Western Michigan University
Department of Geography Colloquium
@ 6,000 words
February 13, 2009
Fiction, Place, and The Power and Inefficiency of Words
I am an American on paper and an Earthling by life experience.
As an author, my reputation has soared over more than two decades from internationally unknown to regionally obscure.
I am opinionated, coarse, direct, and I do not play golf, which according to a very reliable source, was created by god to keep assholes off trout streams.
God being god. I will not take issue with her.
As a novelist, I find the life of conservation officers in the Upper Peninsula and the realities of the Upper Peninsula to be endlessly fascinating.
Fold into this the ambiguities of language and it spells challenge. The use of the word “ambiguity” here may seem somewhat odd because we are taught throughout schooling how important it is to use proper and effective language. But is language so dependable?
In a police case, an eyewitness is invariably inferior to forensic evidence. And the more eyewitnesses there are, the less they are worth, not because they’ve been poor observers, but because most people are notoriously subjective reporters. The hang-up comes in those terribly unreliable language building blocks we call words.
How does one translate the lives of game wardens into words in such a way as to make people think they are actually living the experience? It isn’t easy.
But let’s pause here for a brief experiment.
No two renderings were precisely the same. This is because a word is only a code for an image, and as communications theorist David Berlo used to tell his students, “Meanings are in people, not in words.”
As a writer, it’s is my challenge to select words and to order and weave them in such a way as to create as closely as possible the experience I fashion with my imagination.
This sometimes is an impossible assignment, and all writing, by the nature of language’s limitations, is rarely better than vaguely on target of the writer’s goal. This inherent weakness or inefficiency in and of language is why professionals such as geographers, geologists, cartographers and anthropologists, physicians and lawyers, and even cops, create their own specialized jargon and languages – to minimize the imprecision of language and all the possibilities of miscommunication inherent in word selection.
My agent could never get straight that there was any difference between a Smoky-hat ranger handing out tourist maps at Golden Gate State Park and a game warden in the wilds of Michigan. To her they were all the same thing: Wears a Uniform, has a badge and gun, works outdoors, ergo: same-o, same-o.
She had lived in New York City for decades, and in New York anything not-New York is rarely worth understanding. The slogan in the Big Apple ought to be: Outside New York is China.
Like Ernest Hemingway, my long-time agent made only one trip through the UP and upon emerging simply shook her head and said, “Jesus, Heywood! It’s really isolated!”
In 1941 the Western U.P. was described in a WPA guidebook as “broken, wild, and harsh.” I come here today to report it is still that way, at least for me, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
It seems to me that most people these days are incapable of being alone without suffering loneliness. To wit: Music blares and thumps in vehicles, people are on their cell phones in restaurants, or pecking at their laptops in train and plane stations, and talking to themselves in their cars, and doing finger-dances on Blackberries at Starbucks. It is as if solitude for many has become something to fear. Yet most scholars and artists understand how important solitude is to creating and processing serious thought.
Solitude invariably leads me north, where isolation at some times of year can be so intense it can morph into disease. Solitude, ironically, also is a major part of the area’s charm. But solitude and loneliness are not synonymous; that is, one does not naturally flow from or into the other.
As an aside, I offer an observation here: outdoorsmen from Indiana come north into this area; those from here go north into upper lower Michigan; those in upper lower Michigan go north into the UP; those in the UP got north into Canada. What is this seasonal migration really about? Interesting subject and I’ve seen enough examples to think it’s real.
I can’t explain the attraction of the north, but I once tried to express it in my novel, The Snowfly: “North, I knew down deep, was where I belonged, north being as much a philosophy as a direction or destination. You knew when you were there, or you didn’t. Those who couldn’t feel it and embrace it, generally tried it only once. You fit or you didn’t.”
I’ve traveled a lot, growing up, military, corporate life, book research. For years I returned to the US talking about terrorism around the globe and in typically American fashion, nobody here seemed to care. If it didn’t happen here, it was tsk-tsk and pour me another cup of latte. Everything in America was pretty much measured only by what happened in America.
