February 23

Former Maine sportsmen's lobbyist Smith shows a gentler side

George Smith's essay collection celebrates his heritage.

By Deirdre Fleming dfleming@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

MOUNT VERNON — The small successes in a family yard sale, the fate of a rabbit seeking shelter in a woodpile and the fond familiarity of a broken window at a lake camp are some of the images in George Smith’s first book, “A Life Lived Outdoors.”

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A rustic office in his Mount Vernon home is where George Smith, the former Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine lobbyist, does his writing. He’s just released a compilation of columns selected from more than 25 years of opining for Maine newspapers.

John Ewing/Staff Photographer

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Making do in Maine gets to the heart of George Smith’s new book, which spurns politics and focuses on why we all need to spend more time interacting with nature.

Additional Photos Below

It’s a book about what it means to make do in Maine, what a make-do kind of place looks like and how nature colors such a world. It’s about why we all need to spend time in a cabin, a tent or campground in some wild, quiet place to improve “our quality of life and mental health.”

Those who know George Smith’s public image as a long-time lobbyist for the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine are probably wondering if this author is some other George Smith. But it’s not.

Many in Maine’s outdoor community, certainly former veterans of the Maine Legislature, know Smith as the relentless, dogged lobbyist who fought for sportsmen through his 18 years as SAM’s executive director.

Smith is best known as the leader in the fight against the 2004 bear-hunting referendum, the ringleader behind the effort to open up Sunday hunting and for some former state fisheries biologists, the guy who criticized their work ad nauseam.

When this newspaper did a profile on Smith in 2001 at the height of that career, he was depicted in an illustration as a legislative cowboy wearing a holster and spurs while riding one more big fish he had hooked. Smith loved the illustration by Portland Press Herald artist Michael Fisher so much, he had it framed and it has hung on his home office wall ever since.

But today George, as he is known to many, is a birder. It’s true.

On trips now to Costa Rica and Texas with his wife, Linda, Smith is as much of a naturalist and conservationist as your National Audubon Society leader. But then he says he always was.

“Sportsmen are environmentalists,” he said during breakfast in his favorite hometown cafe beside Minnehonk Lake.

With his 13-year-old outdoor TV show, “Wildfire,” now sponsored by Maine Audubon, and a travel blog that brings to life the offbeat, amusing and down-home small-townness of Maine, Smith has shown his softer side in recent years.

When he retired from SAM three years ago, he started his travel blog and online outdoor journal, www.georgesmithmaine.com – and seemingly never looked back.

Sure, he still speaks as a member of the public at legislative hearings concerning Maine’s natural resources.

But much of Smith’s time now is focused on enjoying and celebrating those natural resources.

And Maine’s traditions and heritage are at the heart of what is most important to Smith today.

With a mother who came from Lubec and a father raised on a farm in Wayne, Smith is as Maine as they come.

He hunts on his own woodlot and extended that lot to 150 acres just to live on open land.

He has hunted deer with his dad for 53 years and counting.

Now Smith says that at 65 he understands even more clearly what it means to be from Maine. This book is his way of explaining that.

It is a collection of Smith’s columns culled from a 23-year career as a columnist for the Kennebec Journal and Waterville Morning Sentinel.

But this collection of essays left the political commentaries out and went with what Smith’s daughter, Hilary, calls his best-read work.

Smith agreed.

“I hate partisan politics,” he said.

“It’s all about winning. I get it. I know how it works. But I wanted this to be about family, the outdoors, those parts of my life.”

Sen. Angus King, in the forward of Smith’s book, best described this collection of personal essays.

“What struck me was the image implicit throughout the book of Maine as teacher – teacher of skills and useful knowledge, of character and patience, of life principles, but mostly, as teacher of values. ...

“In the end, what the book made me realize is how much Maine has worked its way into each of us, defining who we are, how we see the world, and, most importantly, what we value.”

Staff Writer Deirdre Fleming can be reached at 791-6452 or at:

dfleming@pressherald.com

Twitter: FlemingPph

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Additional Photos

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One of the pieces of art and memorabilia on the walls of Smith's office is a replica of a trout carved by his father.

John Ewing/Staff Photographer

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A younger Smith is pictured with a fine buck he bagged more than 30 years ago while hunting with his father, with whom he still hunts, oftentimes on the extensive woodland he owns in rural Kennebec County.

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George Smith loved this 2001 illustration so much that he had it framed and hung in his home office. Smith is best known for his role against the 2004 bear-hunting referendum but he also helped legalize Sunday hunting in Maine.

Michael Fisher/Staff Illustration



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