A beautiful book written by Grey Owl, first published in London by Lovat in 1936. It was his fourth and last book, and was very popular. This popularity continues and the book has been reprinted many times. It is frequently illustrated with reproductions of black and white photographs of animals, lakes, rivers, men in canoes, and other scenes of the Canadian wild.
These collected stories of Grey Owl include some of his most famous works: "The Tree," written from the perspective of an ancient mountain jack-pine; "Mississauga," a four-part novella about traveling the Canadian waterways with a brigade of fire rangers; and "Ajawaan," concerning his life with the wild things on the shore of the lake in Prince Albert National Park where he established a beaver preserve, populated by Jellyroll and Rawhide and their annual offspring.
Grey Owl writes beautifully, and reading his descriptions of the land he loves and the people who live there is a sure treat. Some of the stories in this volume are humorous, some are reverent, and some are like earnest pleas for understanding. By writing about the wild places he knew best, Grey Owl hoped to convince the Canadian easterners and townsfolk to save some of it. He saw civilization coming west rapidly during his lifetime, destroying the forests, exterminating the animals, and he wanted people to know what they were losing before it was too late. He believed that the Indian way of life, which had worked for ages before the coming of the white people, was better for preserving the land, but he sadly recognized that the Indians could no longer compete with the invaders. The Indians who fill his stories are mostly old men who live in the past and younger ones who have left the traditional ways and assimilated the new culture.
One of the humorous tales, related by Red Landreville, a notorious teller-of-tall-tales, explains the way to catch rabbits, "a secret known only to the Indians and himself."
"Rabbits have a way of sitting around at night in circles...and they sit there thumping their hind feet on the ground--don't they?" he referred to me, and I had to admit that this was true. Having very adroitly made me an accessory, he continued: "Well they always go to the same place to hold their fiestas, and where they sit gets kind of worn, in a circle. Well, you go around through the bush until you find a place like that, and then you put stones inside the ring, one in front of where you think each rabbit is going to sit; some stones will be right and some won't, but that's all right, because you don't want to kill 'em all. All you got to do is sprinkle some red pepper on the rocks and go away. You see, when the rabbits bang their hind feet on the ground, they kind of bob their heads down...Well, when they bang their feet they bob their heads, see, and when they bob their heads they get the pepper that's on the stone in their noses and then they commence to sneeze, and sneeze and sneeze, banging their heads until the knock their fool brains out on the stones. All you do is go round in the morning and collect. Nothin' to it!" (from "Red Landreville")
In the opening lines of "On Comfort," Grey Owl explains his deviatory writing style:
I had a friend, an old trapper, who was an acknowledged expert at this method; he once started off on a story about a pet frog and ended up with a vivid description of a man being chased by elephants in the heart of Africa.
Many of the tales do just that. Sometimes he finds himself preaching to the reader, sounding much like people today
...I view with small esteem the soft usages that civilization would have me now adopt. Specious advertisements urge me to indulge in stimulants to the limit, suggesting that they are good for me, and asserting naively that theirs is the very best kind and hasn't a kick in a crateful. I am asked to give way to excuses of all sorts (being sure to use our particular brand made especially for you), because self-indulgence is so much easier than self-control. I am menaced on all sides by B.O., B.B. ("bad breath"), athlete's ankles, red toothbrush, cosmetic complexion and complete social ostracism, and will very probably end up in a dishonoured grave that will be neglected by my friends if I do not obey the behests of those steely-eyed medical gentlemen who stare so fiercely out at me, some pointing at me with accusing forefinger, from the advertising pages of the magazines, insisting that I eat plenty of yeast or it will be the worse for me. (from "Requiem")
It is for the stories of the Beaver People that Grey Owl is most famous, and these glimpses into their way of life are charming and never dull. Grey Owl's pair build their lodge inside his cabin and raise their litters of tiny kittens there year after year, giving him ample time to observe their personalities, their methods of building, and their parenting skills. Really, when the last page is turned, one can't help feeling a little disappointed that the book has come to an end.