BUSHNELL ON THE BOOKS: “Take it Easy” and “Winter Wolves”
TAKE IT EASY: PORTLAND IN THE 1970s
Journalist Joseph Gallivan wrote, “Old hippies don’t die, they just keep quiet until the laughter stops and their time comes. And for old hippie photographer John Duncan, the time has come.
“Take it Easy” is Portland photographer Duncan’s debut book, a nostalgic photographic essay of Portland in the 1970s, a decade of mixed past and future, seen by a street photographer with a Canon camera that used the real film (remember that?).
The book contains over 130 black-and-white photographs taken by “a free spirit in his twenties with no formal photographic training”, capturing stunning images of people, places and events, all taken from life in walking or driving a taxi downtown.
Duncan loves photography, was self-taught as a teenager in high school, has a keen sense of subject, timing and clarity, and his photos can easily make people see themselves on Congress Street, or leaning against a VW bus. with hippie buddies around. The photos are gorgeous, but his story and captions are equally revealing and entertaining. It soon becomes clear that this effort is not just a photographic history of Portland in the 70s, but a personal journey of good memories, most fun, a little bittersweet.
Street scenes show downtown Portland in a sad transition of decline and decay, old businesses long gone but fun to remember, like the Porteous department store and the Senior Citizens Barber Shop. The fashion is reminiscent of frumpy old ladies wearing hats and gloves, and hippies with long hair, bell bottoms and paisley shirts.
During the 1970s, Duncan partied (alcohol, drugs, music), worked odd jobs as a dishwasher, gas station attendant, and taxi driver, and his stories are nostalgic memories of good times. This is his journey, as well as an important return on ourselves.
WINTER WOLVES: A WESTERN ROAMER
Journalist Katherine Whitehorn (1928-2021) wrote, “I wouldn’t say when you’ve seen a western you’ve seen the lot; but when you’ve seen the lot, you feel like you’ve seen one. She could have said the same about Western novels, but she probably never read anything by Matthew Mayo.
The Maine Mayo writer is the Spur Award-winning author of 18 westerns, four of them in his unique Roamer series, including his latest “Winter Wolves.” And Mayo is smart – the Roamer character is distinctive and his western adventures aren’t typical hay burners. This series is different and Mayo nails it with solid and entertaining storytelling.
Roamer is the name of the main character as well as an apt description of his lifestyle. He’s tall, ugly, well-armed, reads poetry, has only two friends, and thinks it’s much easier to get along with animals than humans. He prefers his own company. In “Winter Wolves”, Roamer travels to the Bitterroot Mountains of Montana to visit his friend Maple Jack and his companion Winter Woman. Roamer plans to sightsee a bit and then hike up the mountains on snowshoes – a thoughtful, solitary journey.
In his friends’ remote cabin, Roamer finds evidence of abuse and the two friends are missing. Roamer may seem like a softie, but it’s not. He follows tracks in the snow without realizing that he is no longer the hunter: he is the prey. An avalanche and a wolf attack leave him in bad shape, but it will get much worse.
What he discovers is difficult for him to understand, but he knows he must get away and fast. However, complications arise, especially when killer wolf hunters show up and start shooting. Some of the story is far-fetched, but Mayo pulls it off with a colorful story of people trying their best.
Bill Bushnell lives and writes in Harpswell.