Outside the country, things were happening. Not nice things. And few Americans were interested.
I once arrived at the Amigo Hotel in the “Grand Platz,” the central square in Brussels, less than an hour after a car bomb was detonated, walked through debris, past emergency personnel, told the desk clerk I had a reservation, handed him my passport, and suggested, “Away from the street would be good, n’est pas?”
In Barcelona a bomb exploded one night below my fifth-story window, obliterating the hotel sign, and leaving several blocks in darkness. I was on the phone with my boss at the time of the explosion, told him, “Let me get back to you,” and hung up.
Another time I landed at Gatwick outside London an hour after an IRA rocket was fired at the airport and left about thirty minutes before the second round came whooshing in.
We who traveled the world in those days saw all this and recognized that the standard of living in many places was beginning to surpass the US, while the gap between haves and have-nots was widening everywhere. We knew that sooner or later terrorism would come here, just as it had come to other countries. When we expressed such opinions back here, most people just shook their heads. To us the future seemed an inescapable conclusion.
If one is interested in writing fiction and novels, one will hear and read a lot about craft and story structure and finding an agent, and other such mundane and practical subjects. What one will seldom hear is the importance of blind-ass luck, yet this factor sometimes can be more important than anything else. And a large part of luck is timing.
I say this as prelude to this as it relates to terrorism: I concluded from my own research and observations, and intuited that it would be home-grown American terrorists who would be a greater threat than foreign-born. This is common sense. Our home-grown’s are already here; they don’t have to find ways into the country. It was this observation that led me to write a novel about revolutionaries capturing the UP, including taking possession of the nuclear weapons at the two Strategic Air Command bases up there, and declaring their own independent country. My editor at Random House had the manuscript for six months and sent it back and said, “Too hard to believe.”
A couple of weeks later, one Timothy McVea and his confederates bombed the Murrow Building in Oklahoma City and my editor called and said, “Send that goddamn manuscript back to me.”
Which I did forthwith. Then he died shortly thereafter. The book was never published.
People ask why I don’t resubmit it. The answer is that when you create a story about a developing topical subject, reality passes you by. Oklahoma City was one thing, Nine-Eleven another. The time for the book I wrote had passed. I saw something. My editor couldn’t. Events overlapped us. Game over. Move on. This is the life of a writer who pursues topical events and subjects.
I would suggest that this element of timing and luck is equally applicable even in the most arcane academic fields.
Fiction can produce truths and dramatic insights that mere facts rarely provide. The goal of craft in fact is to produce confabulation – a mix of fiction and reality so thorough that it’s impossible to sort out which is which.
Let me share this with you:
“Tell me a fact and I’ll learn.
Tell me a truth and I’ll believe.
Tell me a story and it will live in my heart forever.”
Any notion of where such insight comes from?
Try Ed Sabol, founder of NFL Films.
The power of stories has propelled every culture and society in history, at first being passed on orally and — after the invention of moveable type — in written form.
It also seems to me that while people may be reading less paper media these days, the power of the story to hold our interest is no less on TV or even on the Internet. Electronic games are about stories. So called reality TV is about serial on-going stories. A story, of course, in technical terms consists of characters, a place, events, and various courses of action that lead inexorably to a conclusion, a journey if you will, that should ideally both entertain and edify along the way.
Mississippi-born author Eudora Welty once wrote, “From the dawn of man’s imagination, place has enshrined the spirit.”
Related to this, a magazine writer doing a feature on my work once asked me, “Is the Upper Peninsula meant to be a character in your work?”
That question gave me pause. We know of course that a culture’s geography influences its myths. For example, we know that in all cultures where there is a major body of water, the earliest people all had a flood myth. In places where there was no major body of water, no flood myth. Geography profoundly effects us, often without us knowing that or how it does.
I read once that myths are not so much about facts and truth as about the universal human struggle to deal with the compelling issues of our brief time on earth – birth, death, marriage, and the transitions from childhood to adulthood to old age. Myths meet a need in the psychological and spiritual nature of humans that has absolutely nothing to do with science.
