TEXT BY SARAH STEBBINS
The shingled bungalow on Sutton Island where author Rachel Field spent summers was long abandoned when Robin Clifford Wood first stepped inside. And yet: “You know how sometimes you walk into a room after a big party and you can feel the human energy? That’s what I felt — a stirring,” says Wood, who lives in Hampden. There are no roads on Sutton, so residents transport their belongings by boat, brute force, and wheelbarrow — and tend to leave them behind. In Field’s house there remains her wooden sleigh bed, wicker living-room chairs, Scottie-dog trinkets, and even a galley proof of her 1930 book, A Circus Garland: Poems, one of dozens of works of fiction and verse she wrote for children and adults.
In 1994, when Wood and her husband purchased the place, known to Sutton Islanders as the Field House, she began immersing herself in Field’s writing, in which Maine looms large. Her Newbery Medal-winning Hitty: Her First Hundred Years is set here, and copies of her poem “If Once You Have Slept on an Island” can be found in most homes on Sutton, Wood says. Inhabiting Field’s literary and earthly worlds set Wood on a decade-long “treasure hunt” to uncover the lost details of Field’s life, which was laced with tragedy. Her findings, interspersed with poignant, personal letters to her subject, are compiled in the first biography of the author, The Field House, out this month.
Among the book’s most heartbreaking revelations are the circumstances surrounding Field’s sudden death, in 1942, at age 47. “It was extremely hard to write her death — it chokes me up to this day,” Wood says. “But I feel ready to send her light back into the world.”