This May Have Happened to You
This may have happened to you.
The sunlight fell
In just a certain way
Upon a leaf – a red leaf, glossy, bright,
Streaked orange at the edges –
Floating in a pool of dark rainwater
Beside the road.
Perhaps it was a dirt road
That had ascended a hill
And brought you
From the bright green fields
To the long green shadows
Of the forest. Perhaps
You were thinking of something
As you walked,
Or perhaps not,
But when you saw the leaf,
Floating in the light beside the road,
You stopped, because
Something in you changed,
And you were filled with the desire,
The obligation almost,
To do something.
But there was nothing
You could do.
From The Hidden Light, second edition
Puritan Capital Press
The cost, Dean reports, was “less than 100 dollars
in materials, and hours and hours of time given in
the spirit of friendship and goodwill.”
Camp Sheepskin, as it was christened because
of its proximity to nearby Sheepskin Bog, served
not only as a hunting camp but as the Bennett
family’s retreat for weekend getaways and holiday
gatherings. Here, in the woods around the camp
and at Sheepskin Bog, Dean discovered – in early
childhood – his passion for studying plants and
animals, an interest he would carry with him into
adulthood and that would lead him to his life’s work
in natural history, science education, and conser-
vation. As the author of several books, among
them Allagash: Maine’s Wild and Scenic River and
Maine’s Natural Heritage, he has championed the
protection of wilderness not only for its intrinsic
biological value, but also as a haven where people
can go for recreation, renewal, and an inkling of
what an untrammeled world was like.
Idyllic as Dean’s childhood and youth were in
many respects, he does not neglect to mention
forces in the wider world that touched on his
family’s life. His two uncles were drafted and
served in the European theater during World War
II; his father enlisted in the Navy and served as
a Seabee in the Philippines. To the great relief of
their family, all three men returned safe and sound.
In a chapter entitled “Inroads,” Dean touches on
the postwar push for development that brought
road upgrades, increased automobile traffic, and
even break-ins and theft at Camp Sheepskin.
What makes Ghost Buck not just another
collection of hunting yarns is its scope and depth.
It is instead the record of a life rooted in a family
and community whose members cherish each
other, the Maine forest, and all the creatures
living in it, including that huge, elusive buck that
haunted every hunter’s dreams.
Reviewer’s Disclosure Note: I’m a long-time
friend of Dean Bennett and wrote the foreword to
Watching Great Meadow
Bauhan Publishing, 2016
This is an unusual book, deceptive in its apparent
simplicity. Gordon Russell chronicles his observations of Great Meadow, a marshland in New
Hampshire, from 2000 through 2014. The power
of the book is in the clarity and immediacy of
each journal entry. Russell is an extraordinary
observer and possesses the ability to transmit
what he sees through vivid and lyrical language.
His descriptions uncover the wonder embodied in
the smallest creature or plant; even the intricate
work of leaf-mining insects on lily pads is a
phenomenon to behold.
There is no “plot” to bind this narrative together,
nor is one needed. The entries carry the reader
from one enticing observation to the next, month
by month, season by season, from one year to the
next. The great power to this cumulative approach
is the revelation that we can find, in just one
wetland, complexity and beauty beyond comprehension, an ever-shifting drama of interacting life.
Many of the species – birds particularly – make
repeat appearances, but there is no repetition
in the entries. The author always finds new and
fascinating behavior to report.
The richness of the Great Meadow ecosystem
is staggering, as is the interdependence of all the
life within it. Russell is not exaggerating when he
comments that the wetland “feeds all.” Piece by
piece, he shows us a web of life, from beavers
whose engineering skill keeps the wetland
flooded, to watery swarms of hatching insects, to
swooping birds, fish, tadpoles, diving grebes, and
the majestic top predators, osprey and eagles.
Plants, too – even tiny bladderworts – enjoy
recognition. There is comedy, as when crows
harass a pair of ospreys dining on their catch, and
tragedy – a goose trapped by ice is left behind
and perishes despite a heroic struggle.
Russell’s keen observations frequently highlight mysteries in nature and the great gaps in
our understanding of the behavior of birds and
animals. There are many authentic portrayals
of astonishingly complex actions and interactions. His entries provoke many questions about
the intelligence of animals, and challenge our
too-often preconceived notions about the minds
and awareness of animals. Through his acute
observations, it is apparent they are not just going
through the motions of their lives and breeding
cycles. A lot of decisionmaking, cognition, processing of information – even emotions – are in
play. Though we frequently assume these only
exist in our human realm, it would seem we have
a lot more in common with animals and birds than
The entries are not limited to wildlife. Russell
brings to life the beauty of the place – the play
of light and sky, rain and snow, on water and on
land in different seasons and throughout the day.
Colors spring to life, from muted winter grays and
whites to glorious spring and summer greens to
the fiery tones of fall.
Russell’s writing communicates what he sees,
but his profound love of this place is palpable