Reviews for Wide and Deep:
It’s an obvious point made often for good reason: Voice is critical in a first-person, non-fiction narrative. The author speaks to us from a page. If engaged, we follow. If not, we may bitterly regret buying hardcover.
When readers do keep writers company, we’re introduced to characters seen through their eyes. With luck, by the end of a book, we remember them well.
That happens in Wide and Deep. Author Randy Spencer paddles clients and readers through deep woods and waters filled with smallmouth bass, pike and perch, landlocked salmon, moody moose, a tattletale raven, mostly while seated in a pampered canoe that’s almost an animate partner. His descriptions are rich and measured, detailed but not overwrought; while I’ve never visited this country, I suspect I’ll find it familiar when I do. Most important, the author creates vignettes of people carefully observed, profoundly appreciated; and, in his boat, artfully entertained. A writer, songwriter and voiceover artist as well as a Master Guide, Spencer tells stories to clients and friends, to clients who become friends over decades or sometimes in a day—listeners to him, whose own lives are then presented to us in Deep.
The secret to making these kinds of connections is this: Spencer’s a listener of the first water. His stories are offerings, told sometimes to fill time between fish, but they are also invitations; and when the tail of his tale teases a response from somebody he meets, our narrator pays close attention . . . to content, to words and rhythms, and to meanings sometimes less obvious. Conversations turn on a smile, a gaze fixed in a middle distance, sometimes by a question left unanswered, or not asked, because Spencer understands that parts of a person’s history will either come out in time, or never, for reasons neither he nor reader has a right to know.
There’s skill in that process. But empathy’s best expressed by actions that matter, and Spencer reveals his in the book’s first essay, “A Cry for Help,” when, stricken by the despair of a fisherman trying to rouse a drowned friend, the author searches him out. “He was the loneliest man in the world the night he welcomed me into the cabin . . . . Our handshake quickly collapsed into a hug.” In the hours that follow, Spencer offers solace by listening to stories about pals who grew up together, signed up for war on the same day, and then—again on the same day—joined a fire department where they work together for more than 30 years, celebrating every summer with a fishing trip.
Now here’s where things go round. We don’t hear the mourning friend’s reflections directly. Instead, they unwind as Spencer tells them later—a story within a story—to Drummond Humchuck, an 80-something-year-old hermit, and sole resident of “Township Unknown,” a place beyond tax rolls, phones and electricity. Humchuck is Spencer’s sage, and nexus for relationships revealed in later Deep chapters. “People turn to priests, prophets, shamans and soothsayers at such times. Without pulpit, parish or adoring flock, and with only the primeval forest of Township Unknown for a cathedral, Drummond Humchuck is all those things to me, and more. In the past, I had brought many a lesser problem than the one I was about to burden him with this time.”
Humchuck’s reachable only by a water route still secret, or a hike Spencer makes twice a year to bring in a pack load of supplies. “The ‘roads,’ such as they are . . . steadily deteriorate from dirt to skidder or ‘twitch’ trail, and finally to hash-marked, angular paths through thick woods, crossing several streams and a couple of logans along the way.”
On this visit, what the author receives is attention focused and thoughtful as his own . . . . And then, from Humchuck, a tale he’s never heard before, which the author relays to us.
While “A Cry for Help” establishes Deep’s worldview and theme, the author frames these in the eleventh essay of 17, “92 and Growing.” By then it feels right that Spencer summarizes what’s special to him in the words of somebody he admires.
Ray is a retired guide and devout pre-determinist who spent Word War II flying fighter aircraft when he wasn’t plummeting onto runways and farmer’s fields, and into the Pacific Ocean off Guadalcanal, on the mission that left Pappy Boyington a captive of the Japanese. “‘At the end of the day,’ says Ray, ‘it’s not how many fish you caught, but who you fished with that matters.’”
Spencer follows that with an observation that he might like to read about himself: “When [Ray] lays out a fly line with the Spey rod he made himself, it is a grace to behold. And when he takes his turn at the bench, Ray holds court to rapt audiences until it’s time to fish again.”
—Seth Norman (Fly Rod and Reel Magazine)
He’s back. Maine’s award winning author, singer and song writer, and Master Fishing Guide Randy Spencer has just published his second book. Not particularly a sequel, the new Wide and Deep picks up where Where Cool Waters Flow left off.
More reminiscence than memoir, Wide and Deep strings together 17 essays that Spencer himself calls “tales and recollections.” Written in Spencer’s spare and direct prose, these are stories of the people, places, events and mystique of a guide’s life in one of the world’s iconic sporting regions.
Though connected by fishing – fly casting for brook trout, trolling for salmon, or bait casting for smallmouth bass – this is not a book about fishing. It is a book about people who love fishing and love life amid the wilds. Spencer’s passion for his job as a Master Guide forms the bonds that link him to his clients, fellow guides, and neighbors in the village of Grand Lake Stream, ME.
