Farewell, Mr. Mowat
Even if his last name is radically different from mine and he was from a very different part of the country, I still feel like Farley Mowat was part of our family. Growing up in Quebec, his books were all around our house, as my sister and I, both avid readers, collected his books through the monthly Scholastic Book Club program.
My favourite books were those that had to do with the North, particularly Lost in the Barrens, People of the Deer and of course Never Cry Wolf. These books had a profound impact on me, feeding an ever-growing interest in the relatively unspoiled wilderness of the North and the people who'd managed to etch out an existence there since time immemorial.
I first got my taste of the North in 1983, mapping glacial deposits as a summer student for the Geological Survey of Canada along the Coppermine River in the central Northwest Territories. Traipsing across the tundra that summer, I often felt like Mowat himself, encountering herds of caribou (sometimes being surrounded by them as they often appeared out of seemingly nowhere to take over the landscape I happened to be wondering through), wolves and countless birds nesting amid the low-lying Arctic vegetation.
We also came across numerous tent rings and this made me wonder about the human inhabitants of this vast and foreboding landscape — the people of the deer Mowat had written about. This wonder never quite left me and eventually drove me to get my teaching credential and return to the North to teach in remote Inuit and Dene villages of the eastern and western Arctic.
My five-year teaching stint in the North remains a lifetime highlight for me. Decades later I still carry around with me countless images of a hauntingly beautiful land, rich and exotic cultural experiences and close friendships with the hardy people who call this land home.
Thanks, Farley, for introducing me to a beautiful and very special part of our country most people never get a chance to see, and inspiring me to experience it first-hand. I am so much richer for it.