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[NOTE: Presentation at Park Visitor Center to visitors, park staff, and Friends of the Porkies, July 11, 2008.]
Actually, I had prepared remarks, which I will include here, but the past two weeks have so turned on my creative juices that I’ll start by sharing some of what has so far emerged:
What’s A Wilderness Without Pests?
Big bugs, little bugs
Bugs that will make you crazy.
Bugs that swarm on bluebird days
Or only when it’s hazy.
Bugs that roar like drunken sailors,
Inserting their stingers like Hong Kong tailors.
Bugs that only seem to want some blood
Can leave behind a virus, bud!
Noseeums, blackflies, deerflies too
The Porkies surely have a bug for you.
But when southwest winds begin to rise
And the air outside gets sticky
Best you get your ass inside most ricky-ticky.
For in your cabin stable flies won’t go.
Just termites, ants and silverfish
Slogging through your sugar dish.
And ticks by day and spiders by night
Porkies entymology is a dreadful fright.
After the “poem” came this stuff and what follows:
Beyond crepuscular, insects pink softly against screens, les luciole have pinched off their lamps. A small wind tickles edges of thimbleberry leaves. The river has swallowed its song and those beings borning in our minds lucubrate unseen for now. I close my eyes to find images and voices which did not exist before sleep came to me. When I awake in the morning I take up a pen to give them voices and air to their souls, which with craft and luck will endure beyond the stories told. Each time a story is read, its soul grows until eventually it attains full life in the personal pantheon of things we treasure. If the writer tells it well and readers pass it along, whispering “try this.”
Da name’s Fallon, Bucko. Oy coom inta da Porkies in twenty four. Grew up in New York state, oop in da Catskills. But too many people come in for me. I live out here in da wilderness most ov da year, save a few weeks mebbe with Maggie Moltobene at her hice near Bergland. Make my living making fur. Beaves mostly, some otter and wildcat, a few weasel in their white coats. Kill deer for the meat, sometimes a bear, ducks and geese. Catch fish from da streams, mostly brookies the color of jewelry round the neck of rich women. It’s work, this life, but worth it. Got wolves out here with me, but we get along fine. Da wolf on all fours is more upright than some men – like those putting out poison for the wolves. For them everything is about money, eh? Da wolf, he’s a family man, takes only what he needs, supports his own kind when trouble comes. Them no-accounts wit da pizen will one day kill off all da animals and if da wolfs are wise, dey’ll stay da hell outta dis country where men don’t deserve ta have ‘em around. It’s da fookin two-leggers wit Bibles in dere britches and da word of God commanding dem ta drive out da wild beasts and tame da wild country. Dese are da people scare me, not wolfies. God made da wolf what ee is, but men were made ta choose what they be.
I’m Koski, the game warden for the Porkies when Fallon was up there. Little fella, eh? But tough as boot leather he was, that Fallon. Had his main shack above Mirror Lake, and little line shacks all over da mountains and swamps wit his trap lines. Come from Irish stock. His grandfather won the Medal of Honor at Gettysburg. His old man won it down to the San Juan Hill and Fallon himself won it in France. Never spoke of it, he didn’t. Found him a genial soul, but rouse the man’s anger and you’d best look out. One time he runa cross two government trappers poisoning wolves west of Nonesuch. They had words and Fallon beat hell out of those fellas and dey limped inta Ontonagon whimpering like stray dogs. Sheriff in those days was worthless. A coward and to boot couldn’t find a paccyderm in his outhouse, so da judge and my bosses tapped me ta arrest Fallon. Took me three days but I found him runnin’ traps in the White River country south of the Porks. I explained the situation, told him was me, I’d light out for places where civilization wouldn’t give a second look to a man thrashed assholes on principle. We got drunk that night out there in the big snow and when I woke up in the wee morning, he was gone. Night before, he told me he put his spirit over the Porkies ta help keep the mountains a wild place. I never seen nor heard of the man again, but eventually the state took the Porkies under its wing, so whatever Fallon’s spell was, I guess it worked good. Where’d he go? Somewhere wild and free for sure, but just where, your guess is as good as mine.