The largely unreliable and adventurous Etienne Brule was exploring the shores of Lake Superior in the Upper Peninsula two years before the Mayflower dropped anchor at Cape Cod. The history above the Mackinac Bridge is by post-European contact standards the richest and least intellectually explored in the nation. French explorer Baron L’Honton, he of the rapier wit, once called the Upper Peninsula, “the fag-end of creation.” It was not a compliment and is a fine example of the seventeenth century equivalent of Bumfuck, Egypt.
So I answer: You bet the fag-end of creation is a character in my stories.
The U.P. is a character because it leverages certain physical impediments and limitations, because there is up there both inherent predictability and unpredictability, and because the moods of the geography impact the lives of all who live here. When you live in the U.P., you need to take into account what is going on around you in ways you don’t in less harsher climates and locations.
The late John Bartlow Martin once wrote of the U.P: “Here are the wooded hills and the swamps and rivers, and the people who battled them all: solid people, clannish people, people with long memories and doubtful futures, trappers, farmers, sailors, miners, loggers, and their women, working seventeen hours a day, seven days a week.”
Mr. Martin wrote in the 50s and 60s and once taught a class in speechwriting at Michigan State.
He continued by calling the UP: “A country of forlorn hopes, of ghost towns that never will come back, but whose residents, remembering the good times, cling to hope.”
Some sociologists scoff at the so-called cultural mythology of “nordicity of Canadians and by implication all northern rural peoples. They argue it is myth that strength, self-reliance, and determination characterize Canadians as is seen as the natural cultural outcome of the need to fight for survival and success in an undeveloped territory that offered unlimited opportunities for those with imagination and courage to pursue them. According to author Renee Hulan such pursuits center on successful people.
In contrast I focus not on those who made fortunes or became famous, but on those descendants of immigrants who managed to survive. Survival: nothing more, nothing less. And I think Martin’s description of them clinging to hope is right on. In fact I would call it hopelessly hanging on to hope because it is very unlikely that there will ever be.
The stark biological fact is that as time passes, fewer old timers remain, and the good times are fading into the black hole of the unremembered. Still, the UP is not yet dead. It retains its physical beauty and hard-scrabble, tough character. It remains in some ways 50 to 75 years behind other places and tends to be closer to real things – not ideas. It is just on the other side of the bridge, as large at Vermont and New Hampshire combined, and mostly forgotten or ignored. Yet life goes on there and it is this that attracts me as a creator of fiction.
One thing that fascinates me is how the area is being culturally flattened and homogenized by cable TV and MTV, and other cultural influences that are brutally lysing Yooper patois and replacing it with a sort of generic faux urban ghetto vocabulary for kids who have even never seen a city, much less lived in one.
All this makes the U.P. a powerful character and force in my Woods Cop stories.
I should add here that it is perfectly logical and intuitive to assume that the amount of crime and lawless behavior in rural areas is lower than in urban settings.
What one should not assume, however, is that the bizarre quality of rural behaviors will be less creative or less violent than those encountered in urban settings. It’s not.
There is something that happens to people who travel into the wilds. I can’t explain the psychology, but I have seen it up close and it is as if some people shed all guiding principles of their normal lives and, having passed the city limits sign, begin to do whatever they feel like doing, legal or otherwise.
By focusing on place I have of course not done anything revolutionary: Other authors have successfully and very effectively used place as center pieces in their work: Upton Sinclair and Chicago’s slaughter houses; John Steinbeck and northern California; Howard Frank Mosher and the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont, and probably most famously, William Faulkner’s fictional and memorable Yok’na-TAW-pha County in Mississippi.
Those who have studied social or human geography have no doubt learned what I learned forty years ago in my sub-Saharan Africa geography courses with Harm de Blij, who commuted to Michigan State one night a month from the University of Chicago.
