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Backstory: Best — and Worst — Interview Setting


Published December 27, 2017 at 10:00 a.m.
Updated December 27, 2017 at 10:03 a.m.

Mike Scott - DON WHIPPLE
  • Don Whipple
  • Mike Scott

Game wardens are usually good interviews. They have great stories and, perhaps as a result of spending so much time alone, tend to be thoughtful and less guarded than their peers in other branches of law enforcement.

The downside: tracking them down.

In late January, Vermont Fish & Wildlife Department Game Warden Mike Scott risked his life in an attempt to save Richard LeBlanc, who fell through the ice while fishing on Lake Willoughby. The 62-year-old died despite Scott's heroic efforts, which involved plunging into the icy waters himself. To write a narrative feature about the attempted rescue, I needed to talk to Scott, who generously agreed to a face-to-face interview on his day off.

Where would I find the warden when he wasn't patrolling the frigid outdoors? Ice fishing on Lake Willoughby, of course.

Very early on a February morning, I hauled up to Westmore, pulled on my snow boots and trudged out onto the frozen lake to where Scott was already busy monitoring lines he had dropped into a hole in the ice.

It was a gorgeous spot. The sun shone brightly on the scenic lake, framed on either side by steep, glacier-cut cliffs. The wind kicked up occasional snow squalls.

Beauty aside, though, it wasn't an ideal place to conduct a lengthy, detailed interview. Billowing snow dampened my notebook. Even with gloves on, my hands started shaking, and I struggled to take legible notes. Scott, meanwhile, fished barehanded in temps that couldn't have exceeded 10 degrees.

Thankfully, though, the 32-year-old warden had plenty to say. He patiently explained the minutiae of ice fishing and ice rescues, and he had a good memory for the details of the fateful day I was attempting to capture. This was remarkable, given the emotional stress of that day: He'd realized midway through the rescue attempt that he knew the man he was trying to save.

My favorite part was about Scott's baby girl, who was born six months before the accident. He and his wife gave her a middle name that acknowledges her Northeast Kingdom roots: Willoughby.