Yesterday I experienced one of those moments that reminds me of how very small the world is and how very interesting the characters that live in it are.
Charlie, Joe, and I have been working on a project about fish conservation issues in the area based largely on interviews with local people, including biologists, anglers, fishing guides, and fish hatchery employees. We’ve had a great time engaging in conversations about the controversies surrounding the fisheries around here.
Our last in-person interview of the day was with a lawyer who is also an avid angler and particularly opinionated about all things fish-related. We opened the door to his office, made the typical formal handshake introductions, set our things around the chairs available for us, and were about to get started on questions when the eccentric lawyer said, “What kind of pet would a lawyer have? A weasel.” And then he pointed under his desk and said, “see–you’ll probably want to keep your shoes on, because he tends to nip.” We didn’t see anything under the desk at first until we saw a long furry creature scurry quickly underneath the bookshelf. Then the pointy face of the ferret poked its head out from underneath the bookshelf. “That’s Robert the Bruce,” said the lawyer, “you know, the guy responsible for helping Scotland gain independence in 1314?”
We settled into the interview on fisheries while Robert the Bruce swiftly ran around the room climbing onto our feet, sniffing our bags, and providing an overall comical and odd distraction. At one point, after noticing some rustling near my feet, Charlie said, “Hazel, I think the ferret is in your bag.” I opened up the flap to my messenger bag and indeed Robert the Bruce was staring up from between my notebooks and waterbottle inside the depths of my bag.
Looking around the lawyer’s office, I noticed many mounted fish created from measurements and photos of trophy fish the lawyer had caught over the years–he said he always releases his trophy fish but gets mounts made based on his photos. A huge tarpon fish, probably over 7 ft long, was in one room while a large brookie and lake trout (AKA mackinaw or togue) were mounted in the front room. Beyond the intricate flies framed and placed all over the room, I started to notice an interesting collection of books including books about Joshua Chamberlain and Katahdin.
Only someone with a strong connection to Maine would have books about Joshua Chamberlain (former Union officer during the Civil War and governor of Maine–originally from Brewer, ME) and Katahdin (Maine’s tallest mountain, located in Baxter State Park), so I asked him about it. He said, “come into my office and I’ll show you a picture.” We had been talking about ethics related to fishing, including choices around catch and release, barbed or barbless hooks, etc., and he showed me an old sepia-tone photo of an older gentleman. “This is my grandfather. He was the person who encouraged me to use barbless hooks and helped me learn to fish. He also used to be the governor of Maine and donated a whole bunch of land to become a state park in central Maine.” My interest was seriously piqued, and I said, “What was your grandfather’s name?” He replied, “Oh, we called him Percy.” “Percival Baxter?!” I replied, possibly over-enthusiastically…and indeed it was. There I was in Wyoming chatting with Percival Baxter’s grandson. Any readers not from Maine probably won’t understand the wonder of meeting Percival Baxter’s grandson, but to put simply the attitude of that great Maine conservationist, I’ll end with a quote:
“Man is born to die. His works are short-lived. Buildings crumble, monuments decay, and wealth vanishes, but Katahdin in all its glory forever shall remain the mountain of the people of Maine.” —Percival P. Baxter
Addendum: Upon doing some sleuth-work and receiving some intrigued messages from folks, I found out that Percival Baxter never had children! So this guy was clearly not his grandson (weasel indeed!)… However, Percival Baxter did have a niece with the same last name as this lawyer, so either I misheard, he misspoke, or perhaps he just called his grand-uncle his grandfather.