Total Pageviews

Friday, 27 June 2014

Purdy/Haig-Brown and the mystery of COUGAR HUNTER

                         Al Purdy and Roderick Haig-Brown:

                                        Cougar Hunter



        I want to catch some kind of Haig-Brown essence with

        the halo slightly askew. 
                           Al Purdy

        (The Banff Centre School of Fine Arts: Purdy letter to

         Haig-Brown: July 30 1974)

Al Purdy was one of Canada’s most prolific poets and writers, but when his many published books are listed, Cougar Hunter: A Memoir of Roderick Haig-Brown, is often omitted. Cougar Hunter has a controversial history, and the fact that many of the few missives printed were destroyed means that the book is a rare one, indeed. Robert Cave, in his exceptional book on Haig-Brown, Roderick Haig-Brown: A Descriptive Bibliography (2000), rightly so, suggests there is a “Byzantine-like atmosphere that continues to envelop Cougar Hunter” (p.300).

Indeed, it is this Byzantine-like atmosphere that pervades the publication of Cougar Hunter that makes it a collector’s item of sorts---the thin book published in 1992 sells for about $300:00 for those who are interested in owning a copy—in this gem of a Purdy classic, much is learned about Roderick Haig-Brown and Al Purdy.

Al Purdy met the legendary West Coast conservationist, Roderick Haig-Brown, in 1974, at the equally mythical Strathcona Lodge on Vancouver Island. Purdy was at the Lodge to do an essay on “Jack Jackovitch, painter, ex-football player, fishing guide and high school teacher”-Weekend Magazine was going to publish the article---Purdy was 56 at the time (and an established Canadian poet) and Haig-Brown was 66 years of age.  Strathcona Lodge was a meeting/training place for a new and emerging generation of conservationists and preservationists. The Lodge was run by Jim/Myrna Boulding, and the Bouldings had consciously built the Lodge to be an educational centre for ecological awareness and wilderness thinking. Roderick Haig-Brown was, in many ways, the elder of the emerging post-WW II conservationist heritage (and a much respected writer), and Jim/Myrna Boulding and Strathcona Lodge were carrying the Haig-Brown vision a step further. Haig-Brown had a history of logging, prizefighting, trapping, bounty hunter, farmer, author and magistrate---such a complex and varied history quite appealed to Purdy---there were some significant affinities between Purdy and Haig-Brown in the way they had lived in their 20s-30s.

There is a definite and defined line and lineage, a passing of the ecological torch from Roderick/Ann Haig-Brown to Jim/Myrna Boulding at Strathcona Lodge to Marlene Smith-Schalkwijk. Marlene has told such a tale well in “Changing of the Guards or The Birth of the Friends of Strathcona Park”. The more in depth read and history of Strathcona Lodge has been evocatively told in Myrna Boulding’s Survival Strathcona Style (2009) and the final couple of chapters in Rob Wood’s

Towards the Unknown Mountains: An Autobiography from the Canadian Wilderness Frontier (1991). When Al Purdy met Roderick Haig-Brown at Strathcona Lodge in 1974, he encountered, unbeknownst to him, Roderick in his last few years and the waxing years of Jim/Myrna Boulding and Strathcona Lodge—Purdy could not have appeared at a more opportune time or season--all the main actors and actresses in the ecological ethos were still active and in the thick of the battle for Strathcona Park.   Cougar Hunter: A Memoir of Roderick Haig-Brown shuttles the reader back and forth in Haig-Brown’s life and writings and offers the attentive a fine tapestry from which to ponder the significance of Haig-Brown’s literary and ecological contributions to both Canada and beyond.      

The 1st section of Cougar Hunter is called “Death of a Friend”, and in this entrĂ©e to the book, Purdy discussed his initial meeting with Haig-Brown at Strathcona Lodge, then a dinner at the Haig-Brown home in Campbell River with “Jungle Jim”/Myrna Boulding and the Jackovitch couple. The dinner with Roderick-Anne Haig-Brown yet further piqued

Purdy’s interest, and he met with Roderick for “two consecutive afternoons”.  Purdy was so taken by Haig-Brown, he knew an article was in the offing, and he had this to say about the afternoon meetings.


         We sat beneath towering walls of books and drank H-B’s

         booze, good stuff too. And I made notes, a lot of notes. We

         got along well, and I was acquiring a friend without really

         being aware  of the process.


And again, Purdy had this to say about Haig-Brown:

        In the beginning I had a feeling of slight unease with him,

        perhaps because of the propaganda Jack and Jungle Jim had

        pumped into me.         


The friendship between Roderick Haig-Brown and Al Purdy did grow and deepen. The conversations became more relaxed and informal, the content and insights more informed and a delight to read.

“The Death of a Friend” comes to a close with Purdy’s comments on Haig-Brown and the obvious horn butting and tensions between J.H. Bloedel (of infamous Island logging fame) and Haig-Brown. Bloedel, upon meeting Haig-Brown said, ‘I hear you’re the worst troublemaker on Vancouver Island’. Cougar Hunter begins with “Death of a Friend”, and Purdy, in a sensitive and tender way, recounts his friendship with Haig-Brown in this essay after Haigh-Brown’s unexpected death in 1976.