I’m Margaret Moltobene. People around here call me Maggie, and yes, I knew Fallon. My first husband died of TB and people wanted me ta sell the land, but Fallon come along and told me ta hang on to it. Him and me we were perfectly matched in all ways, which meant we couldn’t tolerate each other more than a week a year, each of us insisting about being right about everything. I wasn’t surprised ta hear about the beating he give them trappers. Everybody around here knew the men, both of them slobs and bigmouths. If Fallon stopped here on his way to going wherever he was going, I’ll never say, even under oath in a court of law. But what makes you so bloody sure he ever left in the first place? I know Fallon loved me, eh, but he loved them damn mountains a whole lot more.
What you’ve just read is the birth of three characters, which is sometimes how a book comes to life. Will it happen this time? Only time will tell.
From here let’s paddle back upriver to my formal remarks.
IN SUCCINCT SELF INTRODUCTION LET ME SAY that my literary reputation over 23 years as an author has soared dramatically from internationally unknown to regionally obscure. Even my local paper rarely reviews my work.
The central fact of my life is that I get paid to make up stuff, so if you’re looking for pearls of wisdom tonight, you might want to remember what it is that I really do.
I see 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 Yooper poet laureate, John Voelker, once declared: “Fishing is such great fun, I have often felt, that it really ought to be done in bed.” 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 also 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.
To spend a couple of weeks unencumbered in wilderness in the Upper Peninsula — my favorite place in the world — is a true luxury. By luxury I mean having the time and opportunity to wander the hills and woods, and streams on our own schedule
[Translation: No schedule), to sit on a rock or log, and look and listen, instead of being brow-beaten by screeching TV news anchors, the methodical clunk of the ice-maker in the fridge, the nearby takeoffs and landings of commercial jets, automobiles being driven by teenagers with booming radios and stereos, kids on bikes, scooters and skateboards, neighbors fueled by box wine, braying like donkeys by their pools at oh-dark thirty, the monthly Saturday tornado siren test with all the dogs howling in response and in tune, the steady sound of distant sirens of cops, firemen and meat-wagons, and eight people all gabbing on cell phones in the grocery store.
People, I fear, no longer know how to be alone or to feel comfortable in silence with their own thoughts and company.
Wilderness, of course, is anything but silent, but life here is simplified: eat, sleep, walk, look for fish, take photographs, sit and think, listen to ravens, owls, coyotes, wolve, nighthawks, or the trunks and branches of hemlocks and maples rubbing together. While these sounds they sometimes can take us by surprise, they seldom grate on our ears or psyches. And walking helps keep down blood sugar while contemplation helps reduce stress. This is what I mean by luxury.
Being a novelist, poet, painter, photographer and amateur naturalist, my last two weeks have been filled with the minutae of wilderness.
The Anishnaabe, whom we now call Chippewas and once called Ojibwa, allegedly have a word for wilderness: pag-wa-da-ka-mig. However, since most aboriginal peoples around the world do not have a word for wilderness, I doubt the veracity of this assertion, which appears in Father Frederick Baraga’s 1853 Grammar and Dictionary of the Otchipwe Language. Instead of the Snowshoe Priest’s word, I prefer the Anishnaabe word no-pim-ing, which means “in the woods.”
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 our source of sugar. Likewise, the Greeks and Romans believed similarly in genus loci, spirits of place.
By the way, there is no word for wilderness in Japanese, Spanish, French, or Swahili.
Science has taught us that no land can ever remain the same. All land changes over time due to the forces of weather, aging, evolution, fire, flood, earthquake, tornado, hurricane, and the encroachment of nature and man.
Lest we fall into the trap of waxing philosophically about Native Americans and their environmentally friendly ways, let me say for the record the most environmental concepts and philosophies historically attributed to Native Americans, their shamans and priests, were and are total baloney.
Let’s for a moment take a creative leap and consider the reality of the life of the local Chippewas in the 18th century. What we’re going to do is to try to empathize and understand the actual with the requirements of their lives. We will call ourselves a band and like our brothers and sisters, live in an extended family group. For argument’s sake let’s say we are 10 people. We know from anthropological study in many cultures, that the traditional hunter-gatherer lifestyle (that’s us) requires 3,500 – 5,000 calories per day per individual. Times 10 for the family means we have to kill or gather 35,000 to 50,000 calories a day as a group, or 250,000 to 300,000 calories a week – JUST TO STAY ALIVE. Right here, right now, look around and think. How much effort would it take? Like all day, every day of the year?
