Posts Tagged ‘Nature’

river for my sidewalk gilean douglas 001River for My Sidewalk by Gilean Douglas ~ 1953. Originally published under the pseudonym Grant Madison. This edition: Sono Nis Press, 1984. Softcover. ISBN: 0-919203-41-8. 132 pages.

My rating: 7/10, after some consideration. Some of these short anecdotes and essays are solid 10s, some are not.

I’ve been slightly sidelined with a minor virus these past few days, and the upside is that while I’m just feeling sub-par enough to take a break from most of my more strenuous everyday chores, I’m perfectly able to putter about in the garden, do some gentle weeding, tomato-staking and pruning, watering, and definitely take advantage of the down time to read and type. So, having ambitiously started a number of reviews, I may just get a few more than usual launched in the next day or so. Or perhaps I’ll take advantage of the WordPress feature which allows us to schedule posts for future dates, something I’ve never yet had to do, as there is definitely no backlog of things ready to share! If anything, I frequently post before all of the final tweaking is done, catching typos and awkward phrasings after I’ve hit the “Publish” button. Luckily there is an “Edit” feature, too…

I picked up this particular book at The Final Chapter in Prince George last week, while browsing the excellent Canadiana section. Being rather partial to memoirs in general and British Columbia rural and wilderness settings and history in particular, River for My Sidewalk‘s back cover blurbs pretty well guaranteed my purchase.

About the Author

Gilean Douglas has been a newspaper reporter, copywriter, editor, columnist and, throughout and still, a freelancer. Her work has appeared in numerous periodicals both here and abroad, including Chatelaine, Saturday Evening Post, Canadian Business, Audubon, the New York Times and, by actual count, 144 other periodicals. She has five volumes of poetry to her name, one of light verse, and three nonfiction titles. Four of her poems were set to music and published by Schirmers and others received choral settings and have been performed at [various venues] and in concert. She edited Modern Pioneers for the B.C. Women’s Institute after holding local, district, provincial and national office in that organization.

Gilean Douglas now [in 1984] resides on Cortes Island, where she is a Weather Observer with Environment Canada (receiving four awards for her work) and a Search and Rescue Agent. In her spare time she raises plants, produce, and bulbs.

About the Book

Gilean Douglas spent close to a decade living alone in a small wilderness cabin in the Cascade mountains. River for My Sidewalk, first edition, was originally published…in October of 1953, under the male pseudonym of Grant Madison. The reading public of that time would have doubted the authenticity of a woman managing in the circumstances described. But Gilean Douglas did more than manage, she thrived in the isolation and completeness that solitude brings. Well before the days of liberated females, Ms. Douglas chose, lived, survived, and savoured a self-sufficient existence in an area that is still considered wild and inaccessible. Her story is timeless and the observations are lyrically clear…

Gilean Douglas: Naturalist, feminist, farmer, poet, author.

Gilean Douglas: Naturalist, feminist, farmer, poet, author.

Well, I’d never heard of the woman myself, but who could resist finding out more? And, after reading River for My Sidewalk, I did just that. What an absolutely fascinating woman Gilean Douglas must have been! And not just fascinating, but, for all of her quirks and her unhappy history with husbands, apparently much admired and beloved by her friends and neighbours. Here is an excerpt from a longer biography in B.C. Bookworld:

Gilean Douglas, author of River for My Sidewalk (1953), was a female Thoreau of Canada. A loner from a well-to-do family, she retreated to wilderness cabins and became an environmentalist before the word existed, leaving four marriages behind her.

