Tuesday, July 13, 2010

A CAMPFIRE READING: It was too hot to light the fire

Question of the day

If a writer gives a reading in a forest, will anyone hear it?


I told my friends beforehand: My campfire reading in the vast and wild northern New Hampshire is going to stand as the pinnacle of my career as a published author.

Pinnacle reached Friday night. Prediction accurate.

The township of Pittsburg NH, geographically the largest in the country, only has a population of around 800 residents. By the looks of things, there are more moose per square mile than people and more lakes than any other place in the United States. More exploits. More feistiness. Here’s one example: In the early 1800s Pittsburg formed its own militia, made its own money, appointed its own Supreme Court, passed its own constitution.

What book experience could touch a campfire reading up there on the Canadian border, where newspaper articles and events listing, fliers posted kindly by libraries and hotels from Lancaster north did little to pull in the crowd. Not even word-of-mouth worked. It was Facebook, a tool (however sketchy the Internet) that builds lifesaving virtual networks in long winters that did it.

Ask an author to choose: Oprah vs. reading to people in a circle in the woods accompanied by the cry of the loon and the winking of fireflies and the wilds encircling us like a dark and wondrous fairytale.

Question: What am I getting at? Answer: This place and its people are magical.

What do I know about being on Oprah? Nothing. But in terms of sheer fun and novelty, a reading by a campfire in Pittsburg NH, way up north on the Canadian border, is as good as the hot fudge sundae you get at Moose Alley Cones a half mile north on Route 3.

I can go no further until I talk about Lisa and Tim Savard, owners of the Cabins at Lopstick. They need to write their own memoir detailing their exploits as successful and hospitable lodge owners, fishing and hunting guides (Lisa was the first licensed female fishing and hunting guide in New Hampshire), commanders of fleets of snowmobiles in winters, branders of business, artful decorators, adept at survival in a deep freeze seven months of each year. I thank them both profusely.

Tim gave me a reading lamp hooked up to electricity, there in the woods. He gave me a leather chair from which to hold forth and a circle of chairs upon which our guests sat and listened. Lisa provided homemade sangria and a platter of gorgeous bruschetta. She posted the event and talked it up and people came: an ER nurse practitioner who stands in for doctors in that lone hospital in the North Country, a psychologist, an advertising and branding specialist with advanced digital tools and expertise, a newspaper owner, etc.

One woman snowshoes alone in the deep winter woods at night with a lamp clamped onto her forehead. They’ve been known to face down bear. They toil long hours coming up with yet the next ingenious enterprise to help make ends meet. I love the creativity and the zeal for life.

I share passages from my memoir. I read about love and sexual attraction and they think it’s grand. One woman says she gives little vibrators as party favors, ensuring her popularity and lots of invitations. Another talks about the lively smut shop she’d love to run in New Orleans. Another acts out a bout of womanly hysterics, the turn-of-the-century cure for which was a prescribed course on the doctor’s large vibrating machine. A couple’s little dog wriggles out of its collar, clearly annoyed by the antics of the humans, and escapes into the waiting woods. Party ends. We hightail it after baby frou-frou, bow affixed to an exuberant topknot. Hurry! She’s the perfect tidbit for the wry coyote or sage fox sneaking about on the periphery.

As a child I was the transfixed onlooker at many a lively campfire. That was out West in the deserts, the high Sierras, the arid mountains and campgrounds inland from my hometown of Santa Barbara, and on beaches late at night when I should have been home in bed.

Bonding around a campfire over a good story is something I still crave.

There’s nothing quite like the smell of pine, the sound of the loons floating up from the First Connecticut Lake, the rustle of varmints in the brush, the crackling fire, the blood red sangria, the people gathered around, mere miles from Canada, in a huddle under a stew of stars so thick it seems that you could reach out and scoop them up. Fireflies zig and zag to form a perfect sphere of twinkling lights — that we inhabit — from rich earth to North Star. Quiet little words spoken from my book drift into the mix. Who better to understand Free Fall than these daring and hardy folk?


If a writer gives a reading in the Pittsburg woods on a lovely summer evening in July, interesting people who’ve checked Facebook will come. Some will bring their pets, sangria, friends, a sense of adventure. All will go home thinking: Yep. Anything can happen here. A moose running through the garden. Two adolescent foxes frolicking on the side of the road. Great views from Mount Magallaway. An erotic reading. That’s why I came to Pittsburg. You just never know.


  1. Thanks for taking me to the deep woods! I have indeed been to such places tho perhaps not so northerly and alas not so recently...