Bottom line: Our little group will need to kill and harvest everything in range and when the food supply scampers away or is nearly depleted, we’ll need to move our camp or range further out to get what we need. When the food moves, so must we, and if any food or animal life is left behind, it is not because we were selective, but because the cumulative firepower of our weapons was insufficient to kill more than we did. The fact that some animals survived might have been thought of by Europeans as conservation, when was only evidence of the lack of effective firepower.
Over most of recorded history, wilderness has had negative connotations for most of the world’s “developed” cultures.
In Roman times the contrast was between urbs and rus, city and country.
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 driven equally by evolving Christian churches and pagans.
The exploration and settling of Early America by Europeans was driven largely by Christian values, kings and priests and parsons, who sent out our forefathers to push back the frontier and conquer and tame the wilderness for man’s use. [We call such people developers now…] Historian Walter Webb has said, “America’s whole history can be read as one continuous real estate transaction.” By that 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 and wilderness morphed from something to fear to something to embrace, preserve, and treasure. [Unless you’re those environmental stalwarts George Bush, John Engler, or Dick Cheney. Cheney, our esteemed vice president, missed fighting in Vietnam because of student deferments, but later as a pugnacious Wyoming congressman once wrote: “I am every bit as committed to preventing government introduction of wolves into Yellowstone as they are in putting them there. If [the Department of the Interior] wants a fight, I’m ready.” Dick Cheney – what a guy…Cheney’s views aside, wilderness in America over time became not a challenge to tame or eliminate, but a place to protect and preserve.
The debate over how or even “if” to manage wilderness continues. In Middle English, the word wildeoren translates to “where wild beasts live” implying man has no control over them, a place of disorientation or confusion for many humans, and therefore an immediate physical danger.
These days there are varying definitions of wilderness: a chunk of land with no roads and no permanent human dwellers; a place you need at least a day and night to cross, etc. The debate over what wilderness is continues and it’s an important debate for all of us to involve ourselves in because there will be people trying to limit wilderness in the interests of exploiting natural resources, or other issues of greed or perceived need.
But what is wilderness, and is there just one definition? If am naked (god forbid you should suffer that) and delivered to a wild place and feel no anxiety, am I in wilderness or not? Here we’re suggesting wilderness is not so much a geographic state, as a reflection of our own skills, fears, experiences, etc.
Being here encourages me to think about such things and to convey that thinking and associated theories and values in my artistic work.
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 envelops all higher life. All of these are largely unknown and barely scratched worlds.
Technically the kind of land where we stand tonight is boreal forest, what the Russians would define as the periphery of the taiga: spruce, fir, pine, larch, tamarack, alder, birch, aspen. It’s a dark place with short summers and long, violent winters.
If you begin to read and study, you learn things which begin to help you to actually see the things you are looking at:
1) The conical shapes of trees here promotes snow shedding, and prevents branch loss;
2) Narrow needles endure water loss better than fatter ones. And waxy outer coatings prevent drying out;
3) Retention of foliage allows earlier photosynthesis in spring because there no need to waste time and energy re-growing leaves; and
4) The dark color of the surroundings absorb maximum heat, which speeds photosynthesis.
Thus the darkly colored, wild, and imposing taiga is actually teeming with evidence of life rather than ominous dark spirits threatening mankind and science and it is science that creates for us a picture that is the opposite of the imaginings of those who once saw the forest primeval as a threat. In all things, the more we humans learn, the less darkness there is.
Author Wallace Stegner called wilderness the “geography of hope.” But wilderness has also been called “The sandbox of Yuppies.” I guess we each have to decide what it is for us.
As a novelist I am continuously searching for locales for my protagonist Grady Service. I spend about a month each year in trucks on patrol with Michigan’s conservation officers and those travels are often the fuel for my work. In a manuscript completed just before driving up here, 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, and digs out the corpses and takes care of them until helps comes to relieve him.
This sequence of events actually happened to Brett “Gus” Gustafson, an Ontonagon county CO, 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 were washed ashore in November and iced over by wave action, snow and spray. Helluva way to start your career..
Some of my stories come from my experiences with COs, but most come from events the relate to me. I don’t have to make up a lot of things. The reality of the life of game wardens is far stranger and more compelling than anything I could make up.
But experience strengthens imagination and imagination can amplify or focus experience.