Spencer’s deep and abiding love for his work extends beyond the business of fishing and includes the woods and waters he travels and every character he meets, whether human or moose, raven, beaver or bobcat. He also displays a profound respect for the native peoples of the territory. Their lore and their ways grace nearly every one of his stories.
As a package of tales, Wide and Deep is illuminated by informative side bars, carefully chosen favorite recipes, and 14 pages of color and historic black-and-white photos. These extra pieces serve as a garnish supporting and covering the whole.
For those familiar with Where Cool Waters Flow, Wide and Deep seems just a shade darker. The acknowledged passing of friends, colleagues, mentors and even chance encountered strangers points out the variations of gray in every life.
This is not a negative. This is reality. The acknowledgement that life – all life – is fleeting and fragile makes the stories more precious. Whether writing of people, animals, fish or waterways, Spencer’s recollections speak for the invaluable gift that is a life lived on one’s own terms.
In these early weeks of the 2014 fishing season, when the trout are rising, the salmon lunging after baitfish, and the bass moving to spawning grounds, reading Wide and Deep quickens the pulse of anyone who loves dawn on the water, a filling campfire lunch, or sunset on a far shore. The great strength of Wide and Deep lies in its power to endure. Like fishing season itself, the power of Spencer’s stories is that they can come around again and again. Read ten or twenty years hence, they will reveal the same truths as they do today.
The likes of Lola Sockabasin or Drummond Humchuck may never pass this way again, but in the vision and words of Randy Spencer, they and the essential elements of the Grand Lakes watershed will live on. As John Bailey wrote in Reflections on the Water’s Edge, “No angler merely watches nature in a passive way. He enters into its very existence.” Randy Spencer entered Maine’s Grand Lake region and shook hands with its soul.
Spencer is a gifted storyteller. Lucky anglers will read and understand Wide and Deep. Really lucky anglers will someday share a canoe with him.
—Colonel J.C. Allard (NH/VT Outdoor Gazette)
March 5, 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?”
—John Holyoke, Bangor Daily News
Reviews for Where Cool Waters Flow:
“Author and master guide Randy Spencer captured the true Maine that we sportsmen and residents of the state love. He does so with graceful eloquence, and yeah, with more than a little self-deprecating humor. Want to visit here when you can’t? Read this book.”
—Steve Hickoff, NEOWA Judge
“Spencer’s book, quite simply, is the rare local volume that I can honestly recommend with the highest praise a fellow writer can muster: I wish I’d written it. But I couldn’t have. Spencer’s prose is clean, quick and witty. He successfully transports readers from their living room easy chairs to the wilds of Grand Lake Stream, and does so without bombarding them with strings of adjectives designed to paint the picture he sees in his mind. Instead, like the songwriter he is, he picks his words judiciously, commits to them and makes them do his bidding. And the result is a stunning portrait of a truly special place, illuminated by the people who live for their yearly visits to those remote Maine woods.”
“You may find a better Maine book than Where Cool Waters Flow. You may find a better outdoor book.
“Where Cool Waters Flow is not a fishing book. It’s not a hunting or trapping book. It’s not even a historical account of the village of Grand Lake Stream. It is, somehow, all of those things at once — and none of them at all. The book traces a guide’s life over the four seasons of life in a remote Maine town, and touches on many of the sporting activities that clients are able to sample. And it’s the tales about those clients that help the book shine. If you’ve never visited Grand Lake Stream, reading this book will likely compel you to do so. And if you have spent some time fly-fishing the stream, trolling West Grand or casting for bass on one of the other lakes in the area, reading this book will help you appreciate this special place even more.
And that, I figure, is about as good as it gets.”
—John Holyoke, Bangor Daily News
“You’d be hard pressed to find a stronger, or more vocal, advocate for the glories of life in the Maine North Woods than Randy.”
—Maine humorist, Tim Sample.
“To say that Randy Spencer has written a nice book about Maine is not to damn him with faint praise. Nice is not a backhanded term for blandness, but an umbrella that covers such vastly underrated virtues as good manners, good humor, and good company. Spencer provides all three in Where Cool Waters Flow as well as a portrait of one of Maine’s most beautiful and beguiling villages: Grand Lake Stream.”
—Roberta Scruggs, Down East Magazine
“Where Cool Waters Flow will take anyone with the love of hunting and the outdoors away from it all for a little while, onto Grand Lake Stream with someone who knows its every ripple and rock – who knows full well what people mean when they want to ‘get away from it all.’ He knows where and why and when to share, when to spin a yarn or a paddle or a fly… and when not to. He’s been there – he may have done that, but he’ll take you along – if not for real, then on the page.”
—Marilis Hornidge, Lincoln County News (Damariscotta, ME)
“[Randy Spencer] is a talented wordsmith… Here he tells of the sporting history of the Grand Lake Stream area from the 1800s, the famous “Grand Laker” canoes, and the influence of Fly Rod Crosby, the first woman to become a licensed guide in 1897. Best, however, are his wonderful stories of people.”
—Kennebec (ME) Journal