Paul Doiron is the author of The Poacher’s Son (published May 11 by Minotaur Books), a crime novel about a rookie Maine game warden who is thrust into the hunt for a murderous fugitive—his own father. Doiron is also the editor-in-chief of Down East: The Magazine of Maine and a Registered Maine Guide. In a guest blog post for BookPage, the author describes the night a game warden first came to his rescue and how the experience has haunted him ever since.
I was struck by lightning.
People use that term as a metaphor all the time, but in my case it actually happened. Beyond being a nightmare experience, it also served as the starting point for both my writing career and my lifelong fascination with Maine game wardens.
On Memorial Day weekend 22 years ago I went camping with two friends in the Mahoosuc Mountains of western Maine. I was fast asleep when the lightning struck. The bolt hit a fir-tree at the edge of the clearing where we had made our camp, and the electricity traveled through the roots. I was actually blown off the ground and received a burn the size of a quarter on my side.
My friend, sleeping in a tent nearer the tree, was not so lucky: the current nearly electrocuted him. We were miles from the nearest road, one thousand feet up. I spent five hours alone with my friend, thinking he would die, while his brother fetched help.
Just before dawn, help finally arrived—two emergency medical technicians, and the district game warden, a rugged man named Don Gray. They stabilized my friend’s breathing. Soon volunteers from the Appalachian Mountain Club and Outward Bound arrived to carry the litter down the steep hill to the ambulance.
My friend spent a week in the hospital, and doctors told us that his heart had stopped when the lightning struck. He recovered fully except that he had no memory of that night. I, however, will never forget it.
The article I wrote about our ordeal was the first I ever published, and it appeared in Down East, the magazine I now edit.
Despite my own trauma, I continued to explore the Maine woods, finding my way into the remote and dangerous backcountry. I met other game wardens and made friends with old loggers and trappers, even a former poacher or two. I started writing about some of these people, first for Down East and later in The Poacher’s Son.
In time I decided I was ready to take the test to become a Registered Maine Guide. Maine is one of the only states to require that anyone who guides people into the wilderness be licensed. At my oral exam I would face a panel of experienced and unforgiving outdoorsmen who would grill me on using a map and compass, first aid, woodcraft, canoeing and finding lost people.
On the morning of my exam, I was surprised to find, sitting across the table from me, a familiar face. Don Gray had retired from the Maine Warden Service, but he was still testing the mettle of potential guides.
I introduced myself as one of the boys struck by lightning on Baldpate Mountain so long ago.
Don nodded knowingly. “God,” he said, “Wasn’t that one hell of a night, though?”
An hour later I passed the test.
Editor’s note: In BookPage, mystery columnist Bruce Tierney writes that The Poacher’s Son is “easily one of the best debut novels in recent memory.” Do you agree? What other mysteries or thrillers would you recommend to those who enjoyed The Poacher’s Son?
Author photo by Mark Fleming