From De Blij I learned that geography affects and shapes culture, that end-of-the -earth places, or at least end-of-the-land-mass locations, like the UP southern Appalachia, or tall, deep mountain ranges, Alaska, or Hudson Bay, attract a certain personality and over time this selection process and accumulation produces a culture that reflects those who formed it.
Almost always in such circumstances geography dictates much of what develops, and how. Want to get a start on understanding Afghanistan-Pakistan and the chances of peace and prosperity there? Look first at the geography.
Living in the UP remains a risky proposition, not because of crime, but because of the natural elements, their severity, longevity, and unpredictability. If you are not completely prepared to deal with and respect such an environment, you risk being killed by it. And poor economic opportunities simply exacerbate the physical risk. This is not an overstatement.
When we talk of focusing on geography as artists we are talking about what that crucible of that geography has created in human social fabric, not naked coordinates on some abstract, single dimensional paper grid. It is not the technical and measurement sides of geography that interest me.
What the U.P. offers is a culture of conflict and struggle for survival, power and control. Furs, fish, timber, copper, iron. Outsiders came in, stripped the area of everything of value, and decamped. The locals were left with nothing, that is to say: zip, zed, zilch, squat, nada, bupkis.
Archaeologists and tribal stories tell us that the Upper Peninsula was once home to the Sioux of the Little Big Horn fame (or infamy), and that later, perhaps around 1450, the Ojibwe (whom we now call Chippewa) were pushed west from eastern Canada by the Iroquois and other factors and in turn then displaced the Sioux, whom they drove out of the UP, upper Wisconsin and Minnesota, onto the Great Plains. The war between the Sioux and Ojibwe went on for nearly a century and a half and there remains not much love lost between the tribes.
As recently as 1840, a surveyor visiting L’Anse, en route to Ontonagon in the U.P. reported seeing Sioux scalps hanging outside Ojibwe dwellings.
Europeans – initially the French — arrived shortly after 1600, intent on finding furs, open trade routes to the east (ironically by traveling west), and harvesting souls for Rome. The first European settlers of the UP were French and French Canadians, who intermarried and accepted Native American cultures as they found them, and pretty much adapted to the rules of their hosts. Other ethnic European settlers preferred to ignore the Indians or superimpose their own cultures.
Once we became a country, our own record with natives was equally bizarre. First we tried to kill all the Indians, then move them and turn them into white people, then we just ignored them for the most part.
After furs came copper mining and for a time the UP was the main producer of highest grade copper in the world. The aggregate value of UP copper far exceeded all the gold that came out of the far more famous 1849 strike in California.
After the copper played out, logging and iron mining came along and the stands of virgin white pine petered out before the iron.
Today a single taconite plant continues in operation near Marquette, the sole remnant of the iron industry. Copper mining is long gone, furs don’t pay enough to warrant serious trapping (which is now controlled by law in ways it wasn’t 400 years ago), logging is reduced to pulping for paper because our wood products can’t compete price-wise with foreign lumber, the area’s Tribals live quite well off casinos and those people who persist as year-round residents have been created equally by the genes of their ancestors and by cultural forces of place that always have been intent on taking something away from them and leaving them with as little as possible. It is as if the so-called outside world has tried to eviscerate and strip the UP to bare bones and even so, its people stubbornly persist and persevere.
The successors of people with such a legacy learn to be self-sufficient, skeptical, and physically and mentally tough.
The U.P. remains economically deprived and for nearly a half-century there has offered no economic opportunity to its young people As a result they to leave to find work in areas where opportunities exist, or join the military, or to attend a college or trade school.
Once out, they are typically gone until retirement time, at which point some migrate back because “growing up Yooper,” as some call it, puts a kind of imprint on the soul that lasts a lifetime. You can leave the UP, but it doesn’t leave you.
People in the U.P., like many rural areas tend to be clannish, and a bit closed in accepting newcomers. After twenty years in a village, you’ll probably remain the new family, unless another immigrant has supplanted you at the bottom of the pecking order.
