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John Harrigan speaks at Wright Museum

JOHN HARRIGAN spoke to an appreciative audience of more than 150 at the Wright Museum this past Tuesday evening, June 30. His talk was the first in the Wright’s summer Tuesday lecture series, which continues next week with Wolfeboro WWII veteran and writer Henry Maxfield Sr. at 7 p.m. (Thomas Beeler photo) (click for larger version)
July 03, 2009
WOLFEBORO — John Harrigan, author of the North Country Notebook that runs weekly in this paper, spoke to an audience of more than 150 this past Tuesday, June 30, at the Wright Museum, as the leadoff speaker in the museum's Tuesday night lecture series.

Harrigan brought along his 1947 Jeep ("born the same year I was," he quipped), which he pointed out was a non-standard-issue fire engine red ("for visibility") and was equipped with high profile tires ("for getting around the farm in places other vehicles won't go"). Harrigan admitted he didn't drive the Jeep down from Colebrook ("it was a very long haul on a trailer behind my truck"), but said proudly that it worked hard at home and suited him well.

The audience clearly enjoyed his talk, which consisted of opening and closing remarks, with a slideshow of favorite images of farm, camp and newspapers in between, followed by a question-and-answer period.

Harrigan began by saying that Wolfeboro was one of his favorite towns, though he preferred to spell it "Wolfeborough." He said one of his goals in writing is to communicate a sense of place – a tie to the landscape. It is something he treasures and he is afraid the younger generation is lack that connection.

He said he considers himself a very lucky man indeed, able to do the three things he loves most – write, live on a farm and go to camp from time to time. He lives on 165 acres, surrounded by coyotes and bears waiting to feast on his sheep. He keeps them at bay with high-voltage fences and two Maremma sheepdogs who, he says, can rip a coyote apart but are gentle with humans.

Harrigan enjoys the fact that he can drag an entire tree down a town road without being arrested – a feat he performs regularly to keep his wood boiler going. "It's OK with the town as long as I don't damage the road, which I haven't yet."

He likes to say he lives 57 miles from the nearest traffic light and 85 miles from the nearest shopping mall. "I say things like that because I hope people won't want to move up here."

Camp for him is a place to eat, lie, play cards, and read. "A deck of cards and a jug of hooch are the greatest conservation tools," he said, keeping people from doing foolish things.

Harrigan talked about the newspaper business and told several anecdotes about typographical errors, the bane of most newspapermen, and how errors in big headlines have stopped the presses both for him and for his father, who at one time owned competing newspapers (his father owned the Colebrook News and Sentinel and he owned the Coös County Democrat). His favorite headline concerned eight murderers who were hanged at the same time in Chicago: "EIGHT JERKED TO JESUS."

Harrigan ended his talk giving his views on whether wolves are returning to the Great North Woods and whether cougars or mountain lions are here already. He is convinced that both wolves and cougars live around him. "Wolves are scouting the North Woods, to report back so more may come," he said. He recounted an incident where coyotes and his dogs were howling in the night and suddenly a loud howl, different from any coyote, broke in and the others fell silent. It was a wolf, Harrigan is convinced. He added that there has been a confirmed wolf kill in Maine.

As for cougars, he says there is no doubt they are out there because people are seeing them all the time. The question is whether they are remnants of ancient prides or have been reintroduced.

Questions and answers

Harrigan opened the floor to questions, saying this was his favorite part of his talks.

He was asked his views on the widely-reported troubles with newspapers. He responded that the problems lie mainly with big-city daily newspapers, not weekly papers like the Colebrook News and Sentinel or the Granite State News. "It's not easy out there," he said, "but most weeklies will survive if they don't have lots of debt."

When asked whether he has a routine for writing his two columns a week, Harrigan says he jots down ideas for stories all the time, even on the long 3.5-mile "commute" into Colebrook. He says he hardly ever wants for a subject. Most of the time he writes the story in his head before he ever sits down to write it. "I'm a first draft writer. I go back an make corrections, but most of the time it's just one pass."

Harrigan said in response to another question that what he wants most for his readers is to touch them and interest them. He said he really enjoys what he does. "I'm happy to get up and lace my shoes every day."

One woman reported the problems she encountered reporting a cougar sighting in Wolfeboro to Fish and Game. The cougar was just inches away from her on her deck, with only a slider between her and the animal. She was asked whether she took a photo or went looking for "scat" to prove what she saw. She described the animal in some detail and Harrigan confirmed it was a cougar. He said most biologists are more cooperative than the person she had encountered.

When asked about his farm Harrigan admitted he doesn't do the haying for his sheep any more but has his fields hayed now in return for bales. He said it's very hard to get help with haying and it's hard work. He's content to maintain fences and keep a garden.

As for his use of technology, Harrigan said he does use a computer for his writing at the News and Sentinel office but not at home. He has a cell phone for use only "below the notches." No cell phones, battery-powered TVs or any other devices of any kind are allowed in his camp. "It doesn't belong there. Only books belong."

Martin Lord Osman
Coos County Commissioners
Martin Lord & Osman
Tilton School
Town & Country
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