Gene Letourneau wrote a daily column on hunting and fishing for 50 years for Maine’s Guy Gannett newspapers: the Kennebec Journal, Morning Sentinel and Portland Press Herald. Growing up, Letourneau’s column was the first and best-read item in the daily newspaper at my house.
Letourneau and Bud Leavitt of the Bangor Daily News were the last journalists to give us outdoor news every day. Despite the fact there are hundreds of thousands of Maine hunters and anglers, no newspaper gives us daily coverage of our favorite outdoor activities.
After Leavitt retired, Tom Hennessey began his outdoor columns in the BDN, combining a talent for art and the skills of an outdoor writer to create his own special place in Maine. In “Leave Some For Seed,” his new book published this month by Islandport Press, he’s done it again, with wonderful stories and amazing drawings and paintings.
Long before Hennessey was the BDN’s outdoor writer, he was a sportsman. “The way I see it, I was blessed from the beginning,” Hennessey writes. “For starters, my birth certificate was stamped with the State of Maine seal. Then came the enviable distinction of being raised in South Brewer, with the Penobscot River’s Atlantic salmon, striped bass, smelt, and smallmouth bass fisheries at my front door and game-abundant covers at my back door, literally. Thus, long before I began shaving, I became addicted to the outdoors traditions, cultures, and heritage that earned Maine its reputation as a sportsman’s paradise.”
I could have written that — and wish I had. All I would have had to do was change the location to Winthrop. And while Hennessey’s mentor was his grandfather, Dunc MacDonald, mine was my dad, Ezra Smith.
And this is what I most enjoyed about Hennessey’s book: his memories are my memories. While I found myself racing through the stories, I had to pause often when a special memory of my own would pop into my head. His first bird dog was a springer spaniel; my first dog was a springer. A coyote burst out of the brush and nearly ran him over; a coyote jumped out of the bushes and landed right on top of my turkey decoy.
Hennessey’s painting — of two hunters and a bird dog in a field, a pheasant lifting out of the deep grass, one hunter with his gun lifted – brought back the memory of my very first pheasant, shot with our English setter pointing the bird, the pheasant rising out of the field, my shot, and Dad right beside me. Boy, I lingered over that painting in this book for a long long time.
Hennessey also offers insights and advice throughout the book. “I never thought, never imagined, I’d see anti-hunting activism in this state. ‘Course, we all know where it came from, and more of it is arriving every day. I was really fortunate to have been born and raised here when this state was truly and traditionally Maine. This state was a much better place fifty years ago. Much better,” he writes.
Or how about this: “What soured the chowder, though, was the so-called ‘Marketing of Maine’ and the attendant loss of public access to hunting land — not to mention lakes, ponds, and streams — which occurred in the early 1980s. Consequently, in a state where, historically, No Hunting and No Trespassing signs were scarcer than woodcock in winter, such postings appeared almost overnight in fields and woodlands, statewide. Clearly, owing to changing times, unrestricted public access to privately owned land, which generations of Maine’s native stock sportsmen had quietly enjoyed and taken for granted, was fast disappearing.”
These thoughts reminded me of why I admired Hennessey’s Bangor Daily News columns so much: they combined wonderful stories with some serious truth telling. He always told it like it is. And still does. The chapter titled “Climate Controversy” is an important one, as Hennessey spells out very clearly all the things he’s experienced that demonstrate that the climate already has changed with great significance to sportsmen.
While Hennessey experienced the best of hunting and fishing in spectacular places outside of Maine, this book is all about Maine. “The outdoor memories I treasure most, and paint and write about most, were made here in Maine,” he writes. “Of equal value, though, are the unbreakable bonds of friendship that were forged in hunting camps and fishing boats, not to mention the lessons in responsibility, discipline, and respect for elders that I learned first hand.”
This is the writing I miss most in my daily newspapers today.