Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION
By Ariel Gordon
Regina writer and naturalist Trevor Herriot has twice had books
nominated for the Governor General's Award for Non-Fiction. He's written
radio documentaries for CBC's Ideas and is an in-demand public speaker
on conservation issues.
But after a battle to keep pigeons and
their associated mites from infesting his house that wound up with
Herriot taking a serious fall from a ladder, he felt irritable and
disengaged from both the natural world and his work.
So he did a three-day fast on a hill. And then a 64-kilometre walk on the prairie, all by himself.
The result of this journey is The Road is How, which launched this week. He recently talked with Winnipeg writer Ariel Gordon.
AG: What do you want people to know about The Road Is How?
TH: This book draws outside the lines of
traditional nature writing and takes a few risks. Rather than stick with
the lyrical lament for lost ecologies or searching at the social and
economic level for the causes of environmental degradation, in The Road
is How I try to deepen the narrative inquiry a bit. Using experiences
and stories from life, I ask some questions about the forces in the
individual human heart that determine how we relate to one another and
to the land.
We can try to argue for the protection of
a river, a forest or a piece of prairie by measuring its long-term
ecological and economic benefits, but these are almost always outweighed
by immediate benefits that go directly to human beings. Behind that
small-minded pragmatism there is a madness driving us farther away from
the wisdom and love that would help us make better choices for our
community and nature. What is the nature of that madness, and how do we
begin to wake up from its spell? Science and reason are essential for
helping us argue and present the data, but to go deeper and inquire into
the forces at play in the human heart is to enter the murkier terrain
of the imagination, eros, narrative, and psyche. To get there, I borrow
two traditional practices that plains people still use now and then: a
long sit on a hilltop and a long walk on a road.
AG: You've done a
lot of work around the federal government's decommissioning of the PFRA,
the protected pasture/grasslands that spread from Alberta to Manitoba.
What would you most like to see happen with that land? (And is it the
subject of your next book?)
TH: We would like to see the land
retained as Crown land and then managed as it was under the PFRA, for a
sustainable balance of conservation and grazing. There are many ways we
could do that and do it well, in ways that would serve the farmers and
ranchers who depend on these lands for grazing, while at the same time
protecting and managing the habitat for 30 species at risk.
AG: When/how does a nature writer
become a naturalist? Was it as hard to claim that title as it was
'writer'? And how does a naturalist differ from a biologist or a
TH: I would say it works the other way
around: Not all nature writers are skilled naturalists, but naturalists
sometimes become writers. A naturalist is someone who pursues the art
and tradition of natural history by spending time in nature, observing,
making notes and sometimes participating in activities that contribute
to our understanding of nature, the behaviour, population and
distribution of wild plants and animals.
AG: Tell me about your favourite place to go walking.
TH: I like to walk the hills and coulees
of the Qu'Appelle River watershed, which is my home landscape sprawling
across a good stretch of Treaty 4 territory. The natural history and
human history of this corner of the northern Great Plains is still
there, to be encountered along the meandering creeks and uplands that
drain into the valley.
AG: Have you ever been to Winnipeg? What have you heard?
TH: Of course—I love to come to the
Winnipeg Folk Festival, and so much of our history and ecology is shared
and convergent with life as it has emerged at the forks of the Red and