeing out an invasive that’s choking out flowers I know I can save from the deer.

Good to Know: black flies only breed in clean running water. If we have hordes of them, it means we are actually lucky to live here. (Sometimes that consoles. Often it does not.)

I can also do outside chores very well in the beam of a headlamp, as the flies disappear at night. (I have shelves full of lotions, sprays, and head nets. Please don’t send more advice.)

I put up with the flies as I live in and love a very old camp that I can never really afford to completely patch up. The stream that’s only feet from my bedroom breathes black flies.

Years ago, I named my home Antler Camp when I had to rent it to just keep it. (I chose a name that started with A so I’d be at the head of any rental list.) I do have moose antlers up on the living room wall and the true story of how I got them, is in Deadly Turn.

I don’t have to share the camp with renters any more, but I do share it with my novels’ narrator, Patton. And now I can share it with you. Most of the following camp details are true; some are embellished. The love is real.

Excerpt from Deadly Trespass:

Antler Camp looked ancient because it was ancient. Generations of Conovers embraced our outpost with a passion that surpassed black flies, spring snows, and barn doors shredded by carnivores. The bear-proof pen inside the barn was a message that we’d staked out territory at the edge of wild.

Around the sagging camp walls, wood smoke fingers drifted into the arms of low-hanging limbs. Inside, wool coats hung on antlers. Baskets of boots, waders, and snowshoes smelling of leather and long use were nailed to the wall. A giant pine table tattooed by restless children glowed under suspended gas lamps, and around the woodstove, chipped rocking chairs competed for space with a couch that sighed when we sat on it. Behind the stove, mildewed National Geographics, worn-out nature guides, and children’s books crowded tall shelves.

My daughter, aged 10, early one morning.

I’d dragged a bed from the sleeping porch into the kitchen and squeezed it under the eaves so the Garland cook stove could warm my sheets. I didn’t know camp was the safest place on earth until I arrived shipwrecked from my own life.


Excerpt from Deadly Turn:

Latching the porch door, I thought about how Antler Camp beat out Chan’s closed-up mansion. I had three pine-paneled, smoke-stained rooms. One was a kitchen outfitted with tilted shelves trying to offload mismatched dishes, an ancient refrigerator that leaked water, and a single bed I’d squeezed behind the cook stove. Off the kitchen, a small bathroom had a shower stall for skinny people and a toilet that worked in warm weather. The outhouse worked all the time.

The second room surrounded a dining table and eight chairs I didn’t use—chairs carved up by generations of restless Conover kids who knifed crude animals into the wooden arm rests until the wood looked like inspired cave paintings. A gigantic wood stove anchored the far end of the camp, surrounded by a couch whose sagging places fit my sagging places, two rocking chairs that broadcast shrill squeaks, and shelves of children’s books, mildewed National Geographics, and my library.

I had nature and tracking guides, everything Rachel Carson, dreary environmental tomes filled with dire warnings, and fiction that illuminated the wild world better than anything else on the shelf.

… Generations of Conovers’ leavings were everywhere: yellowed recipes tacked to cupboards, rock collections on window sills, rusted scythes over the door, and fly rods and snowshoes hanging off moose antlers. My father’s shotgun was propped by the bathroom window in case the squirrel population overwhelmed my bird feeders.

Reading to my granddaughter, a good outside pandemic activity.

My mother wanted her daffodil bulbs divided in the fall and my marriage to reconstitute itself. I could do the daffodils. My brother Giffy wanted the tractor in the barn winterized, loose boards on the dock nailed down, and the tax assessor deceived by keeping the outside dumpy looking. Not a problem. Dumpy outside—inside it was the safest place on earth.

All I wanted to do was care for the camp and care for Pock, eat cereal over the sink, and make sure I had chocolate stashed where I’d forget about it and later be surprised. For two years I’d worked seasonal jobs as I found them and used the same mug over and over. I snowshoed and skied out the back door in winter, and in warm weather I biked dirt roads until I was hot enough to jump into the lake with my clothes on. Clothed immersion was more efficient than the town’s laundromat.

And then came the day when, adults, vaccinated, we could all gather inside. Inside Antler Camp.

Mostly I wanted to live moment-to-moment, wrapped in Antler Camp’s past—just not my past.

Sandy’s novel “Deadly Trespass, A Mystery in Maine,” was a finalist in the Maine Literary Awards, a recipient of a Mystery Writers of America national award and a national finalist in the Women’s Fiction Writers Association “Rising Star” contest. Her second Mystery in Maine novel, “Deadly Turn” is in Sherman’s Books (Maine) and on Amazon in Kindle and paperback. She lives in the Maine woods and says she’d rather be “fly fishing, skiing remote trails, paddling near loons, or just generally out there.” Find more info on her website.


DON’T MISS IT! ‘Where Would You Put the Body Contest’ 

How do you enter? Send a photograph of your chosen spot to:WritingAboutCrime@gmail.comwith “Where Would You Put the Body?” in the subject line and the photo’s location in the body of the email. There will be prizes for First, Second, and Third place–books of course and other Maine goodies. You may enter no more than three photographs, each one entered separately. They must be of Maine places and you must identify the place in your submission. Photos must be the submitter’s original work. Contest will begin May 1st and will run through June 15th.

About Sandra Neily

Sandy’s novel “Deadly Trespass” received a Mystery Writers of America award, was named a national finalist in the Women’s Fiction Writers Association “Rising Star” contest, a finalist in the Mslexia international novel competition, a runner- up in Maine’s Joy of the Pen competition, and recently, an international SPR fiction finalist. Sandy lives in the woods of Maine and says she’d rather be “fly fishing cold streams, skiing remote trails, paddling near loons, or just generally out there—unless I’m sharing vanishing worlds with my readers. "
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4 Responses to Kamikaze Gardening. Antler Camp. Black Flies.

  1. John Clark says:

    Our gardening activity took a sharp u-turn on Saturday when I fell 12 feet from a ladder and fractured my right elbow. Just part of the stuff that happens between plans. At least the pole beans are in. Enjoy Antler camp and should you experience a shortage of black flies, I’m more than happy to send some of mine.

    • sandy neily says:

      Oh!!! John! So sorry about elbow. Thinking that is a body part that somehow is important for future planting. It’s a cautionary for me who works too quickly. Thanks for black fly offer!!!!

  2. kaitcarson says:

    Congratulations on the awards! I’m putting my life on hold today to head out and do some serious weeding. I’m hoping to be one step ahead of the black fly hoard – I’m in the crown – and hoping last night’s 25 degree temp discouraged any early hatch.

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