April is not my favorite month, and fifteen is not my favorite number.
If you are alert for the first signs of spring, they will be visible in March: The tenderest twigs of birch and willow show a sheen of yellow against the otherwise dour grays and black-greens of a Maine forest. Then the sap buckets go up on the maple trees, the birds and critters begin peeping and scuttling about the landscape on their small but urgent missions, and teenagers wear shorts to school, even if they have to push their bare knees through snowdrifts to get out the back door.
My first husband, Drew, died on April 15, 1996. This would brand April the cruelest month for my family, even if a Maine April didn’t play its heartless games with the winter-weary, wooing us out into our gardens with a warm wind, the bright sun tempting us to set aside the sober wools and heavy boots and break out the sandals. Then it snows, and the fickle hearts that leapt at December’s first snowflakes sink, and mutter glumly of the perverse effects of global warming. Still, I know it’s normal to have snow in April in Maine. It snowed the night of April 14, 1996, and so, on April 15th, Drew had his last views of a sunlit, snow-frosted landscape. Even as he passed by and then passed on, the snow was melting into the bright, chattering streams that refresh the land and bring May flowers. That was fifteen years ago.
Game Warden pilot Daryl Gordon was killed at the end of March this year. He was a lovely man, a Vietnam veteran, a devoted father, a passionate Christian. Daryl is the fifteenth Maine Game Warden to die in the line of duty. Buried at the very end of March, his will be another Maine family that will spend an April s grieving and all future Aprils re-grieving his loss. Still, if grief must come to the Gordons and the Griffiths along with the earliest harbingers of spring, at least this grief is accompanied by the certain knowledge that a fine life was lived surrounded by beauty and by gratitude: Daryl, like Drew, was grateful for the chance to be, and to be of service. We who remain are grateful to have known and loved them.
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Letter to a Young Friend
Dear Young Friend,
Naturally, when your dear parents told me about your ambition to become a
police officer, I was delighted. But maybe that doesn’t seem
“natural”: One would think I’d be more ambivalent even than your mom,
given that I am even more intimately acquainted with the risks of police
work than she; on the other hand, I’m also more intimately acquainted
with its satisfactions.
The bad news you can probably easily figure out for yourself: Law
enforcement is dangerous physically and psychologically. We lost a
friend and colleague last week when Maine Warden Service Pilot Daryl
Gordon crashed his plane on a remote lake in the northern part of the
state (google it, and you’ll see plenty about him and about the
funeral); He is the fifteenth warden to die in the line of duty in Maine
since the warden service began.
Somewhere between 150-200 police officers lose their lives in the line of
duty in the US each year; Roughly twice that number annually kill
themselves. It’s a job that carries a lot of stress, and stress is hard
on the structures of the brain that are prone to getting really, really
bummed out. This you should think about carefully, as you may feel you have plenty of
experience with human misery already, and want to avoid taking on
Now for the good news: Police work is socially very useful, varied,
interesting and can be very satisfying when a big
problem is solved with your help. It is a way to combine adventure with
service, and there are a lot of different jobs-within-the-job so that
you can generally find some specialty that really grabs you. It’s a
relatively secure job, as these things go, and the benefits are pretty
Take all of that, and add to it: Wildlife, working in the woods, boats,
canoes, snowmobiles, snowshoes, camping, diving, flying, hiking, ATVs,
search and rescue dogs, a whole lot of creative problem solving and the
most interesting and agreeable colleagues imaginable, (not to mention a
dumpy, middle-aged, but affectionate chaplain) and you’ve got the Maine
Though, obviously, working as a game warden poses its own peculiar
hazards, it also carries benefits that I think make it the least toxic
in terms of stress of any of the large agencies.
First, you aren’t always in a car—you get out and walk around! And you
get to study wildlife and explore a beautiful state as part of your job.
(The area around Eagle Lake, where Daryl Gordon lived, worked and died,
was one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been.)
Second, every MWS encounter with the public isn’t negative. Say you ask
to see a fisherman’s fishing license: Chances are very good that he has
one and it’s fine. So you stand around for a few agreeable minutes
chatting happily about fishing, tell him about a really prime fishing
area he might not know about, and you both go on your way feeling more
cheerful than before. Try that with a traffic stop?!
Third, we do search and rescue operations that require more resources
than the MWS by itself can command. People in the community turn out to
help—so a warden gets to see and work with people who are doing their
best, instead of always seeing them at their worst. (We often have
people helping us at searches who have criminal records, even!) This
allows wardens to maintain a more positive, perhaps more realistic sense
of what human beings are capable of.
Fourth, while wardens are often involved in murders, suicides and various
violent crimes because their particular expertise is needed (e.g. the
body is in the woods), or because they simply are the closest available
“sworn unit” to a crime, warden service investigators are not directly
tasked with investigating, for example, child abuse or child
pornography, something SP detectives spend an awful lot of their time on.
Fifth: Wardens have a lot of control over how they spend their days!
This, along with the number of tools/toys that are handed out on
graduation day, is the pleasant surprise new wardens are most apt to
exclaim over: That they can decide to get up at four a.m. and “work
smelts,” come home in time to run their kids to school, head back out
to check on a beaver dam they’ve had their eye on, and—unless they
get called out for a search or accident—get home to make supper. The
scheduling isn’t as family-friendly as a regular 3-11 or 11-7 shift in
a municipal department, but it does offer a nice sense of existential
Sixth—speaking of family-friendly: Warden’s kids grow up with orphaned
fawns by the wood stove and hilarious outdoor adventures with dad. They
have the kind of intimate and interesting connection to the natural
world, and a competence within it, that I wish I’d grown up with!
Okay—that’s my pitch!
The only other advice I’d offer (other than go for it!) is that if you
try and fail to “get on” the SP, MWS or any other agency, don’t
despair. They will think well of you if you try again.
Love from your proud friend,