Historically the U.P. has been fertile union ground for workers, and nearly every village traditionally has an equal number of churches and bars, the taverns rather than the god-shops serving as unofficial social and service clubs in winter, when average snowfalls in many places exceed 200 inches and in some more than 300.
The area might sometimes vote for a social conservative in a national election, but if you’re not a democrat in a local election, don’t bother wasting your time or your money, eh?
Yoopers will give you an unvarnished opinion and if you don’t like it, tough; the opinion is tendered neither to convert nor to convince; but solely to establish a position. You ask, they’ll answer.
Dark humor hangs over the place. After 9-1l, Yooper bars began issuing Osama bin Laden hunting licenses. It was a joke.
The U.P. is very much about hunting, fishing, and harvesting anything and everything that has potential value, nutritionally or economically or socially.
Yoopers tend to resent outside interference and put a great premium on a man’s ability to make machines work and keep working and how to stay alive when the weather goes south, which ironically usually means some sort of monster front has swept down from the north.
Even today, the highest compliment a person can receive is, “He’s a good man in the woods.”
Game wardens, or conservation officers as they are formally known, are barely tolerated and outwitting them has become a game, which can turn deadly. Officers have been murdered in the line of duty there, and locals resent state interference in what they consider to be their private and exclusive domain, legal ownership notwithstanding.
Yoopers also loathe fences. Some years back a man named Benson became the largest landholder in the UP and set up a development project west of Munising, where lots were to be sold for a quarter-million smackers a whack. He fenced in the property and began marketing in Japan and California. Every time the fence went up, locals tore it down and the battle raged for years until Benson, in frustration, sold all his land, said to hell with all of you, and abandoned the UP.
We have no reports (eyewitness or forensic) to tell us if the door hit him in the south gate on his way out.
Or let us harken to the time when bounties on coyotes were considerably higher in Michigan than surrounding states, so Upper Peninsula residents arranged with their pals and kin in Wisconsin, Indiana and Minnesota to bring the dead coyotes to Michigan so they could split the enriched bounties.
I moved to the UP just before my sophomore year of high school.
There I taught my self to fish for trout.
As an undergraduate student at Michigan State I was fortunate to be employed by the federal government for two summers fighting forest fires in Washington, Oregon, Idaho, and Montana. Out there, my trout fishing education continued.
With all the things that interest me and there are quite a few of them, I find fishing for trout – brook trout to be an important part of my life.
If you’ve never eaten fresh brook trout taken from fifty-degree water, you have missed a potentially life-changing experience. The ultimate is to catch several ten-inchers, build a small fire, and cook them right beside the river. When I fish, I invariably carry the fixings for trout lunch in my pack, creel, or vest. I also carry several trapper sandwiches, made of peanut butter, jelly, honey, raisins, and oatmeal, all squished together between slabs or rye or wheat bread.
I find parallels in writing fiction and trout fishing. Both are quintessential acts of hope. With each story, writers must use their craft to connect to readers in the right way, just as each angler’s cast must land in the right place. The major difference in the two undertakings is that trout fishing usually happens in much more scenic locations than writing. I’d add here what our late U.P. state supreme court judge and unofficial poet laureate, John Voelker, once declared: “Fishing is such great fun, I have often felt, that it really ought to be done in bed.” To be fair, nobody has ever said this about writing.
The magic of fiction is that a writer can use words to create something that feels real and alive and true, and causes us to feel, react, and sometimes even to act. Author Annie Dillard once wrote: “What I sought in books was imagination. It was depth, depth of thought and feeling; some sort of extreme of subject matter; some nearness to death; some call to courage. I myself was getting wild; I wanted wildness, originality, genius, rapture, hope. I wanted strength, not tea parties.”
Emily Dickinson took another tack on the subject: “There’s no frigate like a book to take us lands away.”
It seems to me that writing is a solid metaphor for penetrating the ultimate wilderness – the human mind. Just as getting lost is a risk inherent in physical wilderness, miscommunication and incomprehension lurk as risks in writing and reading.
