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Casting into Mystery
Excerpt

From "The Company of Rivers"

I have enjoyed the company of rivers all my life. They have been the stitches that have woven the embroidery of my life. It began with the Thames River in my hometown of London, Ontario. I lived within walking distance of the river until I left for university at the age of 21, never to return permanently.

For the first decade, I lived four blocks from the south branch of the Thames. I recall being eight or nine years old and making rafts out of pallets salvaged from General Steel Wares, located along the river for four or five city blocks. (I would be the fourth generation to work at the appliance manufacturer.) Accompanied by a couple of school chums, we were Huck Finns ready to light out on our river.

Later I lived a block from its forks, where the north and south branches converge in the shadow of Museum London, the historic County Court House and Labatt Park, the oldest continuously operating baseball park in the world. The area was once known as Skunk's Hollow. I crossed the Dundas Street Bridge for the four years I attended H.B. Beal Secondary School and worked as a bell hop at the Hotel London.

...

Then there was the Otonabee River in Peterborough, where I earned an honours bachelor's degree from Trent University. Margaret Laurence refers to it in The Diviners as the River of Now and Then that flows both ways. One of my English professors, Barbara Rooke, told me she read one of my essays to Laurence over afternoon tea in nearby Lakefield, where the writer lived in a converted funeral home. In the essay I compared the notion of a river flowing both ways to Coleridge's 'Frost at Midnight', one of my favourite poems.

I befriended the St. John River for the 18 months I lived in Fredericton earning a master's degree in English from the University of New Brunswick while working on construction with a group of men on day parole after being convicted of sundry misdemeanours.

I spent nine months in Timmins, located on the banks of the Mattagami River, which was frozen for much of the time I was city editor at The Daily Press-Lord Thompson of Fleet's crumbling Art Deco dream in the cold heart of mining country.

I was introduced to the Grand River in 1984 when I joined the Brantford Expositor. One of my beat responsibilities was covering the Six Nations Reserve, so I came to learn that in 1784 the Haldimand Proclamation awarded the Haudenosaunee (Iroquois), also known as the Six Nations Confederacy, a tract of land spanning 10 kilometres on either side of the Grand, totalling 3,800 square kilometres. The decree was signed by Sir Frederick Haldimand, governor of Québec, in acknowledgement of the support the British received from their indigenous allies in the American Revolutionary War.

As my former newspaper colleague Bob Burtt records in his book rare Moments in Time-a history of the rare Charitable Research Reserve in Cambridge, Ontario-the Grand's series of name changes reflects its history. Those who travelled its route for two millennia called it Tintaatuoa, French fur traders named it La rivière Rapide as early as 1669. It was later known as the River Urse. By the mid-1770s it was La Grande Rivière, and finally the Grand River.

I moved upriver two years later when I landed at the Waterloo Region Record. I have lived in Waterloo Region ever since, longer than anywhere else. It is where my sons Dylan and Robin were born.

I know the Grand best for the simple reason that it is where I learned to fly fish. Fly rods are instruments of knowledge. The best way of learning about city or forest is on foot. Likewise, the best way of learning about a river is on foot, wading. Wading a river is travelling a living past, traversing the currents of history and geography.

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The Flying Zoo

The Flying Zoo

Birds, Parasites, and the World They Share
edition:eBook
also available: Paperback
tagged : ornithology, birds
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Murder

Murder

And Other Essays
edition:Hardcover
tagged : essays
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Effin' Birds

Effin' Birds

A Field Guide to Identification
edition:Hardcover
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Lost Feast

Lost Feast

Culinary Extinction and the Future of Food
edition:Hardcover
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Excerpt

To understand these culinary extinction threats, imagine a feast. It can be any feast: a Las Vegas buffet, a family holiday dinner, a South Pacific pit BBQ, or an Indonesian rijsttafel, the classic meal of many small dishes, served for special occasions.  Imagine a meal with many dishes and more food than can possibly be eaten at once. There are two things in that feast, aside from a great deal of hidden labour. There are dozens, if not hundreds, of species of plants and animals, a sort of culinary menagerie. There is also a huge body of culinary knowledge, the accumulated knowledge of growing, harvesting, processing and preparing foods handed down and improved upon over generations. A feast is a bit like a book, but a tasty book we read through eating. Now imagine that the dishes start to disappear one by one. The raspberries for the waffles, the sage on the Thanksgiving turkey, the poi or the pisang goreng. Gone. Slowly the table becomes less interesting, less captivating, and as each species disappears, the accompanying cultural knowledge vanishes with it.

This is the paradox of the lost feast. Even as we enjoy a time in which food is cheaper, more diverse and more available than ever before, the spectre of extinction threatens to radically challenge how we eat. In fact, it is already happening.

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