Leave Some For Seed, by Tom Hennessey, Islandport Press, 2014, 147 pages, hardcover, $24.95
Tom Hennessey has worn out a lot of boot leather over many decades spent enjoying Maine’s traditional outdoor pursuits, and he has long been a favorite voice among those who enjoy similar activities.
Those adventures, whether far afield, or, as Hennessey would say, “handy to home,” also have inspired the unmistakable artwork that hangs from walls in boardrooms, galleries and dens around the world.
At 77 years old, the former Bangor Daily News outdoor writer has taken time to look back at his life, and he has shared some of those essays and drawings in his third book, “Leave Some For Seed.”
Readers will instantly recognize Hennessey’s well-defined voice in the collection, and they’ll likely soon identify a common theme: The celebration of the way things used to be and the melancholy realization that things will never be that way again.
“[The essays are from the end of] my tenure [at the BDN] and feelings about the way the fish and game situation is going,” Hennessey said recently. “Some of it’s political. And [some of it’s about] the changes that I’ve seen — salmon restoration and the bear referendum and all of this stuff that was unheard of [years ago]. I never saw a ‘No Hunting’ sign until well into the 1970s. It was just unheard of.”
Hennessey walks a fine line in “Leave Some For Seed.” On one hand, he clearly cherishes the memories that he has made, and he wishes others could grow up the way he did, during an era when he could leave his South Brewer home and walk directly into prime hunting and trapping grounds.
But as he turns a critical eye toward present times, and the future, Hennessey avoids the classic old sportsman trap: He gripes in a good-natured fashion and never comes off as a been-there, done-that curmudgeon. That may sound simple, but many other writers have failed in that regard, and end up sounding bitter.
Instead, Hennessey’s prose is more bittersweet, and it leaves readers longing for the past he so eloquently describes. His essays take readers along as he explores the forests, fields and waters with friends, many of whom are no longer with us.
Through it all, Hennessey readily admits that he’s been a very lucky man.
“[I’ve been] places where I never would have gotten too and [met] people I never would have met,” Hennessey said. “It was incredible, really. I often look back at it as like a domino effect, that one thing was just leading to another. I really couldn’t get away from it.”
The reason for many of those adventures: Well-heeled sportsmen recognized Hennessey’s talents with a brush and wanted him to travel to their favorite spots to paint what he saw.
“For awhile there in the ‘70s and ‘80s, I was on an airplane about every other week,” Hennessey said. “Going to Alaska or Argentina or someplace. People would commission me to do paintings and take me to their camps on Canada’s salmon rivers or down in the Bahamas bonefishing. You name it. It just all fell into place.”
But through it all, Hennessey’s favorite haunts remained in Maine. “Leave Some For Seed” celebrates adventures that took place nearby, often just outside his front door.
The resulting prose is sometimes utilitarian, but often breathtakingly precise.
When Hank Lyons, the character Hennessey often uses in place of himself when he wants to avoid first-person references, heads afield to do some rabbit hunting, Lyons makes an observation that many sportsmen will assert is true.
“Beagles and bagpipes produced the most soul-stirring music he’d ever heard,” Hennessey wrote.
In another essay, he succinctly sums up the attitude of many longtime fishermen.
“By the Penobscot’s standards, we didn’t catch a lot of bass, but the fishing couldn’t have been better,” Hennessey wrote. “The more I thought about it, the more I was reminded of Henry David Thoreau’s sage observation: ‘Many men go fishing all of their lives without knowing that it is not fish they are after.’”
The public is invited to a book launch party for “Leave Some For Seed” from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. Aug. 28 at the Penobscot County Conservation Association Clubhouse on North Main Street in Brewer.