It’s my observation that many people no longer know how to be alone or how to feel comfortable in silence with their own thoughts and company. Bob Dylan said it better than I: “Experience teaches us that silence terrifies people the most.”
Ironically, most aboriginal peoples around the world do not have a word for wilderness. (There also is no word for wilderness in Japanese, Spanish, French, or Swahili.)
According to David Klein in Information North, “The concept of wilderness in Western culture has its roots in Judeo-Christian fundamentalism. Europeans brought with them to North America this concept, as they set out to tame the wilderness of the western frontier.” That frontier or course began as an amorphous zone twenty miles from the littorals and successively stretched west over time to include the entire mid-continent.
For Native Americans there was no wilderness, just the land, inhabited by animating spirits, some good, some bad, many of them mischievous. At all times, all land was to be treated respectfully. Failure to respect the spirits of the land could have fatal consequences if, for example, local game decided to migrate, or weather killed the maple trees, the sole source of sugar. I would add here that Native Americans were not environmentalists in any way we would define that concept. If you like we can talk about that reality later.
Science teaches us that no land ever remains the same, that all land changes over time due to the forces of weather, aging, evolution, fire, flood, volcanism, earthquake, tornado, hurricane, and the encroachment of nature, and man — especially man.
Over most of recorded history, wilderness has held negative connotations for most of the world’s so-called “developed” cultures.
Biblically, wilderness was where the devil dwelt.
By the Middle Ages, wilderness was afloat with demons, dragons, monsters, trolls, and all forms of evil spirits – such beliefs being driven equally by evolving Christian churches and their pagans predecessors.
The exploration and settling of early America by Europeans was driven largely by Christian values, kings, and priests and parsons, who sent some of our forefathers to push back the frontier and conquer and tame the wilderness for man’s use.
We now call such people “developers.”
Historian Walter Webb has written, “America’s whole history can be read as one continuous real estate transaction.” By this he meant that within about 100 years of splitting from England our new country stretched from sea to sea, from the 49th parallel south to the Rio Grande River, and included Alaska and islands not only in the nearby Caribbean, but also far out in the Pacific.
Yet, it was here in land-hungry America and only here, that something unexpectedly and dramatically changed conceptually from something to fear and eliminate, to something to be embraced, preserved, and treasured. This is a major paradigm shift in human thinking and in my view has not yet been adequately recognized or explored.
This tidal shift in philosophy aside, the debate over how or even “if” to manage wilderness persists. In Middle English, the word wildeoren translates to “where wild beasts live,” implying man had no control over them, and thus was a place of disorientation or confusion for many humans, an imminent physical danger.
If we broadly construe wilderness as “the unknown,” then we are virtually surrounded by wilderness: Our own bodies, especially the workings of our brains; the earth’s core and oceans; the universe beyond our planet; and, the universe of microbes that envelop all higher life. All of these are largely unknown, barely scratched worlds.
Author Wallace Stegner wrote that wilderness has value even if all we ever do is just drive to the edge and look in. I agree that knowing wilderness is available is a source of comfort and optimism for the future, but there are some of us who need to slide over that edge and into the wilderness on occasion to get a closer, deeper view. For me going off the pale and grinding into the unknown is as sweet as experience gets.
Ultimately we each have to decide what wilderness is for us. Like the pictures you each selected for a chair and a boat earlier, the pictures of wilderness will vary in our respective heads.
I would say here that I am a proponent and practitioner of what the French term, “derive,” which means to drift, to move along without a set goal, that is to let the environment draw us in and follow our noses.
In Dylan’s words: “To be on your own, with no direction home.”
As a novelist, I am continuously searching for settings and locales for my protagonist Grady Service. To this end I have for eight years spent about a month each year in trucks on patrol with Michigan’s conservation officers and those travels are often the fuel for my work – about 250 to 300 patrols days in total.
