It’s a long title, and this Moosewood isn’t a cookbook. Moosewood is the name of the house Jack Perkins and his wife Mary Jo built on Bar Island off Bar Harbor, an island at high tide but able to be reached with a car on a gravel road at low tide.

Perkins was a long-time TV newsman, beginning in the 1960s as a writer for David Brinkley and then coming into the limelight himself as a journalist and anchor, reporting on stories around the world for NBC News. To describe leaving that job as “abandoned,” as the title does, might be a tad dramatic; some would call it his decision to retire, on his own timetable. 

The “life on an island” part of the title refers to the 13 years post-retirement he and his wife lived on Bar Island.

During that time, each developed their creative interests. Jack wrote poetry, photographed, published some books and provided narration for films. He also took another job in television and periodically commuted from Maine to host the A&E network show “Biography.”

But island life had its requirements. The couple grew a garden, put food up, used wood and solar power which enabled them to live off the grid.  Eventually, their priorities changed. With the passage of time, medical needs became more important. The couple moved to Florida where they now live.  Moosewood has since been torn down and the parcel of land on which it sat was acquired to become part of the adjoining Acadia National Park.

Scattered throughout the Maine story, in no particular order, are anecdotes from Jack’s career. (Trying to put a date on anything in this book is frustrating for the reader; years are rarely specified and nothing is chronological). We hear about close encounters with celebrities and artists like Marlon Brando, William Holden, Joan Miro, Ansel Adams and Stephen King, and events reported live like the assassination of Bobby Kennedy, combat in Vietnam and civil rights protests in the South. 

Other anecdotes illustrate a different sort of investigative effort. In fact, with words slightly rearranged, the book might more aptly be titled “Finding God When a TV Newsman Abandoned His Career”¦”

From Perkins’ descriptions, we sense the same tenacity as that demonstrated in his dedication to covering breaking news. He committed to exploring spirituality. It could be easy to assume that for this talented man, the good life has come easily to him. But Perkins offers readers deeper insight into challenges he has faced, most notably his one-time heavy use of alcohol.

This book is no “How I stopped drinking when I got religion” confession. It is more a story about envisioning a right life and setting out to realize it, in ways that minimized his professional and financial successes and emphasized having spiritual, emotional and relational ones.

Perkins uses a folksy narration and his thoughtful descriptions are infused with warmth, enthusiasm and humor.  As a reader who also has a home on an island (Vinalhaven), I enjoyed seeing his reaction to Down East locals, especially as he made connections in order to build his home.

He admits to the dismay with which locals received news that he was going to build on Bar Island. Yet the couple eventually finds their way into acceptance, becoming part of the rhythms and rituals of the area.

Perhaps as a metaphor for accepting what it means to live on an island on Maine’s coast, there is notably only one slip-up (at least that he mentions) where Perkins loses track of time and the safe return to home via the land bridge only usable at low tide. Always, there is an appreciation that there are forces and fates one must be humble about when hoping for some success, whether fame and fortune, a happy marriage, finessing tides, fitting in with locals or finding God.

Perkins describes that fit they found with their neighbors in Maine, writing:

“We were drawn to these people “¦ not because they were famous or, as far as we knew, rich. Perhaps because some had already negotiated their own life changes, had experienced what we were experiencing. Perhaps because some represented what we deemed the enviable small-town values of thrift, congeniality, and unalloyed integrity. We were seeking in new friends, I guess, what we hoped to reveal in ourselves.”

Given that a kind of humility seemed important, it’s a bit of a surprise who gets quoted in blurbs promoting the book. Patty Duke, for example. And Nik Wallenda, referred to as “the seventh generation daredevil of the Flying Wallendas and wire walker over Niagara Falls,” with a review he penned (tweeted?) included in the book’s liner notes: “A poetic journey into the life of a genius journalist. Compelling and inspiring.”
As with the book’s title, that recommendation is a bit overstated. But I guess that’s show biz. For someone like Perkins, one surmises life can be as gaudy as it is godly.

Tina Cohen summers on Vinalhaven.