Mus­ings a long, bumpy Prairie road

Winnipeg Free Press - Section G - - BOOKS - Re­viewed by Graeme Voyer

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.

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