As a poet, I look for metaphors and scenes and experiences and try to marry them to words that will evoke as nearly as possible the exact emotions I felt and experiences I had – in as few words as possible. I don’t think of myself as anything other than an enthusiastic poet, but writing verse, I believe, helps my prose to be more concise, and therefore more powerful. And, above all, poetry helps me listen to the rhythms and the actual sounds (the music) of words. Poetry strengthens the ear.
As a painter I look for images that touch my emotions and fancy, either by motion, shape or form, color, or all these values, try to make something to proximate my experience for those who will see the painting. To me the approach to and process of painting is similar to poetry – concise, focused, concentrated and intense. Painting strengthens the eye.
Art is not all about 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 create from this experience is compelling to our audience — that’s a measure of our craft.
Photography, the least of my skills, is used not for artistic expression but as a crutch to boost an aging, flagging memory. Win gi-no-gade – Anishnaabe for “she has long legs”—is an artist and art teacher and she reminds me often that any crutch to help us see and remember is a good thing. Photography, then, strengthens my recall.
I also fancy myself a naturalist – albeit of the rankest, lowest order. As an artist who works with the outdoors I think its important to know the names of the things around me. I don’t know them all, but I am learning. Truly creative people – including every other author I’ve known – have insatiable curiosity. We are like five year olds traipsing around asking, “What’s that called, huh?” and “How come it’s called that, huh?”
If you ask what it takes to write successfully, you’ll get a lot of different answers. For me the important elements – in addition to possessing some degree of skill are: energy, curiosity, health, discipline, determination, and plain old good luck.
The other requirement, for lack of a better term, is the ability to immerse yourself in the situation. It’s about learning to pay attention, to focus, to be aware, to be able to render judgment about that which you are immersed in. Cops and firefighters know how to do this. Soldiers and flyers too. Danger focuses our minds and senses.
Part of my interest in the law enforcement work of our conservation officers is the stark reality of the actual work and conflict between elemental forces: good versus evil, individuals vs group; management vs leadership; leadership vs followership; ambition vs competence and the sheer irony of heinous crimes committed in places of such physical sylvan beauty.
John Voelker once said, “Trout fishing is a lot like chasing women. There’s not much chance catching them when they’re not in the mood.” Despite this, I can assure you the retired judge fished nearly every day because as a writer he knew that if you don’t work every day, nothing happens. You see, Professional writers write every single day, not just when a muse decides to visit. Sometimes your daily fishing and writing is about improving your abilities and training your mind and body to do the things that you need to do. And sometimes it’s about catching.
There is in our society an odd image of artists as whacked out, impulsive people with their heads in the clouds. All the professional artists I know are disciplined, determined and work every day. It’s time people recognized the truth of the arts.
I do not believe that people can be taught the imagination needed to write fiction. Or, if you prefer, the “intuitive feel for stories.”
Surely students can be taught techniques, but the ability to create and hear voices and see scenes is something that can be encouraged by teachers but not instilled like a gene transplant or a black box made in China. You either have this ability, or you don’t and in some sense it’s like having an innate sense of direction: Your are born with an inner compass or you aren’t.
In my novels, I either start with an ending or outcome in mind, or with some sort of interesting starting event. Beginning with an ending is easiest because it helps you stay on course to where you have to go. Another format is having a more or less complete story in mind, based on real events, and to then simply lay it out in terms of Grady Service’s experience. I’ve done all three. Death Roe, the sixth in the series, will be out this fall, and is of this third kind, as was Running Dark. Number 7, to be called Hard Green Violets, is done, and will be out sometime 2009. It is of the type, which has only a beginning as a premise.
In the Woods Cop novels, everything is written from Grady Service’s perspective, though not in pure first person. You hear what other characters say and do, but you are admitted only to Grady’s interior life and mind. This forces you to live the time-lines he lives and suffer the constraints and insufficiencies of information he suffers, and to be limited, like he is, in what you can know. Writing in omniscient third person and from the inner perspectives of multiple characters would make my job much easier, but my approach forces our focus on Grady, his life, his difficulties and therefore he serves as a messenger and symbol for all conservation law enforcement officers.
My books, I hope, contain what author Michael Chabon calls the stuff of great stories: true friendship, true love, dying for a belief, self sacrifice, and reverence for place.
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 similar dangers wherever they are. The job is damned demanding, requires a huge investment in training and selection, and is dangerous. Period. 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. Eight times.