Gilean Douglas, born in Toronto in 1900, was orphaned at age 16 and soon became a reporter. She travelled extensively prior to her arrival in B.C. in 1938 where she first lived in a cabin on the Coquihalla River. She then moved to an abandoned miner’s shack on the Teal River near Duncan, B.C. “It was the great moment of my life when I waded the Teal River,” she wrote, “with my packboard on my back and stood at last on my own ground. I can never describe the feeling that surged up inside me then. . . I felt kinship in everything around me, and the long city years of noise and faces were just fading photographs.” Subsisting mainly on produce from her garden, Douglas began to write about her adventures but could not find acceptance as a woman writing about outdoor life. Adopting the male pseudonym Grant Madison did the trick—and she published River For My Sidewalk, her best-known book.

Gilean Douglas continued to use her male name until 1983 when she revealed herself in a Vancouver Sun interview. Douglas next moved to Cortes Island, near Campbell River. “I have spoken many times of ‘my land’ and ‘my property’, but how foolish it would be of me to believe that I possessed something which cannot be possessed,” she once wrote. Along with seven poetry books, she produced two more meditative memoirs, Silence is My Homeland: Life on Teal River (1978) and The Protected Place (1979). The latter describes life on her 140-acre homestead on Cortes Island where she was employed as an Environment Canada weather observer and a Search and Rescue agent. Her cottage was situated at Channel Rock on Uganda Pass. For nine years she served as the Cortes representative on the Comox-Strathcona Regional Board. Gilean Douglas also contributed a nature column called “Nature Rambles” to the Victoria Daily Colonist (which became the Times Colonist in 1980) for 31 years, from 1961 to 1992, a longevity for a B.C. columnist that places in her in the company of Eric Nicol and Arthur Mayse. She died on Cortes Island in 1993.

And for a much longer and much more detailed biography, Andrea Lebowitz’s well-researched and fascinating article, Narratives of Coming Home: Gilean Douglas and Nature Writing, is a must-read.

Well, this is all well and good, but how does River for My Sidewalk measure up to its author’s infinitely intriguing promise?

I must say that I had high expectations, just from reading the cover material and from my quick perusal of the contents before I purchased the book. And I did enjoy reading it, though it went in a little different direction than I had anticipated.

Something about the tone of the narrative voice struck me as a little bit odd, and occasionally forced, and it wasn’t until I twigged to the fact that the author was carefully phrasing her passages to make the book appear as if it were written by a man that the penny dropped. I had started out assuming that the reader was aware that the writer was indeed a woman, and once I revised this assumption and allowed for the time of writing and publication, the late 1940s and early 1950s, the rather coy slant was understandable, and therefore much more acceptable.

Gilean Douglas writes in a strongly opinionated manner. She lays down the law as she sees it, unapologetically critical of mankind’s abuse of nature, and eloquently defensive of the way in which she has chosen to retreat from the mainstream world. She never condemns the city dweller as such, acknowledging that it would be an impossibility for all to strive for her type of lifestyle, but she has little patience for the squeamish and feeble-hearted visitor to the bush who quails at the thought of coming across a cougar or bear, or of crossing a river on an open cable car, or of hiking miles for a casual neighbourly visit.

Much of the book is an enthusiastic tribute to the natural world, phrased in glowing and effusive tones. Possibly just a little too glowing and effusive? The style frequently seems a bit dated even for the time of writing, being perhaps more typical of the century before; it reminds me of those rather stilted memoirs one frequently comes across hiding behind ornate covers in the antique books section of the better second hand book stores.

Example:

The day is my friend. I meet it with outstretched hand and use every moment of it to the utmost. Sitting in the house I have partially built I eat the food which I have grown for myself. I have tried to learn everything there is to know about the trees, flowers, birds, animals, insects and rocks which are all around me. It has taken me years and will take more years, but I feel that every grain of such knowledge brings me closer to the great harvest of the universe.

The night is my love. Dusk comes with the benediction  of the thrush and the darkening of river water. The clearing is all shadow and the forest dim with mystery. The shade climbs higher and higher up the mountains which ring my valley, leaving only the peaks crested with sunlight. Everything becomes slower and more silent as the dusk deepens into night. Then stars burn silver in the sky and sometimes the moon sails a midnight sea to a port beyond the tall evergreens of Home Wood. This has been the way of night in the wilderness for untold eons. How few living now have ever known it as I do! Campers, fishermen, hunters come in here bringing their shouts and drinking and luxuries. They go home to boast of their wilderness adventures, but all they take away is a paste jewel in a plastic setting.

