Digging Into History With Mark Patton

At nineteen Mark Patton shipped aboard the Research Vessel Chain as a helmsman for the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. By his mid-twenties he was flying out of Otis Air Force Base for the National Marine Fisheries Service on weekly North Atlantic Fisheries patrols. After graduating from Northeastern University, he became a roughneck for Delta Drilling in the Texas oil patch. He left Texas to become a police officer and later a head of Natural Resources on Cape Cod. Now retired, he devotes his time between the mountains of northern New Hampshire and his home on Cape Cod, where with his cellist wife, he composes music and pursues his longtime passion for writing.


Mark PattersonMark, you were a director of Natural Resources on Cape Cod for the town of Falmouth, managing a rich diversity of natural habitats from dune to woodland moraine. What is your favorite part of the nature around Cape Code?
The ocean. Though the land mass of Falmouth, Massachusetts is over 54 square miles, it has thirteen coastal harbors, 68 miles of coastline and there is more of the town under water than above, our municipal boundaries extend several miles out into Vineyard Sound and into Buzzards Bay. Preserving and working within the Town’s ocean frontage was my favorite aspect of the job. Our waters have been impacted by human activity, we have had major oil spills and of course various forms of pollution from runoff ( which we tackled) but on the whole Falmouth waters are relatively well preserved. Maintaining this resource meant more than warding off pollution, it also involved assisting marine life that was in trouble — a harp seal beached due to an infection cause by a transmitter that had been placed on it by Canadian researchers, an errant hooded seal that had been released into the Gulf of Maine and found itself on a salt marsh in Megansett, a grampus whale in Quisett Harbor that had to be taken out on a stretcher and transported to the New England Aquarium, and in 2004 extricating the first great white shark seen in these waters from an estuary on Naushon Island. Magnificent creatures, and I was very fortunate to be able to work with them.

Mark PattersonThe Cape’s coastal and marine resources define the region’s character. What are some of the challenges you faced?
Since Cape Cod is about an hour and a half drive from Boston, urbanization is one of the biggest problems besetting the area. The demand for housing has placed extreme pressure upon the environment. Falmouth’s population has steadily increased due to the attraction of its environment. The town’s winter population of 35,000 nearly triples in the summer. Though we have made a good effort at preserving 25% of it in open space, the municipality is closing in on what municipal planners call build out, where every privately owned section of woodland has been subdivided and turned into a building lot. Urbanization has place a great burden upon wildlife which find themselves trying to survive in a fragmented environment. Every year glass eels (juvenile American eels) come up from the Sargasso Sea and start a process of maturation that will take seven years before they will be able to return there and mate. Several years of this development occurs within fresh water streams and ponds. In my town they begin to show up in the spring as small gooey translucent worms that attempt to make their way to the safety of these waters. They come in the millions, and at night, and attempt to make it through a disturbed suburban environment, filled with man made obstacles, to their fresh water havens. The American eel is in decline and it is at its most vulnerable state at this time. Poachers are its biggest threat. An illegal night’s work of poaching can fetch a poacher $2,500. per pound. Glass eels are considered a delicacy in Asian markets. At the same time blue back and ale wife herring are coming into these waterways to mate. Their populations are also in decline. They too are poached upon and they too have to face a variety of man made obstacles, such as cranberry bogs, ditches and dikes and even subterranean road drainage channels. It takes a lot of work to make sure they all get through safely. Government also can be challenging. In 2007, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts announced that it was going to use our waters off of West Falmouth as a dredge disposal area for dredge spoils coming from New Bedford Harbor. New Bedford Harbor is one of the nation’s top superfund sites for chemical contaminates, specifically PCBs. They dropped this bomb on us just before Thanksgiving and and gave us to the end of December to comment on their plan. They had eliminated domain. Fortunately, Falmouth had premier scientific organizations located in its village of Woods Hole ( the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, the Marine Biological Laboratory and the National Marine Fisheries Service). Marshalling their expertise we were able to block this plan and ultimately the waters of Buzzards Bay were made off limits to this sort of activity. We also had an investigation concerning an illegal landfill owned by a man purported to have murdered numerous people and of shooting a Falmouth police office in the face with a shotgun, while in transit to work, back in 1979. We received numerous death threats at the time but still were able to press on with our complaint. Fortunately, he ended up in a state mental hospital after causing a disruption in court. Never saw him again after that, but that most certainly was a challenging time.

Westminster Abbey TriforiumIn your book The Triforium, Wallace Butterfield has vivid dreams. What sort of vivid dreams do you have?
Odd about my dreams, rather prosaic. You would think after three decades in law enforcement, where as a police officer I saw all sorts of terrible things, murders, fatal accidents, vicious beatings etc., you would think I might have nightmares concerning them, but I don’t. I have police oriented dreams, almost every night, but they are about silly stuff — absurd bureaucratic things — being written up for stepping outside of my cruiser without my hat on. That sort of frustrating nonsense that police administrators seem so keen on focusing on.

On your Facebook group The Triforium, you posted a news article about Westminster Abbey renovations. You mention “Reverend Poda-Pirudi would be most distressed…” but how do you feel about the renovations?
I’m a complete reactionary. I’m totally in Reverend Poda-Pirudi’s camp. There is great charm in having an attic in an abbey filled with ancient and forgotten miscellany. It is an area that is not only off limits but pretty well ignored, and therefore things that have been stuffed into it develop great value just because there was no real thought process to when they were placed their in the first place. So what was common place or unimportant grows rare over time. Now it will be an orderly and purposeful public space and that that would have been preserved by happenstance will be lost. Besides, isn’t it better to be in a cathedral and look up to its triforium and imagine a spooky space as opposed to seeing a museum?

Westminster Abbey Triforium interiorThey are building a museum in the Triforium of Westminster Abbey currently named the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Galleries. What are some of the artifacts to be displayed you are most interested in?
The discarded statuary and gargoyles. Some of the statues placed in the attic were once relevant to their time but have been tucked away due to spatial concerns. These statues, coming back on to display, may resurrect some forgotten people they were fashioned to represent.

Your Facebook group has posts on more than just Westminster Abbey. What roles do history and archeology play in the fantasy you write?
I am an avid reader of history. My walls are lined with bookshelves of the stuff. I can never get the interconnectivity of past and present out of my head. This preoccupation with the past has very much part of the fiction that I write.

What are some of your favorite fantasy books?
One of the first books that I read was “A Wrinkle in Time”. It was given to me when I was in fourth grade,1962. 1962 was the year the book was initially published. Reading it was a great pleasure for me (no Dick, Jane Sally and Spot), I almost thought it was sinful because it was actually interesting. By sixth grade I was devouring J.R.R.Tolkien and H.P. Lovecraft.

Lord Dunsany is my favorite fantasy writer. Obviously Douglas Adams, has had a great influence on my style of writing…I hope that’s a good thing.


The Triforium by Mark Patton



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