You just never know when the light bulb will go off. Or the loud click in the ear. Or the moment you slap yourself up the side of the head.
The click and head slap for “Deadly Trespass” came after I asked my daughter to kneel in a deer-yard. (A deer-yard is an area where deer gather under tall trees that shelter them from wind and deep snow—where they can move about to find food.)
“You want me to kneel on deer poop?” she whined.
“It’s frozen,” I said. “We need a deer’s point of view and you have the camera.” (She did. See tiny black dots on the snow.)
The day before, snowshoeing by the Kennebec River, I’d seen too much light filtered through too few trees and found the cut. Dragging my daughter back to document the remnants of the deer-yard and the tree-harvesting behavior that had destroyed it, was our next day’s outing.
After her pictures made their way to the Bangor Daily News (BDN), I returned to the destroyed yard, this time with a BDN reporter and men who managed the cutting operations for a gigantic corporation that seemed to own more land than anyone else in the U.S.
A young photographer in fashion-y boots shivered in the deep snow and bitter wind. “Good point,” I said, probably too loudly. “Without trees, deer probably feel just like she does. Only later, she gets a warm shower and hot tea. Deer just get weak and die.”
The cutting men glared at me, but they really weren’t happy when I unfolded two maps. The first map was a state agency map marking the site as important wildlife terrain. The second was a map from the cutting men’s real estate division that placed dozens and dozens of new condos in what had become a cleared lot. Two maps. Same place.
“So,” I asked, “if you eliminate the deer yards here, when the time comes to get a building permit for all these condos, it’s quite likely there won’t be any important wildlife habitat to stop those condos. Right? You’re getting rid of the yard and the deer so you can build without pesky animal problems. Right?”
Just the wind and the shivering woman stamping her feet.
At home over hot tea and feet too close to the wood stove, I thought about how that corporation bought many, many full-page BDN ads, and it was unlikely anyone would see what happened to the deer, or the woods next to the river, or just about anything far from the road or an electronic device. Far away from most eyes, close to nine million acres of Maine’s commercial forest was being stripped of anything that looked like a grown-up tree.
So why would anyone care if dying deer and disappearing forests were just another opinion piece in a paper or another on-line rant?
Why was the loss of a large chunk of Maine’s forest hidden? What was it such a mystery to most folks?
What if I embraced the mystery? What if I wrote a genuine, page-turner mystery? (Well, that was easier said than done. Understatement.) Millions of people read mysteries. And what if I flipped the script? Allowed wildlife to fight a fair fight against what made the woods not woods?
What would happen if dead bodies and wolves and Maine things tons of people cared about (whether they lived here or not), got all crowded together so a reckoning was guaranteed? If I could put readers into the woods, take them on a field trip while they remained warm at home?
Click. Slap. Write a murder mystery that kills both people and Maine’s woods—and maybe a wolf or two. Click. Slap. “Deadly Trespass.”