And then there are the passages like these:

Spring has swept away the last patch of her snow with her green-twigged broom and hung out the clouds to bleach…

and

When burning … fir and hemlock have their swan song of beauty… as needles become rosettes of flame which shimmer and fade along the twigs, transforming each one into a garland for some fire queen’s shining hair…

But for all the occasionally purple prose there is much beautifully phrased and sincerely presented, as Gilean Douglas documents the thoughts of her long solitudes. I buried all my qualms when I read this:

We are all strangers here, but no one more so than the person who is out of step with the time. If you are that person you will be understood – and then only imperfectly – by just one or two of all those you know and perhaps by none at all. To the others you will always be suspect. The timid will be afraid o be seen with you; the bold will say they cannot be bothered with anyone who is more interested in the future of the world than in whether today’s market is going up or the price of tomorrow’s whisky going down.

Most of this ostracism will bother you very little for there is nothing you like better than quietness and privacy. But not every moment of your life. In books you can find the comradeship and understanding you are denied by living men, but even so you are hungry for a good heart-to-heart talk with someone who comprehends you intellectually and emotionally. If you are lucky you will come across one or two people with whom you can exchange ideas, and if you are luckier still you will marry one of them…

…[An] urgent sense of the shortness of life, perhaps more than anything else, distinguishes the man out of step with his time from his fellow beings. He sees time wasting everywhere around him and he is disgusted and alarmed. He knows that it is all wrong; that life is precious and should be used for precious things. Not that he believes in all work and no play, but simply that his idea of play differs from the bridging, gossiping, clock-watching, pulp-reading average. To him play is a change of occupation – perhaps from writing to splitting wood – while relaxation is letting go completely in sleep, laughter or lying on a summer hill watching the clouds drift over and “growing soul”…

An unusual and admirable woman, this Gilean Douglas, and one whom I will be seeking to acquaint myself with more deeply through her other writings. Apparently the two 1970s memoirs are not quite so gushing, and are more contemporary in tone, though they are not as well known (relatively speaking) as River for My Sidewalk.

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enchanted summer gabrielle roy 2 001Enchanted Summer by Gabrielle Roy ~ 1972. Published in French as Cet été qui chantait. This edition: McClelland and Stewart, 1976. Translated by Joyce Marshall. Hardcover. ISBN: 0-7710-7832-5. 125 pages.

My rating: 8/10.

This is a slight and delicate compilation of short (some very short) vignettes written by the esteemed francophone author during one of her summers residing in a little house she had purchased in 1957 in the rural village Petite-Rivière-Saint-François, Charlevoix County, Quebec.

People come and go throughout Gabrielle’s summer; her husband Marcel Carbotte, various acquaintances from far and wide, her local friends, and, most frequently, her closest neighbours, Berthe and Aimé, with whom she peaceably shared a fenceline.

Many of the vignettes are fragmentary glimpses of nature and landscape, snapshots of a moment captured in words. Gabrielle and Berthe walk along the railroad line to a small pool inhabited by a responsive bullfrog, Monsieur Toong; Gabrielle ponders the wild garden which grows on an uncultivated bit of farmland; the intellectual capabilities of Aimé’s placid cows are considered; the gentle life of  Jeannot the crow is captured in words as he sways in the wild cherry tree, and his sad fate is documented.

