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Spiked Boots: Sketches of the North Country

Eminent domain bill hearing packs
Rep.'s Hall

The Littleton (NH) Courier, May 25, 2011

Salmon Press and Union Leader (Manchester, NH) columnist John Harrigan of Colebrook brought his well-thumbed copy of Robert E. Pike's "Spiked Boots" to the State House on Thursday (May 19, 2011) to support his vehement opposition to the Northern Pass Transmission line project which would slice through some of Coos County's back country.

Photo courtesy of Edith Tucker

If you are interested in what John has written about the NPT, and the link under his photo isn't working, please copy paste the following headline for your browser
John Harrigan: Taking land for private gain is simply just not right.

It should take you to through www.unionleader.com and to his weekly column of May 14, 2011.

On Saturday, January 26, 2019 at 4:30 PM this email (slightly edited for privacy) came in through www.HelenPike.com:



I just read your father's book, Spiked Boots. I was wondering if you had or knew where I might get more information on a song from the book. It was called the Maggie Gray song. Your father sounded like he had heard it but it was too long to put in the book. My wife and I live in Charlestown and are very interested in the history here. Any info you have would be great. Thank you.

After a whirlwind weekend, I responded on Monday, January 28, 6:16 PM:

Thanks for reading "Spiked Boots" and your interest in discovering more about Charlestown lore. When Dad died in 1997 a lot of details like the kind you and your wife are seeking died with him, unfortunately.


That said, it wouldn't surprise me if there had been a folk tale of a woman who wandered lost only to find herself opposite the home she had left. Songs were a way of recounting those unusual happenings. Newspapers from way back in the day might also hint of such an occurrence.


But In a way, it's a kind of trope on "there's no place like home". I do remember my father "telling" that story, but never singing it.

The 2011 re-incarnation of the Yankee edition of Spiked Boots by the very talented Traci Evans. If you want her to do the same with a book whose pages are of similar weight, let me know.

Bob Pike, William Burroughs and Stephen Crane: Oh my! Or, oh why?
This is a little side project I started August 2, 2011, partly for an open-mic opportunity on August 6 at The Saint in Asbury Park where The BlackBox is hosting an afternoon tribute to the 1950s titled "The Great American Beat Off."
All I needed was a public reason to pursue an idea that popped up a while back when researching Crane at the same time The Countryman Press was readying the latest edition to Spiked Boots: Sketches of the North Country . The Naked Lunch is a deliciously unexpected coincidence.


“Vas lui dire bonne nuit.”

In her native French, my mother asked the weary foreign language professor coming home at the end of a long day, to be a parent. In those late evening hours, my father put away the stern college classroom persona, and turned into a soft-voiced, but animated, North Country storyteller. He relished with the enthusiasm of a ten-year-old the death-defying exploits of men like Jigger Johnson, Jack Haley and Dan Bosse, and the business brawn of George Van Dyke. These were the men he wanted to be most like when he grew up.

To a small child, these men were mythic heroes. But to my father, they had been real flesh and blood; raw-boned river men with swaggers and chaws of tobacco. Every spring, when the logs came down the Connecticut River, Harley Pike, the uncle who raised Dad, would let these men camp on the family’s meadows in Upper Waterford, Vermont. The young boys in the village approached these men with a mixture of awe and trepidation for they had seen them coming downstream, riding the logs with the cleats of their spiked boots gripping the wood for traction. And never falling off.

Years later, after Dad went to Dartmouth College at sixteen, he spent his summers working the woods as a surveyor. The opportunity gave him a chance to find some of these men, many retired and usually living alone in that wild and remote borderland we share with Canada. He also met new ones, such as Vern Davison who became for him another mentor like Uncle Harl.

