Those skills come to bear in Our Secret Garden, a new spoken-word CD which tells of Jims many seasons hunting amid the fields and forests of remote Garden Island in Lake Michigan. The centerpiece of the four stories on this disc is the tale of a hunter killed on the island -- taken out of season long before his time -- an inconceivable death, given the islands faraway, seemingly peaceful location.
McIntyre is executive vice president of Knorr Marketing in Traverse City, which is celebrating its 20th anniversary this month. Hes well known to TV viewers across the region for the humorous slice-of-life commercials the agency has produced through the years in which he stars as a male chauvinist husband who banters with his wife on behalf of local products and services.
This is McIntyres second venture in the spoken word genre. Several years ago, he released Minnow Al, about a gruff, rustic character met on hunting trips in northern Ontario. Exceptionally literate and written with the lean economy of the wild itself, his stories capture the essence of the hunting and fishing experience in words that are carefully weighed and measured for the images they invoke.
In Our Secret Garden, he takes us back to the days of his youth and how he was introduced to hunting. For hunters, McIntyres story of bagging his first buck at the age of 19 is sure to invoke a trip down memory lane. So too is his tale of nailing his biggest buck ever: a 205 lb., eight-point giant on Garden Island in 1980. Without doubt the finest specimen Id ever seen. Non-hunters will get a glimpse over his shoulder into the thrill of the outdoor life, sparked each November 15th on St. Antlers Day.
McIntyre eases into his story by unrolling his years on the hunt: When the hunting action gets too crowded on mainland Michigan, he and some friends explore the lonely trails and mysteries of Garden Island, a small stretch of land just north of Beaver Island. Over the course of 26 years, the island refuge becomes the secret of the title of his work, jealously guarded by the few hunters who venture there each November.
These are men who love the island and tend its trails, slowly growing to know each other through the years, living in their separate deer camps.
The men who hunt Garden Island have a bond that exists among them, McIntyre recounts. It isnt something that we speak of, but I know it exists. All are skilled hunters, all have a deep respect for the animals that we pursue; all have a reverence for the island, its history and its future. Its not an easy trip; the waters of Lake Michigan can be treacherous and cold in November. The weather can be miserable, cold rain, snow, subfreezing temperatures, dangerous winds. We sleep in tents on cots and cook on charcoal. There are no roads, no restaurants, no bars, no showers. And until just recently, no communication.
The island becomes a metaphor for something that endures in the hunters lives -- a yearly rendezvous that carries on over 26 years when all else seems lost: Individually we divorced, changed careers, moved, married; lived through heart attacks, surgeries, plane crashes and broken hearts. We laughed so hard we cried, and sometimes we just cried. Our campfire conversations reflected our circumstances at the times. Sometimes we shared secrets that we brought with us like excess baggage. We unpacked it -- sometimes we left it there -- sometimes we took it back with us.
On opening day of 2000, McIntyre was sitting in his deer blind when he heard
a Coast Guard helicopter landing. At
first, he thought that someone had suffered a heart attack. It never occurred to us that someone had been shot -- not these hunters.
A few hours later, the helicopter came back with a sheriff. Retired Detroit firefighter Jerry Byers had been shot, never to hunt the island again.
McIntyre wraps up his story with the aftermath and how the camp at the Secret Garden fell apart. But its not the ending thats most satisfying in his story -- its the journey there. McIntyre has a poets appreciation for the written word and a gifted storytellers skill in weaving a spell. Hes done a great, rare thing, adding a sense of literature to nonfiction in the tradition of journalists Sebastian Junger or Jon Krakauer.
You can feel your heart rise and fall with the rhythm of his words in a story that brings you to the shores of a remote, wild island. His story brings Garden Island to life.