Wildflowers, birds, domestic animals are all considered and watched with interest and the author’s observations are gently and humorously related to the reader. The beauty of the landscape is frequently detailed, and the sights, sounds and fragrances of what seems to be a time of great peace and contentment; even the occasional storm does not break the mood of repose. These summers by the river were Gabrielle’s time of retreat and (relative) solitude, in which she refreshed herself from the busy social life of her winter residence in Quebec City, and from the cares of her family – two ailing sisters in Manitoba were often visited – and a time of concentrated writing.

Most of these small stories are centered on animals, but the two most poignant, and to my mind the most memorable, involve people.

Elderly cousin Martine comes for a two weeks’ visit in the country; living in a small city apartment and frail to the point of immobility, she longs for a glimpse of the river of her childhood. One day, without telling Martine’s sons what they are planning, Berthe and Gabrielle laboriously support and carry her down to the river, where for a while she revisits her long lost youth.

For my part, the more I looked at her the more I was reminded of those pilgrims of the Ganges in Benares, whom one sees with loincloths tucked up, frighteningly thin but their faces illuminated with fervour…

…Suddenly, barefoot on the rim of the summer sky, she began to ask questions – doubtless the only ones that matter.

“Why do we live? What are we sent to do on this earth? Why do we suffer so and feel lonely? What are we waiting for? What is at the end of it all? Eh? Eh?”

Her tone was not sorrowful. Troubled perhaps at the beginning. But gradually it became confident. As if, though she didn’t quite know the answer, she already senses that it was good. And she was content at last that she had lived…

And, in a remembrance of a long-ago month as a substitute teacher in a very small, poor, rural Manitoba settlement, Gabrielle recounts her visit to the house of one of the school pupils, who has just died of T.B. The other schoolchildren, who have been apathetic towards their temporary teacher, unbend as they tell her about the sadly fated Yolande. With sudden inspiration, Gabrielle suggests they pick the wild roses growing in the clearing outside Yolande’s cabin, to give tribute to their friend.

On our return we pulled them gently apart and scattered petals over the dead child. Soon only her face emerged from the pink drift. Then – how could this be? – it looked a little less forlorn.

The children formed a ring around their schoolmate and said of her without the bitter sadness of the morning, “She must have got to heaven by this time.”

Or, “She must be happy now.”

I listened to them, already consoling themselves as best they could for being alive.

But why, oh why, did the memory of that dead child seek me out today in the very midst of the summer that sang?

Was it brought to me just now by the wind with the scent of roses?

A scent I have not much liked since the long ago June when I went to the poorest of villages – to acquire, as they say, experience.

As I said early on, this is a slight and quickly read memoir, but one that has a decided charm and a strong sense of atmosphere and place. Very well suited to a peaceful summer afternoon read, preferably in the shade of your own particular tree, with birdsong and dancing shadows for counterpoint.

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Welsh Poppy, Minter Gardens

Welsh Poppy, Minter Gardens

Minter Gardens, May 29, 2013

Minter Gardens, May 29, 2013

The coolest water feature ever - the "water wall" at Minter Gardens.

The coolest water feature ever – the “water wall” at Minter Gardens.

 

Clematis, holly, grass, rock - Minter Gardens.

Clematis, holly, grass, rock – Minter Gardens.

Gunnera detail, Minter Gardens.

Gunnera detail, Minter Gardens.

 

Bridal Veil Falls, near Chilliwack, B.C.

Bridal Veil Falls, near Chilliwack, B.C.

Water power, natural sculpture at the foot of Bridal Falls.

Water power, natural sculpture at the foot of Bridal Falls.

Maidenhair fern, B.C. coastal forest.

Maidenhair fern, B.C. coastal forest.

B.C.'s provincial flower, Pacific Dogwood, Cornus nuttallii.

B.C.’s provincial flower, Pacific Dogwood, Cornus nuttallii.

Pacific Dogwood in fir forest, near Alexandra Bridge, Fraser Canyon. May 29, 2013.

Pacific Dogwood in fir forest, near Alexandra Bridge, Fraser Canyon. May 29, 2013.

These dogwood flowers are big, as you can see by my hand holding the branch.

