“Wide and Deep: Tales and Recollections from a Master Maine Fishing Guide,” by Randy Spencer, Skyhorse Publishing, 272 pages, hardcover, $29.95, April 2014
When Randy Spencer burst onto the Maine literary scene with the 2009 release of “Where Cool Waters Flow,” he firmly established himself as an author with both outdoor credentials and writing chops.
In his follow-up collection of essays, “Wide and Deep: Tales and Recollections from a Master Maine Fishing Guide,” Spencer delivers a set of tales that will leave readers entertained, and leave his fellow outdoor writers saying, “Wow. Wish I’d written that.”
Alas, they didn’t. Spencer did. And the multitalented guide — he’s also a musician and a voice-over actor whose work can be heard on several national commercials — picks up where he left off, taking readers on an emotional tour of some of his favorite places.
At the center of those places is Grand Lake Stream, the tiny village where guides likely outnumber nonguides, and where his summer adventures begin.
Spencer lives near the stream, spends countless hours on nearby West Grand Lake, which feeds the stream, and ventures out onto many of the region’s productive bass-fishing lakes.
Along the way, Spencer takes time to appreciate the things he sees — sunsets, sunrises, nature’s quiet cathedrals — and cherishes the friendships he makes while sharing space with “sports” in his canoe.
Spencer dives into the deep end with the book’s first essay, “A Cry for Help,” which recounts a tragic episode during which he tried to save a man who had been fishing in Grand Lake Stream.
The author’s emotional response to that tragedy is tangible. Readers will feel his pain and anguish … and many pages later, they’ll celebrate a new friendship that developed because of that incident.
“Wide and Deep” is full of tales like that: Stories that elicit a response, whether laughter or tears or a simple nod of understanding.
Spencer also mines his own innate curiosity in this book as he leads the reader into the fascinating world of Passamaquoddy culture.
Spencer has worked with the tribe on various projects, and he clearly respects the generations of Passamaquoddy guides who blazed the trails he now follows.
The author’s interactions with one Passamaquoddy, Mihku, illustrate that respect. Spencer unknowingly paddles into Mihku’s domain, where a solitary raven stands guard. A friendship develops, and as Spencer retells the story of their meeting, readers are introduced to the Passamaquoddy language, as well as a fascinating way of life that few modern people will recognize.
Spencer also reintroduces us to Drummond Humchuck, an old woodsman who resides deep in the forest, a long hike away from Grand Lake Stream.
Taken alone, the chapters about Humchuck make “Wide and Deep” worth reading. Spencer swears the mystical woodsman is real, not imagined, and he refuses to give many hints about where Humchuck lives.
Humchuck, again, is a star of the book, and when he reappears later on, readers will feel like they’re paying a visit on a wise, old friend … even if they’re not entirely sure he exists.
As he did in his debut book, Spencer spins yarns with the well-practiced skill of a natural storyteller. Years spent in a canoe, turning strangers into friends, one story at a time, will do that to you.
And those friends make frequent appearances in “Wide and Deep,” as Spencer introduces readers to some of his most fascinating clients.
Alas, as has been the case with each of Spencer’s books, there is a complaint that can be made.
“Wide and Deep” (and “Where Cool Waters Flow,” for that matter) while plenty lengthy, still feels too short.
That’s a credit to Spencer, whose prose flows — like those cool waters — at an enjoyable, refreshing pace.
Turning the last page feels like hopping on a plane to return from a glorious vacation.
And it makes the reader start asking the best questions an author can hear: “What’s next? And when can I get my hands on it?”