In park warden Ben Matthew’s world, black is black and white is white.
But when poaching, protection and community traditions collide, it’s not long before things start to turn a little grey-green.
Matthews is the protagonist in George Mercer’s new book, Dyed In The Green. Ambitious, unwavering and passionate about his role in protecting wildlife, Matthews is a warden’s warden, according to the author.
“He’s pretty typical of the intensity and eagerness that a lot of wardens bring to the job,” Mercer said from his home in North Saanich, B.C. “And it’s hard to say how much is ego and how much is dedication and passion.”
With Dyed In The Green, Mercer, who spent nine years in Jasper as a wildlife biologist, brings readers to the lush landscape of Cape Breton. But in discovering the majesty of the Cabot Trail and the rich salmon pools of the Chéticamp River, Warden Matthews also wades into the dark sub culture of the local community, where poaching is a way of life and outsiders are looked upon with disdain.
“He learns that poaching is only one of the many challenges that Parks people face,” Mercer said.
As those challenges begin to unfold, a cat-and-mouse chase with local jacklighters morphs into something much more dire. And while Mercer admits the storyline bends towards a what-if scenario, readers familiar with park wardens’ battle to bear arms won’t need to read too deeply between the lines. Mercer knew more than a few wardens who would rather go against policy than make the ultimate sacrifice.
“Some felt the need to carry something beyond a flashlight and a Stetson,” Mercer said.
Designed to be the first part of an ongoing series which will take its characters to different national parks across Canada, including Jasper, Dyed In The Green is less of a regional book than it might first appear. Poaching, of course, is a global problem, but Jasper readers will recognize other issues which crop up when big agencies attempt to tackle bigger problems: the difficulty of working with outside organizations, management chill and getting the greater community on board. Wardens of a certain era, meanwhile, will sympathize with Matthews’ ongoing struggles with archaic equipment and the expectation to patrol huge swaths of park land.
“Often times you’re there on your own and there’s no such thing as backup,” Mercer said.
Mercer wrote the bulk of Dyed In The Green 15 years ago, when he worked in Jasper, but retirement has given him the opportunity to give the story new life. He now pursues writing full time, including maintaining Write Nature, a writing company which focuses on environmental themes and creative fiction.
Dyed In The Green is available at the Friends of Jasper National Park, on Amazon and Kobo.