These dogwood flowers are big, as you can see by my hand holding the branch.

Pictures from our recent excursion to the lower mainland. We took time out on our final day to botanize and tourist our way home. Didn’t take too many pictures, but these are a sampling of what we saw in our travels.

Beautiful British Columbia – the clichéd phrase is so very true!

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HAPPY EASTER!

Wishing you all a peaceful, joyous day!

Crocus & Bumblebee, March 13, 2013

Crocus & Bumblebee, March 30, 2013

Iris reticulata

Iris reticulata

Sagebrush buttercups blooming in the sunny spots on the hillside.

Sagebrush buttercups blooming in the sunny spots on the hillside.

Photos courtesy of my son, out and about and documenting our signs of spring.

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the autobiography david suzukiDavid Suzuki: The Autobiography by David Suzuki ~ 2006. This edition: Greystone Books, 2006. Hardcover. ISBN: 1-55365-156-1. 404 pages.

My rating: 5/10. Interesting to get some of Suzuki’s back story, but sadly my personal regard for this enviro-icon took a small step downward after reading it. It seems like the ego displayed here is as large as the legend.

*****

There’s a little comment someone made in my hearing years ago, which comes to mind right now: “If you want to know how good he is, just ask him”.

Packing a whole bundle of firewood on his shoulder (and understandably so) stemming from his family’s mistreatment during the World War II Japanese-Canadian internments and appropriation of property, David Suzuki grew up feeling like he had something to prove, and he’s succeeded to do just that, in spades. The depth of love/hate public feeling regarding this one soft-spoken and absolutely brilliant man goes to show how influential he has become.

The political right wing hates him, the lefties have made him their god. I tend to swing left, and I deeply admire David Suzuki for the focus on environmentalism he has forced into the public eye, but this autobiography shows all too clearly the god’s feet of clay.

This book looks back briefly to Suzuki’s childhood in B.C. Born in 1936, David Suzuki was six years old when he, his mother and sisters were interned in one of the camps for Japanese-Candians in the Slocan Valley. His father spent the war in a separate labour camp. After the war, the Suzukis moved to Ontario, where David completed his high school education before attending university in the U.S.A., attaining a PhD in Zoology in 1961.

Returning to Canada, Suzuki worked as a professor and researcher in genetics at the University of British Columbia. Branching out to participate in public education, he founded the popular CBC Radio science program Quirks and Quarks in 1974, and the iconic television series The Nature of Things in 1979. David Suzuki was a household name by the mid-70s, and his profile has grown exponentially through the years.

The Autobiography is honest enough in that Suzuki frankly discusses his two marriages and his shortcomings as a less than involved husband and father. His deep dedication to his work and his increasingly hectic public life often separated him from his family, and he freely admits that this is something he now regrets.

Most of this book is a listing of various events Suzuki has been involved in during the past twenty years; plenty of name-dropping of the celebrities he rubbed elbows with – Sting! Buffy St. Marie! John Denver! – and plenty of slightly patronizing commentary on how he brought this, that and the next thing to the public attention. True, so true, but the tone doesn’t feel very kind-spirited at times.

The writing is not the strong point here, either. The subject matter would be much more enthralling if it weren’t dealt with in such a flat “Then I said, then I did, then I said, then I did” manner. There are some personal anecdotes, mostly concerning his parents, and the death of his father, where he lets himself go, and these are the most poignant and memorable of this rather dull book.

I would say “read it” just to get a deeper understanding of this fascinating and frequently self-sacrificing man, but be prepared to come away feeling something like a member of the great unenlightened, living in the dark and waiting for The Master to flick the switch. You really want to know how good David Suzuki is? Read The Autobiography. He’ll tell you.

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the shape of a year jean hersey 001The Shape of a Year by Jean Hersey ~ 1967. This edition: Scribner’s, 1967. Hardcover. Library of Congress# 67-13158. 243 pages.

