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Yellow Jacket Nursery, by Richard M. Baker, Jr., is spun like a great Maine campfire story, minus the exaggerated creatures whipped up to terrify kids on their cots in tents after dark. The fear here is real, a dark-sided, vengeful attack by locals on nice people trying to stake their home in Maine’s serene woods.
With good intention, the owners of an old house decide to improve the property in anticipation of raising a family. The classic conflict of overly strict property management in an area of traditionally free access boils over into violent trespass and territorial dispute. Acreage lines may have been drawn around the woodsy, lakeside area, but there were no such restrictions on the unspoken rule among locals as to shared access to a seemingly limitless space of natural abundance.
It may have been that the author snuck a shore break on the wrong pristine beach at the wrong time while fishing the great salmon- and bass-filled lakes of Maine. The population explosion between 1955 and 1965 compelled landowners to build fences, even if only figuratively. The general public was on the loose and growing in number. Trespassers were no longer welcome as occasional, friendly fishermen grilling fresh catch for a picnic lunch under the pines. Immediate offense to chance encounters triggered firm stewardship of private land. The artificial intersection of natural movement and trespass within vast lands had been reached in an area where prior generations had exercised elbow room and cultural respect.
The essence of Yellow Jacket Nursery lies in the simple struggle between private and public rights. As Thomas Drummond wrote in the 19th century, “Property has its duties as well as its rights”. Unfortunately, by the mid-twentieth century, the easiness of property, common among friends, is no longer a custom, but a growing nuisance.