Dean Bennett’s new volume, “Ghost Buck: The Legacy of One Man’s Family and Its Hunting Traditions,” does everything it sets out to do and, in sticking to that, accomplishes far more. But, first of all, it is fun to read and neatly constructed. This is a book for our time and will be enjoyed and treasured far into the future.

As the title states, “Ghost Buck” is focused on family and hunting as a lifestyle. It is also about the evolution of the town of Greenwood; Oxford County; Maine; New England, and the greater United States. It moves with deliberation through at least nine generations – think Longfellow’s “long, long thoughts.”

Dean Bennett

Dean Bennett

Bennett was born in the Greenwood village of Locke Mills, taught in a variety of places including the University of Maine at Farmington, and is the author of a distinguished, much underrated decade’s worth of books about Maine’s regional and natural history. These include my previous favorite, from 1996, “The Forgotten Nature of New England: A Search for Traces of the Original Wilderness.”

“Ghost Buck” is, in a sense, more personal, but no less professionally handled. Personal enthusiasm is grounded by documentation, maps and a continued reportage of statistical change in the physical environment, the size of the deer herd, the nature of the Bennett clan, and changes in hunting laws and ethics.

Few writers are better positioned to orient the reader in such fields, and there are none to my knowledge that can do it with such strength, grace and economy of words.

The core of “Ghost Buck” is Camp Sheepskin in Greenwood, built by the Bennetts in 1936. The number of villages and place names, including “Greenwood City,” Shadagee, Bryant Pond and Locke’s Mills, should be enough to put off any reader “from away,” but Bennett’s prose unfolds the centuries with ease and with the clarity of a master historian explaining the clearing of the forest, the planting of orchards and fields, the arrival and abandonment of county roads, and the appearance then disappearance of villages as railroads changed course.

"Ghost Buck" cover

Bennett attempts to explain why he and other people hunt, and he more than answers the question. The book is honest and documents not only one family’s experience but an element of Maine life through the generations.

It also includes absorbing stories, such as the quasi-myth, and perhaps a plausible explanation, around what hunters have seen in the woods. Bennett muses about what the camp may mean for his grandchildren and other family members in the future: “I am unable to imagine,” he writes. “I can only hope that this camp, or a place like it, will be a part of their lives, enriching theirs as it has mine with family, friends and perhaps a little mystery.”

William David Barry is a local historian who has authored/co-authored seven books, including “Maine: The Wilder Side of New England” and “Deering: A Social and Architectural History.” He lives in Portland with his wife, Debra, and their cat, Nadine.