John McCarter and Kody, his amazingly appealing and photogenic Pomeranian, have given us a fabulous gift — “Kody’s World: The Unseen Martha’s Vineyard.” To pick up this book is to fall in love with it. It is perfect for those who care about the Vineyard, canines, and nature, or those who just like a good tale.
Janet Halladay’s handsome design makes each page a visual mix of image and text. Although you can flip through, start at the first page, because each one leading to the introduction has adorable photos of Kody, immediately setting the tone of the book. The Introduction orients us to McCarter’s intent: that the book is “a tribute to the woods and wetlands of Martha’s Vineyard and to a dog named Kodiak, known to most of his friends as Kody.” He goes on to tell us of his “quasi-feral childhood during a bygone age. My four brothers and I grew up on the edge of a mainland woods like privileged raccoon kits. I spent the majority of my adult years working as an arborist and animal tracker, and to this day my passion for the woods rivals Kody’s.”
McCarter goes on to tell us about the origin of the book, which came out of his lifelong friendship with Peter Shotwell, with whom, he writes, “I spent even more time in the woods with … and our two dogs, than I did my brothers.” He started sending photos he took on his walks with Kody to Shotwell as sort of digital postcards, just to say hi. In a recent interview, McCarter says, “Left to my own devices, the book never would have happened. The idea belongs to Peter. After receiving my photos for a year or two, he put together a ‘Kody’s World’ book using an app online, making it as a surprise to try and convince me to do the book myself. I still pooh-poohed the idea. I thought, ‘I’m an amateur, and these are just phone photos. They’re not good enough for a book, so don’t be ridiculous.’” But as McCarter gave the books to family and friends, everyone encouraged him to follow Peter’s advice. “Eventually, the light dawned, and I went for it.”
The book is in Kody’s voice as he explains: “I live on Martha’s Vineyard. I want to show you some of the beautiful places here that lie hidden from many visitors — hidden in plain sight.” He tours the Island off the beaten track. The landscape photography is stunning, as Kody shows us wetlands, brooks, marshlands, swamps, vernal pools, and a river. He appears sitting majestically on the roof of a muskrat’s house, caught by surprise at a natural fountain bubbling up from the forest floor, and in, on, and among many, many strikingly different trees.
“There are a lot of extraordinary trees on this Island that have been through a lot of wind stress and other stresses as well, and look very different than those that grow on the mainland,” McCarter says. He builds a subtle message into the book about the environment in a series of pages that take us from the glacial formation of the Island to Waskosim’s Rock, recognizing the Wampanoag as stewards for over 10,000 years. With a stunning snow-covered pasture with rock walls, he tells us how European settlers cut trees down to make pastures and farmland. And then in a three-quarter-page spread where trees abound, he writes, “Lucky for us the trees grew back.” The book ends with a series of pages with photographs and text in which Kody invites us to come explore ourselves. On the final one, he is standing on a path in the distance, looking back at us saying, “But I’m always ahead on the path, waiting for you to open your eyes and see.”
McCarter cites his own text in the introduction as what he hopes we get from the book, “I’d like to think that Kody is inviting his readers to this sort of love affair with the wild. Maybe that’s what he’s talking about at the end of the book when he invites us to ‘open our eyes and see.’ What if each of us could bring to the forest the kind of unconditional love our dogs give us every day?’”
“Kody’s World: The Unseen Martha’s Vineyard” is $20, and available at Heather Gardens and Bunch of Grapes, as well as by emailing him at email@example.com.