The U.P. is a character because it leverages certain physical impediments and limitations, because there is both inherent predicatability and inpredictability, 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. This makes the U.P. a powerful character and force in the Woods Cop stories.
I haven’t come up with anything revolutionary in this approach: Other authors have successfully and effectively used place 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 most probably most famously, William Faulkner’s creative of the fiction Yok’na-pa-TAW-pha County in Mississippi.
As for my work methods, I write every day. I write first drafts in longhand with ballpoint or fountain pen. Sometimes I used India ink and a quill to slow down my mind.
The average manuscript length is 100,000 words. About 300-400 pages, set in type, which is not the same number of pages typed or off a computer printer.
Writing time varies by book.
I don’t use outlines, and haven’t since my sophomore year at Rudyard High School in Chippewa County.
Grady Service is not based on a particular individual. Rather, he is an amalgam of several officers I have worked with. But just about everything in the books has happened to a CO somewhere in Michigan, usually in the U.P. or somewhere up north. And it’s fair to say that every character bears some of me – as his or her creator.
From the time my editor accepts a manuscript it’s roughly nine months to a year before actual publication. For example we proofread and edited typeset pages for this coming Ocober’s book, in late March. By the time the book comes out, I’m well into the next one and have to back up and remember what the hell I wrote in the one just getting into bookstores. Sometimes this gets me a little bollixed up in interviews. If immediate gratification drives you, writing is a poor career choice, and if you seek the so-called writer’s life, let me know if you find it. I have no idea what it is, or even if it is. To me the writing life is one of work.
I like all the writing tasks from creation to revision– the actual work of the writer. I loathe promoting books in public, but do it because it’s large required these days. But a book signing is like an ocean voyage. You know the start and finish times and by the time it’s over you can’t tell if the effort, time or motion sickness have been worth it.
Old time writers were a lot luckier. They could just write, live theirs lives, and be almost entirely anonymous.
A few years back I stepped to the bank of the Iron River and tore open the tag alders to find myself literally face to face with a large gray wolf. I laughed out loud, sat down, lit a cigarette, changed a fly and told myself what a lucky sunuvabitch I am to live in this state and be able to traipse around the wilds of the U.P.
In 1941 the Writer’s Program of the WPA produced a book called Michigan: A Guide to the Wolverine State. In this work the Western U.P. was described as broken, wild, and harsh. It still is for me and I wouldn’t have it any other way. Back in those days your fishing license with a trout stamp cost a buck and you could keep 15 trout a day. Your annual deer hunting license was $2.25 for a buck and a bear. In 1898, deer licenses were fifty cents, which entitled you to five deer of any gender. And also in 1941, eight Michigan counties, including Ontonagon, Menominee, and Baraga had no limit at all on bear hunting. You could hunt year-round and kill as many as you wanted because they were considered mostly to be pests and a nuisance. Now bear habitat and range are carefully managed and the state population is an estimated 19,000 animals and growing. Values and circumstances change.
There were no wolves left in Michigan in 1941, and now we have more than 500 in the U.P. And we didn’t introduce them. They came back on their own. Later, ask me about this because it is an interesting story.
I love to be in the woods, no-pim-ing, anywhere in the U.P, but this sojourn in the Porkies has been really special and I hope the state will continue to protect and nurture this place with the passion and foresight it has shown in the past.
I must tell you though, in my black Irish heart I harbor fears that the Marquette County’s Salmon-Trout River sulfide mine decision will rear its ugly head in another form elsewhere and our elected politicians and bureaucrats will trade something priceless for 200 jobs that will last less than a decade, and that our politicians or all stripes will opt for short term economics over maintaining priceless resources.
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 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 reader response is greatly satisfying. Arthur Conan Doyle, creator of Sherlock Holmes had fans searching frantically for 221B Baker Street, which did not exist! Words have power.
The Porkies were threatened with various schemes until the 1972 Wilderness and Natural Resources Act was passed and officially declared the Porkies a wilderness.
Threats to the park are the raison d’etre for the Friends of the Porkies, and why their existence and work is so important for all of us. They are here, watching, and they are our sentries and pickets, who will yell when a threat begins to manifest itself. At that time we will need to step forward, all of us. Will you be ready?
Wallace Stegner wrote that wilderness has value even if we just drive to the edge and look in. And I agree with him. Knowing it is here and available is a source of comfort and optimism for the future. Stegner is right, but there are some of us who need to slide over that edge and into the wilderness to get a closer, deeper view. This is as sweet as experience can get.