Some of the expressions he learned from Old Vern Dad used on me: “That’s the stuff” if I had done something well or particularly clever. Long before the phrase “not a morning person” became part of our popular culture, Dad would look for any “signs of human intelligence” every morning when I came to the table for breakfast. When he occasionally was frustrated teaching French to some of my prep school classmates in the early 1970s, it was not uncommon to hear them described as “feeble-minded”. These were expressions I heard from others throughout our travels in the upper reaches of Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont, but never here on the Jersey Shore where we lived.

On the nights when it was too late to even croon some chantey song (off-key because Dad had a tin-ear), I could hear my father typing on his black Remington in his study, the middle bedroom in our ranch home on Pine Street. I was not yet three when the first five hundred, soft-covered copies of “Spiked Boots” were printed in 1959. Rosemary Miller, the former headmistress of Peacham Academy in Vermont, drew the cover design. She was then teaching math at Monmouth College in West Long Branch, New Jersey, where Dad chaired the foreign language department. Two years later, one thousand red hard-backed copies came from Cowles Press in St. Johnsbury, and we spent part of that summer “peddling”, as my father called it, those copies throughout the region he knew best.

“Here, you’ll want to buy this book because your name is in it,” was about all there was to his salesman’s patter. Apparently it had worked well enough in selling the first five hundred out of the trunk of the family car. Now here we were in a black Fleetwood Cadillac, albeit second-hand, my father in a Rogers & Peet suit from New York and a pair of Florsheim wing-tipped shoes, doing it all over again. I sat in the back seat with the luggage. If the opportunity called for a little added persuasion, my mother, a former model and at that time a French elementary schoolteacher, would get out of the car and turn on her native Parisian charm. Here, in the North Country, they weren’t Dr. and Madame Pike but Bob and Helene.

While his PhD from Harvard University opened the doors to teaching jobs that paid the bills, it was the regional writing my father loved to do most, despite the fact that publishers were not much interested in this genre in the years following World War II. Among many things, Dad’s stories were a means for him to recreate a particular community of self-reliant men and women that not only was vanishing from across America, but that had been long gone from his life once he turned to the groves of academia. Every summer, then, became a homecoming; every visit a way to re-establish who he was. Until he died in 1968, Uncle Harl, who had never had any children of his own, played a part in Dad’s annual pilgrimages to reaffirm his rural American heritage. My father taught me that it took rugged individualists to make America succeed yet they could be such sentimentalists that they hid their tears by saying it was the wind making their eyes water.

In 1997, during the last months of his life, Dad kept rereading a worn hard-backed copy of “Spiked Boots”. For me to read that book again in preparation for this new edition, was to stir those memories between waking moments and sleep when dreams take hold and legends come alive. If, as my father had hoped, you, too, can find pleasure in these beloved stories, I, like him, will be rewarded.

Spiked Boots' Tables of Contents
I. Old Vern
II. The Brass Cannon
III. George Can Dyke and the CVL
IV. The Golden Trout
V. Old Ginseng Willard and the 49ers
VII. Indian Stream
VIII. Lost in the Woods
IX. The Art of Running Rum
X. North Country Folk Songs
XI. The Old Pepper
XII. How Van Drew Came Home
XIII. The White Death
XIV. Romantic Interlude
XV. The Coming of the Law
XVI. Mostly Canucks
WVII. Bears and Such
XVIII. Gem-Hunter
XIX. The Atavist
XX. Beaver
XXI. A Dream That Came True
XXII.The Indian Stream Republic
XXIII. Grandmother's Remedies
XXIV. Romance
XXV. Envoi
XXVI. Glossary

So Bob Pike: Spiked Boots shares a shelf with a coffee mug that brands Francoise Sagan's famous coming-of-age novel, Bonjour Tristesse. It was required reading for my high school French class at Ranney School in Tinton Falls, NJ. Like the Connecticut River that divides the two sides of my father's personality, this image of a reader's bookshelf ~ and with unintentional irony ~ neatly captures the split between his intellect and his emotion. Thank you NizNoz for posting this on Flickr's "Bookshelf Project" !