Thoreau, The Kid and Mr. Lou: Book Notes of a Foreign Correspondent
I purchased this book for my father and he writes the following review:
Bill Gjebre writes:
After a career as a newspaper reporter, editorial page chief and foreign correspondent, Louis J. Salome, retired and moved to rural New Hampshire where he lived in solitude at the edge of a pond in a Thoreau-like existence.
It was a much different setting from the hotspots he traveled to while reporting on conflicts in the Middle East, Eastern Europe and Africa, dodging bullets, never once sustaining even a minor injury.
While threats were non-existent in New Hampshire, Salome, nevertheless, was on a new and difficult mission: to find his voice as a first-time novelist. He wrote his first novel, Violence, Veils and Bloodlines—Reporting from War Zones, while living in a cabin on Lucas Pond in Northwood for nearly 200 days over an 11-month period from January to November 2004, with time off to return home to restock on provisions and to attend to family matters.
By comparison, Henry David Thoreau spent more than two years from 1845 to 1847 living in a cabin on Walden Pond to write his renown novel named for the pond in Concord, Connecticut.
Salome’s second novel, Thoreau, The Kid and Mr. Lou, is about his writing and living experience, working to overcome some doubts, finding ways to unlock the words for his books, including trudging through the New Hampshire woods. This book was based on notes he jotted while living in the cabin and enduring the beauty and harsh cold of wintry days.
In the end, Salome produced a fascinating, personal second novel in which he compares the character of New Hampshire residents living around Lucas Pond with that of foreign nationals he found while reporting outside the United States, finding similarities that included honoring commitments, looking out for one another, and friendship and hospitality.
A New Englander who grew up in Millville, Massachusetts, Salome is somewhat familiar with residents of the area. Because they are careful about opening up in front of newcomers, Salome treaded lightly in his temporary cabin lodging on Lucas Pond in northwest New Hampshire, about 35 miles west of new home in Portsmouth. Some of his new neighbors were suspicious of the stranger living alone on Lucas Pond.
But it is not long before Salome pierced their guard, as he had done in his journalism career here and abroad. As importantly he also found his novelist voice.
While walking one day, a neighbor took pity on his puny walking “stick” and made him a gift of a sturdy red birch, “thick and sturdy,” that improved his stride through leafy woods and nearby roads. He found that his frequent journeys actually triggered his thoughts and aided his writing. “Walks through the woods and along country roads stimulate my writing,” he states.
Other techniques also helped him, including the mere fact that he was isolated in the cabin and its surroundings. “Seclusion alone pushes the mind and pen to unpredictable places.”
On one walk, he spotted a young woman outside her home near his cabin. The 18-year-old spontaneously opened up about her dilemma after graduating high school: whether she should study auto mechanics, or live with her boyfriend and go to work cleaning recreation vehicles for $7.50 an hour or sell coffee and donuts for $5.50 an hour and live with her family. Salome never sees her again but wonders whether he should have urged her to explore other options.
Not long after moving into the cabin, he discovered a problem and his initial solution clashed with neighbors. He found there was no place to dump his trash but while walking noticed large trash bins along the road at the end of neighborhood driveways, where he placed his refuse. But it was not long before one neighbor noticed the dump and promptly informed him this is a “no, no.”
Unaware of the prohibition, he tried to make a joke, saying his bags do not take up much space and won’t bother the other bags. But the woman was not amused and then put her neighbors on alert. As he trudged down the road, with several garbage bags, he noticed other homeowners had come out their front doors to watch him.
Of course, he respected and honored neighborhood code that trash dumpsters were not dump zones for strangers--and he found his own solution, as the book reveals.
On another walk he met and talked with another neighbor, a native American, a Lakota Indian, who was a teacher. He told her of writing a story of Long Wolf, a Lakota sub chief and the effort to bring his body back to tribal lands after he died in 1892 of pneumonia while performing in Buffalo Bill Cody’s wild west show in London. She then told him about teaching Inuit families, a small minority group often overlooked, for three years on an island 90 miles off Russia, where she said she was accepted “because of her own tribal background.”
In his walk to find a place to dump those first trash bags, Salome found his way to Demmons, an historic general store dating back to 1824 on the same spot, not far with Revolutionary Road in West Nottingham. There he found a friend and source of information in store owner, Cody, who informed him about the area’s history.
Aside from selling food and clothing, the store is filled with dated posters of movie stars such as James Cagney, Katherine Hepburn and Jean Harlow and has an old paper signs urging: “Do not spit on the floor. To do so may spread disease.”
In his talk with locals, Salome also heard that major league baseball great Ted Williams, who played for the Boston Red Sox, may have fished on Lucas Pond – a rumor he could never confirm with hard facts, but interesting enough to become a part of his second novel. One local told him Williams, a renowned and famous fisherman, definitely fished many of the ponds in the area, and must have done so on Lucas Pond.
One of his second novel’s best segments described Fourth of July celebration at Demmons. About 200 people walk, bike or drive there for the event. It begins with a free breakfast, with donations taken to help provide music scholarships for local high school students. With those then gathering around the store’s front porch, “freedom-inspired folk music” and patriotic songs are performed and there are various readings, ending with the Declaration of Independence.
“Before I saw and heard 1776 come alive at Demmons, “Salome writes, “Jody described the reading this way: It’s different when someone reads it out loud. Many people never heard someone read it – ever. People get very emotional.”
After attending one celebration years later, Salome added he now understands what his friend meant. “In it’s own small way, a simple reading is at least a dollop of glue that binds people to history and continuously educates the community, at least for few minutes a year.”
This book is worth the read, honest and true – no matter where you live.
Note: The 4th of July celebration at Demmons did not take place this year because of the coronavirus pandemic. But Jody said he plans on hold it in 2021 if all is well. “We’re all getting old,” he reminded.