In each Woods Cop book I try to build in a topical UP subject larger than Grady’s life: It was diamond exploration in Ice Hunter, wolf poaching in Blue Wolf, and will be salmon poaching in Death Roe this fall. As readers finish each story I hope they feel thoroughly entertained, a bit enchanted, and perhaps enlightened a little bit about what goes on out in our woods and how difficult it is to do the job, and how few people are state has committed to this important function.
Shame on Michigan’s politicians who play games with our resources! Shame on those politicians who created different retirement plans for COs than state police in order to keep Troops from transferring to CO jobs where they have more freedom to operate and do the job right.
In 1999 I was working on a book, and sat down one morning, and the prolog to The Snowfly just popped out of me. I quit what I was working on, and 45 days later the Snowfly manuscript draft was complete. I had not planned the book. It just grew out of me. Writing it was simply like watching a movie in my mind and transcribing it as it played.
Not all books are born so easily, but once in awhile, if you feed your imagination continuously, it can happen. The Berkut, my second novel, took three years of intense research just to decide if there was a book there, and another solid year of writing, seven days a week.
I’d like to close with a brief reading from The Snowfly, which is a little about fly fishing for trout, and journalism, but very much about the U.P. and probably suggests some commonalities of why all of us are here together at this moment in this place. When I’m asked what The Snowfly is about, I say it’s a story about where obsession can lead but most of all it is a story about finding home.
“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 couldn’t feel it and embrace it generally tried it only once. You fit or you didn’t. The basic law of nature was the law of the unexpected. In the woods, or on a fast river, you were attuned to this; at home, in a job, or in relationships, you were not, yet nature pertained in all settings to all species in one way or another. North was the home of the unexpected. North spawned chilled chaos, yet warmed my heart.”
Let me conclude with another voice, this one my own as a voyageur or courier do bois, four hundred years ago. This voice was born this afternoon in a cabin in the Little Union River Gorge.
“Bojo et bon soir. I speak for you tonight a little Anglais – English, oui? Which is not so bon, okay? And a little Ojibwa, also non bon.
Et Francais, mon language, which also I am not so learned and thees does not make smiles avec academe francaise. Okay? We do our best, s’il vous plait. Okay?Bon. Bien. We are in porc-epic montagne deaux week, thrieze days, okay, I hold up these many fingair you can count! I am Joseph, un courier du bois, from Kebek, Noveau Francais, oui? From thees place, ouest, for many many days avec bateau. Et thees gorgeous creature, yes? She is name Les Jambe Longue – you say en Anglais, loong leggs, N’est Pas? Bon.
Jambe Longue et moi, we stay thees time en petite maison en bois – un cabon, I think you say this en Anglais cab-INN. This cabon she is locate sur le Riviere de petite Conjugaison Gorge, under cique, you call EM-lock, oui? Et les bouleau a papier, thees tree you call bitch, oui? We, Jambe Longue et moi, zeek ere peche a la truite a la mouche, en Anglis – to fish for trout with flies, bon? Non pour mange, sur joi d turies, n’est pas? Joy of this only. Ere we zeeks truite aumonee, trouts of za brook yes? It is not so good to be the dog barking in all direction, n’est pas, so we must choose un riviere only and in thees place porc-epic, we find ear is place du grande rondonee, you say EYE-king? Alas, we find petite nibi en sibi – small water in les riviere. But beaucoup mouche cerf, mouch noir, et mostiqui – deer fly, black fly, mos-KEE- toe.Aussi, not so many mouch de mai et Pierre mouche – may fly et stone fly.One day we are making rondonee (IKE?) and we find le merde des un meute de loup gris, yes, you call poop of pack of gray wolfs? One night, un soir, gimiwan, it rains, but beside our cabon est kakabika, AVE petite eau, et truites non. We are catching les truites en peu, only few, yes? And now is time we, Jambe Longue et moi, we go sud to County Fer – you call EYE-ron.We are most pleasured very much, I must say, to be thees place avec evenement naturel, you say forces of nature. We say to our nouveau amis de porc-epic montagne, megwitch et merci beaucoup, thank you most much. May god who is Gitchee Manitu smile on your life.”
Friends of the Porkies, the floor is now yours and nothing is out of bounds.