Sunday, April 3, 2011

North Woods

Rick Bass is one of my favorite writers and his book Colter had a permanent effect on my life. I read it when I was in treatment for cancer.  There is something about the raw wildness in this story that brought me back from chemo and fear and into a sparkling present. Thinking of that book, I go there sometimes still.

Another person who had this effect on me was my former father in law Paul, who died recently, even though I couldn't have known he would.
My former father in law
My ex-husband's father and my son's grandfather was 89 and of a generation that was able to see a different world than we did. He had a huge impact on my life and the things that I write about.
Even though I am no longer part of their family, Paul was part of my life. I wouldn’t know what I know about the north woods and I wouldn’t have the feeling I do for the traditions of sportsmanship in Maine and other northern places like Montana. I probably would have had different relationships with writers I have met if I hadn’t seen firsthand what is was like to fish, or hunt with dogs. I wouldn’t have any sense of what it’s like to have a relationship with a good dog. And I wouldn’t have met his partner from Damariscotta who was a great classic Maine woman whom I liked and who encouraged me to paint and write.
I once wrote a story about the sound of Paul's voice in the woods in the summer. I've lost it but the tone of his voice through the windows of a small cabin was deep, velvet and resonant. I listened to it canoeing on lakes in Maine with him and walking with a shotgun through the New Hampshire woods in the fall.
Ironically, we never really got along. When we were exploring the dirt backroads of New Hampshire or Maine I would tell him we weren't where he thought we were and he would never listen. I would point at the symbol for a church on a topo map and say, "We are not there!", and he would say, "We are!", even though there was no church in sight. Now I know getting lost was part of the adventure. He reveled in stories about getting stuck in his four-wheel drive vehicles and using the “come-along” (winch).  Even if we weren't hungry, we would heat canned beans on the tailgate on a Coleman stove and brownies made by his partner. He would say, "Isn't this mahhvelus?" as we looked over the White Mountains or whatever particular location we were in: Moosehead Lake or Lake Umbagog.
Now, I just feel lucky I was there. I could write so many stories about him and the summers, falls and winters we went to New England to see him and others. I heard that my son read a beautiful story he had written about his grandfather and rivers at the service. I can’t wait to see it.

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