Musings a long, bumpy Prairie road
ALTHOUGH he does not use the term, Trevor Herriot is having a midlife crisis. Despite having a job and a family, the Saskatchewan-based author and naturalist, now in his early 50s, is deeply dissatisfied with his life. He decides that a good long walk may help him to sort through his problems. Travelling through prairie and parkland, he embarks on a three-day late-summer journey by foot, from his home in Regina to his property 65 kilometres east of the city. The Road is How is his account of the journey. The literal events of his walk, however, serve as a springboard for the pseudophilosophical musings which comprise the bulk of his narrative. This book is disappointing. It is a self-indulgent exercise that strives for profundity, but does not achieve it. It does, however, have some redeeming qualities. Herriot is a brilliant naturalist. He can identify virtually all of the flora and fauna that he encounters, and his knowledge of bird life is prodigious. He has a keen eye for the details of his surroundings, which he is able to relate in vivid, evocative prose. For example, here is how he describes the open prairie just outside of the environs of Regina: “Things have quietened, now that I am past the shortcut for commuters. The odd plane drifts overhead, but finally the sound of the crickets is louder than the thrum of the city behind me.” Unfortunately, Herriot’s gropings for spiritual meaning, occasioned by his walk, are far less felicitous. He has a penchant for inflated, obscure language. An example, chosen at random: “Like all intimacies, our deepest exchanges with the otherness of our world involve physical gestures, touch and sustained stillness within a mutual embrace. Any glance, squeeze, hug, or kiss we give or receive bears a weight of intention or energy. If we are awake, we will know exactly where the gesture rests on the spectrum from formality through manipulation, betrayal, lust, gift and love.” Numerous similar passages of such essentially meaningless language could be provided.
Herriot’s critique of Christianity is dubious. He thinks that Christianity accepts and rationalizes the despoilment of the natural environment. It does not occur to him that the philosophy that undergirded such despoilment represented a turning away from Christianity.
his book, then, is an uneven achievement. Its great strength is acute observation of the natural world, an acumen that does not extend to the author’s philosophical musings, expressed in a turgid diction that obscures rather than clarifies.
Graeme Voyer is a Winnipeg writer.