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Minnesota author Cary J. Griffith releases new book "Gunflint Falling", prequel to "Gunflint Burning", ahead of author talk in Grand Marais

Feb 16, 2024 09:33AM ● By Content Editor

Photo: Anna McCourt

By Laura Durenberger-Grunow - Boreal Community Media - February 13, 2024

Minnesota-based author Cary J. Griffith has long been drawn to the rugged beauty and dramatic stories of the Gunflint Trail. His latest book, Gunflint Falling: Blowdown in the Boundary Waters, delves into the devastating 1999 storm, or "blowdown", as it's locally referred to, that reshaped the landscape and left an indelible mark on those who experienced it.

Griffith's passion for storytelling was ignited in college, fueled by the evocative power of Hemingway's Big Two-Hearted River.  "How did he do that? How did he put that much emotion on the page without really talking about it? I was so intrigued I thought I would give it a try, and I've been trying ever since," Griffith told Boreal Community Media. 

He first visited the Gunflint area at age 14, where he found inspiration in the stunning wilderness. "I was gobsmacked again! The lakes, rivers, boreal forests, wildlife. Stunning. Ever since I've loved visiting the area and do so 3-4 times a year," he shared. 

Eventually, he found himself drawn to capturing the essence of place and the emotions woven into human experiences. And even though he was inspired by the Gunflint area, his interest in writing about impacting events didn't come at first. Griffith said: "The Ham Lake fire was a suggestion from Ann Regan, the editor of my first two books at MN Historical Society Press. I wasn't interested at the time. But 2-3 years later I became more interested and began talking to folks who had worked on the fire or been impacted by it. Then I was hooked."

His first Gunflint-related book, Gunflint Burning, explored the 2007 Ham Lake fire, an event that forever changed the region. During his research, the recurring theme of the July 4, 1999 blowdown sparked his curiosity as one of the contributing factors for the intensity of the fire. Driven by a desire to understand the full story and honor the experiences of those who lived through it, Griffith embarked on a journey of interviews and research, resulting in Gunflint Falling, which was released on January 30, 2024.

 University of Minnesota Press

The book weaves together firsthand accounts from survivors, forest rangers, and community members, painting a vivid picture of the storm and its aftermath. "The interview are fun, but very time consuming. For this latest book [Gunflint Falling] I suspect I spoke with more than 100 people, and thank 60 in the Acknowledgements. I suspect both books took 2-3 years, off and on. Of course I was working on other writing projects at the time, so it wasn't total writing time on those two books," he said.

Griffith also emphasizes the importance of accuracy and respect, collaborating with interviewees to ensure their stories are truthfully represented. This collaborative approach fosters trust and allows him to capture the emotional depth of their experiences.

When asked how he handles being the interviewer and carrying someone's story all the way to storyteller, he responded: "First and foremost I wanted to be accurate in the way I described what happened to them. Their stories, at least those who would speak with me, were so emotional and extreme, I knew I had to tell them as close to how they happened as possible. I would record my interview with them, transcribe it, pay attention to what I wanted to surface and the narrative I wanted to tell, and then write it. Once I had a draft I would share it with them, so they could bless its accuracy or correct where I'd misstepped. Again, a long process, but one that insures the accuracy of your stories."

This was especially true when working with the story of Steve Posniak, who was charged with causing the Ham Lake Fire. Griffith said that Posniak, who died by suicide in December of 2008, was the only fatality of the fire. The author credits navigating the emotionally charged story to Posniak's wife. "She was very forthright when I interviewed her, in sharing details about Steve, and telling his story. Similarly, I had other interview comments from others who knew Steve. I had to take into consideration all those details to tell Steve's story, which I then had to share with his widow to make sure I'd captured him in the way she recalled. That was the dicey part. But she was great."

While acknowledging the trauma associated with such events, Griffith also highlights the resilience of the Gunflint communities. He has thought about exploring this theme further in a future book, tentatively titled Gunflint Rising: Recovering Wilderness. This work will examine the process of rebuilding after devastation, showcasing the determination and spirit of those who persevere. Another potential future book could revolve around the wolf management debate. However, Griffith says he's been working on the fifth Sam Rivers Mystery, Rattlesnake Bluff, which is part of his fictional series, and is his current focus. 

Griffith will be at a number of events in Northern Minnesota to celebrate the launch of Gunflint Falling, including one at Drury Lane Books in Grand Marais on Friday, February 16 at 6pm for an author talk and signing. You can find more information about that event here. 

To learn more about Cary J. Griffith, you can visit his website here. 

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