In a manuscript just completed, I had Grady temporarily assigned to Ontonagon to fill in for a colleague. During deer season, several hunters go missing and he finds them, buried in ice between the Little Carp and Presque Isle Rivers, and digs out the corpses and takes care of them until help comes to relieve him.
This sequence of events actually happened an officer in Ontonagon County, in his first week on duty, some years back. The hunters had been in small boats, which overturned en route from the Big Carp River to Black River Harbor, and they drowned and their bodies, and the six deer they had shot, were washed ashore in November and iced in and frozen over by wave action, snow and spray. Talk about unique start to a career. The officer chipped the dead out of the ice with his knife and waited for help to arrive to take them out.
In writing about COs, I don’t have to invent a lot of things. The reality of the life of game wardens is mostly stranger and more compelling than anything I could make up.
But experience strengthens imagination and imagination can amplify or focus experience.
Art is not all about just looking at the world around us. It’s more about actually seeing the world, either as it is, or as we imagine it might be, or was, and if what we can create from this experience will be compelling to our audience – this outcome being the final measure of the effectiveness of our craft and our work.
In Frederic Spotts’s The Shameful Peace, the story of the arts and artists in France before, during and after World War II, the author says: “Living in their own world, artists are notorious for being so absorbed in their work that they can write, pain, sin, act, or compose with a degree of indifference to external circumstances that ordinary mortals find difficult to understand.” I would add scholars to this list because I think lives of the creative mind follow similar patterns.
All professional artists I know are disciplined, determined, and work every day. Art, be it a painting, poem, short story, statue, dance, novel or piece of music is a construct. It is made, built piece by piece, based on an idea, and like anything else that is built, it cannot be completed without regular attention and work. Art, like scholarly pursuits, is based on inspiration, thought, and work. It is always about the work.
My novels, like the lives of Michigan’s conservation officers, are filled with a lot of quirky characters, but one of the main, recurring characters in the series is the Upper Peninsula itself – the land, the weather, the people, the history, and the geography.
Without the U.P. I doubt people would find Grady’s work as interesting, but I will readily point out that COs around the state have similar experiences and face the same dangers wherever they are. The job is demanding, requires a huge investment in training and selection, and is inherently dangerous. Period. I know an officer whose partner was murdered by bear poachers, another who was badly beaten in the head by poachers and died prematurely brain tumors, and another who caught a felon reaching for a loaded 9 mm after declaring he would kill the next police officer he encountered. Studies at a west coast university showed that game wardens were 8 times more likely to be injured in the line of duty than any other law enforcement officer.
My Grady Service, for most of his career, guarded the Mosquito Wilderness, a real place in the UP, which I describe as it is, but never by its actual name or location. Over the years you would be shocked at the number of people who have called me out of the blue to announce, “We’ve found the Mosquito Wilderness!” I always ask them where they are, and invariably then have to tell them sorry, good try, but you’re not there. Grady Service understands the true value of the wilderness in his life and would die to protect it. As a novelist, this sort of real reader response to something imaginary, something you create, is wonderfully satisfying. Just as Arthur Conan Doyle creator of Sherlock Holmes, had many of his fans searching for the entirely fictional 221 Baker Street, my fans are searching for the Mosquito Wilderness. For a writer, what could be better that?
British writer, poet, artist, art and social critic John Ruskin wrote: “Great nations write their autobiographies in three manuscripts – the book of their deeds, the book of their words, and the book of their art.”
I think Ruskin is right, and ask you to consider this. I would contend that a significant factor in Barack Obama’s winning of the Presidency – perhaps THE major factor — was his great ability to relate a compelling story not just of what has been, but a story and promise of what can be, in words and images that stimulated the majority of us.
Our best leaders have all known how to use language to tell compelling stories, some of them telling the stories quietly in relative obscurity, like George Washington in what seemed an almost endless back-water revolution, and others on an expanded national stage, like Lincoln, or on the full-world stage, like Franklin Roosevelt.
Write this down: Words matter always — in all ways.
Thank you for your forbearance. I would be happy now to answer any questions you might have.