My rating: 6/10.

This is not at all a poor book, but rather an unexceptional one. Set in the author’s rural homeplace of Weston, Connecticut, here are month-by-month musings and reportings of the little incidents of her life. These definitely have a certain appeal, but there is a creeping banality clothed in florid description to some of what she judges worthy of note. Most of it is all very well and good, but while readable this does not promise to become a favourite.

As a personal record it seems just a bit too good to be true, a shade too sweet and optimistic; there is little record of any sort of frustration, annoyance, disappointment or anger; it is all very “nice”, as if the author decided ahead of time to only include the more inspiring incidents of her days. I think this would be a much stronger memoir if it showed a broader range of emotion.

Golly, these comments sound a little harsher than I had intended. Here, I’ll share some of the author’s words with you so you can get a better picture of what this one is all about. I suspect this author will appeal most to the Gladys Taber crowd. (For the record, I like Gladys Taber; my mother had a number of her Stillmeadow books and I read them with deep delight during my teen years.)

Jean Hersey, born in 1902 and living in the Eastern United States, in Pennsylvania and Connecticut, was a prolific writer of magazine articles for Woman’s Day and various gardening and houseplant periodicals. She also authored something like a dozen non-fiction books dealing with gardening, homemaking, and semi-rural life.

*****

From The Shape of a Year: January, 1965.

January mornings at seven are like opals, soft, milky white and pink around the edges. The January sun rises silvery white, bright but not warm, and a mist like an aura hovers over the south meadow.

One morning early as we ate breakfast, Bob was eyeing a cluster of many colored Christmas tree balls lying in one of the upholstered chairs. We had dismantled the tree the day before.

“They look,” said he sipping his coffee, “as if they were waiting for a goose to come along and hatch them.”

“It would have to be a golden goose,” I replied watching the stars laid on their shiny surfaces by the early sun streaming in the windows. Obviously no ordinary goose could sit on these bits of Christmas magic.

May, 1965:

May sweeps in on a theme of daffodils. I gather armfuls from the meadow and next day so many more unfold that I cannot see where I have picked. Along the roadside the willows are tumbled masses of pale green foam, and forsythia, in streaming fountains of flowers, reflects the sun’s golden rays. Here a dusky pink weeping cherry adds a soft note of color. There a magnolia tree is a bouquet of pink blossoms, and everywhere maples are shaking out their tight fists of green into lacy green leaves.

July, 1965:

Where is our grandson? I am waiting on the station platform for this young thirteen-year-old who will be carrying a suitcase and I don’t see him. Other people get off, but no Jeff. There is a boy down the platform – or is it a boy – it seems more like a thatched roof moving along.

“Hi, Grandma, here I am.”

“Why, Jeff,” I gasp. “Hello, how good to see you.”

I gasp because here we have the Beatles incarnate. I have no war with these young Englishmen beyond what they have done to the hairdos of America…

October, 1965:

The fragrance of burning leaves is another autumn delight. Their delicious rustle and the scent of their smoke invariably carries me back to the days when my father used to rake great piles to burn. Before he lit them my friends and I would burrow deep and hide ourselves in the slightly scratchy heaps. From here we would look out at the world through tiny odd-shaped chinks of light …

December, 1965:

These days the car is always filled with Christmas presents on the way in or the way out. One time we were in New York City with presents to deliver and we parked our convertible. When we returned the presents were gone and the top neatly slit with a little triangle just large enough to reach in and draw things out. The gifts did look rather festive with their gay paper and ribbons. I’ve often considered though, what their effect was on the person who appropriated them. He overlooked a suitcase and overcoat on the back seat, and took instead a package of wild bird food destined for my brother-in-law and a book called The Power of Constructive Thinking by Emmet Fox. I’ve never ceased to wonder about the reaction of this particular thief as he opened his haul.

*****

And there are recipes.

