It was a painful time for me. My mother had just passed away, one of my businesses was rapidly heading south, and I was going through a painful divorce (is there any other kind?).
Those life circumstances forced me to spend time on the road, caring for a dying mother, and in the office, rescuing my publishing business. It also gave me lots of time alone to think.
Even thinking was difficult, but eventually I did what writers do; I turned to my writing and a story line began to crystallize from the fog. I thought a lot about what family means, about loss, about what might have been. And slowly, the threads of Sargent Mountain began to weave themselves into a tapestry that made sense.
Readers often wonder how much of a story is autobiographical. I can say that most of Sargent Mountain is fabricated. Yes, I lived in Maine for ten years and know Acadia National Park well, since some of my ecology doctoral research was done there. I also lived on a farm in Maryland, where much of the story takes place. I also raised two biological children and two stepchildren and as families we spent much time in Maine.
But the story I felt compelled to tell in Sargent Mountain was about family, loss, and the many shades of love. And so the story I wove is fundamentally different from the fabric of my life.
People often ask whether I realize that Sargent is misspelled. It’s not. Sargent Mountain is the name of the second tallest peak in Acadia National Park and it is named after the Sargent family.
Some Interesting Facts
Sargent Mountain is the second highest peak in Acadia National Park at 1,373 feet. Cadillac Mountain is the highest at 1,530 feet. Cadillac is the only mountain in Acadia that has a road going to the summit.
The swimming scene that I describe in Sargent Mountain, as Rose and Ellen rest from their hike down the mountain, takes place in Sargent Pond, nestled among pine trees about 300 feet lower than the peak. That pond is considered the oldest pond in all of Maine, at 17,000 years.
If you do visit Sargent Pond, look around the shoreline and you’ll find the rare and lovely Sundew, a tiny insect-eating plant. Unlike the Venus Flytrap, the tiny sundew has a sticky substance on the flower that attracts insects, which then stick to it and are slowly dissolved.
Acadia National Park is the oldest national park east of the Mississippi (1916). It is located on Mt. Desert Island (second largest island on the east coast).
Acadia NP was cobbled together from land purchased for the public good by the Rockefellers,and other wealthy families. It now covers about 47,000 acres. More than 3 million people visit each year, but only a very small percentage hike the mountain trails described in Sargent Mountain.
Why do you spell Sargent as you did?
Sargent Mountain is the actual name of a mountain in Acadia National Park on Maine’s Mt. Desert Island. It is named after the Sargent family.
How did you get the idea for Sargent Mountain?
I lived in Maine for ten years and received my doctorate in ecology from the University of Maine. Some of my research was done in Acadia National Park and I have climbed its trails for the past 40 years.
Having hiked there with my children over the years, I grew particularly fond of Sargent Mountain. That led me to craft the story that revolves around the natural history of Sargent Mountain.
At the time I wrote Sargent Mountain, I was living on a small farm, in the area in Maryland described in the book. After a painful divorce, I sat down to write as part of the healing process. I thought a lot about loss and over a period of two weeks, the entire story began to take shape. I began to think not about my loss, but about the loss that others feel.
Is the story autobiographical?
I sure hope not, since the lead male character is dead when the book opens. But, like all novels, we writers draw a little from our own experiences, a little from what we observe in others, and mix in a dash of research for seasoning. That stew is what became Sargent Mountain.
How do approach the task of writing?
Please see my Frequently Asked Questions section on my writing home page for the answer to this question.
How do the chapter beginning descriptions of the natural events on top of Sargent Mountain relate to the story?
At the beginning of the book, what drove Rose to want to climb Sargent Mountain?
In the first chapter we learn that Phillip asked Rose: ““Why torture yourself? Why go back?” Was Phillip justified in asking Rose this?
Some believe in providence, others don’t. How inevitable do you think it was that Ellen and Rose should meet on Sargent Mountain on the anniversary of John’s death?
What is the symbolism of the blueberry bushes in the story? What meaning did they carry for Rose and her family?
Was Rose more affected by John’s death or his affair?
Was it in Rose’s best interests to obtain Ellen’s address from the proprietor of the Maine store where Ellen had shopped?
Should Rose have left the situation with Ellen alone? Why do you feel she had to pursue it?
Did Phillip “play it right” with Rose as far as their relationship goes? What might he have done differently?
Was Rose correct in reviewing hers and John’s relationship for signs she had contributed to his infidelity?
Was Rose right in going to Ellen’s house?
What does Rose’s attachment to her land reveal about her character?
Is there anything in Ellen’s relationship with John that can be morally justified?
Did Rose forgive Ellen? Did Ellen forgive herself?
Should Rose have discussed John’s infidelity with her children?
Rose and Ellen were as opposite as any two women could be. Does that provide context for John’s infidelity?
Was John ultimately a good man or were his weaknesses too strong for redemption?
In her final communication with Rose, Ellen wrote:
personally I do not believe in accidents. I think things happen for a reason, for a higher purpose, even though we may not understand what they are at the moment. I’d like to believe that the sweatshirt is another symbol of how we are connected, how John provided comfort for us both.
Was Ellen correct in her assessment of how she and Rose were connected? Did John, indeed, provide comfort for them both?