After graduating from Bowdoin College in Maine, David Mather served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in southern Chile from 1968 to 1970. Profoundly influenced by his two years living and working in the campo [countryside], he bought a small piece of land in the woods of New Hampshire where he carved out a simple homestead and has lived a mile off grid for over forty years. He ultimately began and ran a successful specialty lumber company, but being self-employed, he was able to continue to travel a great deal, primarily to Third World Countries.
Ten years ago, he began to downsize his business and, with more free time, wrote One For The Road which was published through Peace Corps Writers in 2011 (OnefortheRoad-Mather.com). About a PCV in Chile who falls in love with both the campo and a campesina, it is a mix of fact and fiction, and has been described by a friend as “memoir masquerading as a novel.” While working on the book, David soon realized that his memory was fuzzy in many areas, and he wanted the book, above all, to be accurate. Consequently, he traveled back to Chile twice to do research and “get it right.” During the second trip, he learned of the demise of the black-necked swans in Valdivia, and the idea for a sequel, albeit with a much different storyline, was born.
This is some of what David learned on that second trip:
The Carlos Anwandter Nature Sanctuary is located on the Cruces River near the town center of Valdivia in southern Chile. It is commonly believed that the refuge was the home of the largest population of black-necked swans in South America. On January 31st, 2004, the Celco (Celulosa Arauco y Constitucion) pulp mill owned by businessman Anacleto Angelini began operation up river from the refuge. The mill intentionally and systematically began to dump its toxic effluents into the river, and by August, 2005, only four birds out of an estimated five thousand were observed. The birds strong enough to fly had left the sanctuary, the others had died. Autopsies attributed their deaths to the presence of high levels of iron and other metals polluting the river.
When the Whistling Stopped [Peace Corps Writers, 2014] is an “eco-thriller” based on this real event. The novel is about a young couple’s quest to expose and bring down the amoral mill owner, but when he retaliates, not only their lives, but also those of their friends, are soon threatened with surprising and devastating results. The twists and turns of this fast-paced story make it hard to put the book down.