May 7, 2014 8:33 pm

Shaped by Farley Mowat’s storytelling

Watch above: Canada has lost one of the most beloved and prolific authors, Farley Mowat. Christina Stevens takes a look at his life and legacy.

I am among the millions of Canadians who were shaped by the storytelling of Farley Mowat.

I read Never Cry Wolf when I was a kid and it has always stuck with me.

READ MORE: Canadian author Farley Mowat dies at 92

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It not only made me love reading, it made me look at the natural world with new respect.

I was gripped by the his tales of adventure, inspired by his awe of nature, and learned how fear can blind people from seeing the truth.

And, his humour made it all a joy to read. (Look up granny’s encounter with catfish in the toilet.)

He brought alive the Canadian landscape, it’s vastness and what small specks we human are upon on it.

he was adamant that we learn to live in harmony with the natural world, and try to make amends for the havoc we have created.

For a period of time while reading Never Cry Wolf, I fancied myself as an amateur biologist.

I didn’t have any packs of wolves to study, so I tried to find an equivalent.

On a prairie grain farm, there weren’t too many choices.

A flock of free range chickens? Yawn. Our 15 or so farm cats? Too domesticated. I finally settled on pigeons.

I climbed up the ladder to the attic of the chicken coop, where several dozen pigeons nested.

In the height of summer I sweated up there for hours, lying on a bed of pigeon poop observing their behavior and learning not very much at all. Until my mother figured out where I was and demanded I come down from that filthy poop-filled place.

I did, but kept reading.

When I got to Chapter 11 (Souris a la crème) I was inspired to try something new. After all, we had plenty of mice on the farm. I managed to prise a dead one from the mouth of one of the cats, and decided to try my hand at skinning it.

I won’t go into detail, but suffice to say it isn’t easy, especially since my mother caught me trying to sneak a sharp knife out of the house and when I wouldn’t tell her why, she insisted on replacing it with a very small, very dull one.

I never did get enough mice to try making Souris a la crème, but I did end up with one very small mouse pelt which my mother refused to allow in the house.

I know the book has been criticized by some as more fable than fact. But that has never bothered me.

I didn’t take his work to be a scientific analysis. He was first and foremost a storyteller, and was proud of that.

His work spoke to me more about the universal truths of man and nature and our place on the earth than about specific facts.

That is the role of a storyteller, and that’s why I think his work will live on.

Here’s a quote I found from him that I think sums up his legacy:

“It is to this new-found resolution to reassert our indivisibility with life, to recognize the obligations incumbent upon us as the most powerful and deadly species ever to exist, and to begin making amends for the havoc we have wrought, that my own hopes for a revival and continuance of life on earth now turn. If we persevere in this new way we may succeed in making man humane … at last.”
― Farley Mowat

© Shaw Media, 2014

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