George Smith, at one point, may have been the most powerful man in Maine outdoor politics.
Think those two words don’t go together? Outdoor? Politics?
They do. And as the longtime executive director of the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine, Smith spent plenty of time in hearing rooms and back hallways, lobbying for various causes that his members — hunters and fishermen, primarily — thought were important.
Along the way, he ruffled feathers. Plenty of ‘em, in fact.
And Smith knew it.
At the end of his first book, “A Life Lived Outdoors, Reflections of a Maine Sportsman,” Smith included a brief “About the Author” essay.
The lead paragraph of that essay could well have served as the first words of the book itself.
“I am sometimes introduced as a ‘troublemaker,’ the man Graham Greene was describing in The Quiet American when he wrote, ‘I never met a man who had better motives for all the trouble he caused.’”
Yes, George Smith got his hands dirty during his time as a political insider. He lost a few. He won a bunch. And he always kept busy.
The remarkable thing about “A Life Lived Outside” is this: The author, well known in Maine sporting circles for referendum campaigns and lobbying, shows none of that self-described “troublemaker” penchant.
Instead, Smith checks his lobbyist persona at the door, and reverts back to what he says he always has been, and always will be: A guy who loves spending time in Maine’s wild places.
The book, published by Islandport Press, is a refreshingly non-political look inside the mind of Smith, especially for readers who may not have been reading his regular columns in central Maine newspapers over the past 20 years or more, or his work as a BDN Maine blogger for the past year or so.
That’s what this book is made up of, after all: The short chapters each appeared in print elsewhere, whether in newspapers or magazines. They were called columns, but are more accurately slice-of-life essays that illuminate different aspects of Maine life, much of it spent outdoors.
There are exceptions of course, like when Smith tells readers about his father’s passion for yard sales — both shopping at them and holding them. Turns out Smith’s dad can never rid himself of his junk, because as soon as his own yard sale is over, he’s off shopping for new junk at somebody else’s bargain bonanza.
Throughout the book, there are essays like that. And while Smith’s opinions sometimes find their way into the prose, for the most part “A Life Lived Outdoors” avoids the political topics that have dominated the man’s public life, and therefore the public’s perception of him.
Smith takes readers on trips to trout streams and ponds, deep into the woods behind his Mount Vernon home, and on hunting excursions with his father and his son.
He celebrates the iconic Maine camp, whether it has running water, electricity, or not. That, Smith will tell you, doesn’t matter. Just being there, somewhere near water or woods, and enjoying time with family and friends, is what camp’s all about.
Throughout the book, we learn more about Smith, his upbringing, and his life’s pursuits.
Interestingly, even those who disagree vehemently with Smith’s political views will likely have a hard time dismissing his poignant essays on Mainers, the Maine condition, and what sets us apart from others.
Smith is a Mainer, born and bred. He’s frugal. He’s opinionated. He’s not afraid of hard work.
And in this book, those traits show through. The prose isn’t extravagant … neither is Smith. His passion for his home state shows through. And the hours he has spent, as he says, “with his nose in a book,” and working at his writing craft, pay off.
Some potential readers may see the name “George Smith” on the cover and envision a series of rants by that “troublemaker” that Smith describes.
That would be their loss.
This not a troublemaking book. It’s a celebration of the state we choose to call home.
And I suspect most Mainers will find themselves nodding their heads and agreeing with the sentiments expressed by Smith as they turn the pages.
I also suspect that the former lobbyist in Smith would consider that a pretty substantial victory.