While I wouldn’t search this author out, I also wouldn’t turn down another of her books if it came to me cheap and easy, as this one did – on the bargain rack at a used bookstore this autumn.

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My Kingdom for a Donkey by Doris Rybot ~ 1963. This edition: Hutchinson & Co., 1963. First Edition. Hardcover. Line drawings by Douglas Hall. 128 pages.

My rating: Another unique book which is hard to rate. It’s centered on the author’s pet donkey, Dorcas, with predictable anecdotes about the creature itself, but it also ranges much more broadly into history, philosophy, animal rights and general opinionating by the author.

I liked it. I initially bought the book to give to a donkey-owning friend, but am finding it difficult to make up my mind to let it go just yet. And I love the illustrations. I should send it on its way back out into the world, but I strongly suspect I won’t.

Anyway – rating. I’m thinking 8/10. A slender little volume, but earnestly written, and beautifully sincere. Almost makes you yearn for a donkey of your own. (“Or not!” exclaims my reading-over-the-shoulder daughter, who has spent a number of sessions brushing out the knots in down-the-road Fanny’s woolly coat.)

*****

I’ve been carrying this one around with me for weeks, to the detriment of its rather fragile dustjacket, so I’ll try to pull off a quick review in my little window of time this evening so I can at last leave the poor thing on the shelf.

The author writes:

My own Dorcas is a plump, well-liking donkey. But even I – who can say of her as Sancho Panza said of his ass Dapple, she is the ‘delight of my eyes, my sweet companion’ – even I cannot call her beautiful. She is too like a child’s inexpert drawing, with her head absurdly big for the mouse-brown body that is at the same time neat and clumsy.

Poor grotesque beasts! Whose fault is it that they are as they are? From that day far down the increasing centuries, before the Pyramids, before Abraham, when the first wild ass was haltered and loaded. his kind have been abused, overweighted, beaten, ill-fed, chancily watered; kicks and goads have come their way more often than pats and praise. Little wonder they were reft of their real grace and swiftness to become the stunted toilers that we know, waifs of the world, clowns among horses, a byword for patience and humbleness.

This particular donkey has been acquired to keep the grass down on a small country acreage. She has not been neglected or abused, but instead was deliberately sought out and purchased from a horse dealer who kept the little jenny among a herd of ponies in the New Forest of England’s Hampshire region. Dorcas was a costly acquisition, donkeys apparently being rare and hard to come by in this particular place and time – England in the late 1950s – but the transaction was made and Dorcas soon adapted to her new home.

Dorcas’ new life was in no way harsh or unhappy; her days were filled with peaceful grazing and visits over the fence with many passers-by, occasionally pulling a small cart, being taken for short rides by her owner and visiting children, and, on one memorable occasion, embarrassing her owner mightily by refusing to participate in a horse show in the most public fashion possible, by rooting herself immovably in the show ring as the rest of the participants circled round in perfect form.

Dorcas provided her owner with years of interest and pleasure, mostly by her mere possession and the enjoyment of watching her carry on her natural inclinations and habits.

Doris Rybot tells the tale of Dorcas with the minimum of sentimentality – she sees her donkey and her own role as animal owner and caregiver through pragmatic eyes – but at the same time she speaks most movingly about the treatment of Dorcas’s tribe through the centuries, and expands this to a plea to treat all animals with respect. In between personal anecdotes featuring not only Dorcas but the other animals in her life, Doris retells a number of legends and Biblical stories in which the humble ass takes a prominent part.

An unusual and very heartfelt book, by a writer who has a deep and articulate love of all creatures from the lowliest insect to humankind itself. A hidden gem of a book, which I am quite thrilled (in a quiet way) to have come across.

I’ve done a little bit of background research on Doris Rybot, and have discovered little about her except that she did write at least one other book, It Began Before Noah, and that she also appears as Doris Almon Ponsonby, and that she was born in 1907.

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