The 2nd part of Cougar Hunter covers the ongoing correspondence between Purdy and Haigh-Brown that began in July 18 1974 (when Purdy contacted Haigh-Brown from Ameliasburgh) and ended, April 29 1976 (21 letters later), with a letter from Rod (Roderick) to Purdy from Campbell River. The 21 letters between Al and Rod are worth many a reread. Each letter, for different reasons, walks the curious into the lives of Purdy and Haig-Brown and the richness of the Canadian literary tradition. The friendship is enriched by the letters and both men tell much about their ongoing lives. Some of the early letters tend to be more preoccupied with Purdy getting the facts of Haig-Brown’s life accurate for his article, but, essay done, broader themes emerge in the correspondence. The exchange of letters between 1974-1976, obviously, antedated “The Death of a Friend” article, but both complement one another nicely.             

The initial reason that Purdy was keen on meeting Haig-Brown in 1974 was Haig-Brown’s fascinating life journey---Purdy sensed a good story in the making. The 3rd part of the book, “Cougar Hunter”, is the essay that Purdy wrote about Haig-Brown----the article is a hasty biography of Haig-Brown that lights but does not land long on some of the high points of Haig-Brown’s full life. “Cougar Hunter” tells much more about Haig-Brown than does “Death of a Friend”, but both articles need to be read together---some duplication but fresh perspectives in both beauties. The fact that “Cougar Hunter” was the first biography of sorts of Haig-Brown makes it a keeper of sorts---Anthony Roberton`s Above Tide: Reflections on Roderick Haig-Brown (1984), Bennet Metcalfe’s The Life of Roderick Langmere Haig-Brown: A Man of Some Importance (1985) and Valerie Haig-Brown`s Deep Currents: Roderick and Ann Haig-Brown (1997) did not come until much later.    

Cougar Hunter comes to a fitting and apt close with a poem by Purdy about Haig-Brown: “Dear Judge”. I have read the poem many times and I’m always taken by the final few lines—quite a tribute to the friendship between Rod and Al.


            From where I am now

            that place on the other side of the world

            is death

            and the first stage of friendship is all

            that remains of Haig-Brown for me

            a few letters

                                  memory of a grin

            some beer with him at Campbell River…

            Dear Judge Dear Sir Dear Rod H-B

            that is not enough

There are many fine photographs of Haig-Brown in Cougar Hunter that illuminate the landscape of Haig-Brown’s life---obviously, with a title like Cougar Hunter, the reality of cougars (and “Cougar” Smith) factor large in the book. “Cougar Hunter” was published in a variety of places,
including No Other Country (1977) by Purdy and served as the “Introduction” to From the World of Roderick Haig-Brown: Woods and River Tales (1980).

There is a definite need to bring to the fore again Cougar Hunter: A  Memoir of Roderick Haig-Brown---the exquisite blending of “Death of a Friend”, “Correspondence”, “Cougar Hunter” and “Dear Judge” makes this book a must have keeper for those with an interest and commitment to the Canadian literary tradition, Roderick Haig-Brown and Al Purdy----our understanding of Canadian literature, Rod and Al will be weaker, thinner and leaner without Cougar Hunter front and centre in our literary quest for a literature for and of the Canadian people.

Ron Dart         

                  ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Thanks for letting me post this, Ron. And thanks, Anna, for your help with the tech stuff  ;  )

peace & poetry power!
Chris ... & Chase Wrfffffffffffffffffffffff!

p.s. when my friend Morley & I were building the shaman shack at ZenRiver Gardens 8 years ago, a cougar crossed highway #7 right in front of my car. It was early dusk, & we got a very clear look at her for several seconds. Gorgeous creature!!!

               ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~                        

Cougar Hunter. A Memoir of Roderick Haig-Brown

Have a Radical Canada Day (Hey Mama, we're all radicals now!): David Suzuki

Here's to a radical Canada Day!

Oh, Canada, what will become of you?

Although I'm proudly Canadian, my early memories are mixed. After Japan attacked Pearl Harbor in 1941, our government unfairly deprived my family of citizenship rights and exiled us to the B.C. Interior, even though we were born and raised here. But my love of nature flourished during that time in the spectacular Slocan Valley.

As a young adult, I moved to the U.S. for educational opportunities not available in Canada. Disturbed by overt racism in the American South, I eventually returned to my increasingly tolerant homeland. I preferred Canada, which to me meant Tommy Douglas and Medicare, Quebec, the National Film Board and CBC. I've never regretted my choice.

Canadians have strived to move beyond inequality and intolerance to create an inclusive and caring society, where education, public health, social programs and enlightened laws provide numerous opportunities. We're not there yet, but we've come a long way in our relatively short history as a nation.

We also understand our place in nature. Surrounded by the world's longest and most diverse coastline, our mountains, forests, prairies, rivers, lakes, valleys and skies define us and instill wonder and pride. Canada is nature. And nature is life. We know this.

Lately, the tide has been turning. Instead of protecting the increasingly precious and threatened natural systems that keep us alive and healthy, our leaders are rushing to scar the landscape with mines, roads and pipelines to sell our resources as quickly as possible to global markets. From tar sands expansion to fracking, federal and provincial governments are blindly proceeding with little thought about long-term consequences.

In 2007, our prime minister called climate change "perhaps the greatest threat to the future of humanity." Now he says, "No matter what they say, no country is going to take actions that are going to deliberately destroy jobs and growth in their country." Yet, many actions our industries and governments are taking will hurt the ability to create jobs and keep the economy prosperous. Clean energy and educated citizens are healthier investments than an increasingly risky fossil fuel industry -- and we can't hope for abundant jobs and a thriving economy on a planet suffering the ever-worsening consequences of global warming.

Canada was once seen as a country where respect for each other and our land, air, water and biodiversity were valued. Now, some government leaders and their industry and media supporters threaten those who dare question the mad scramble for short-sighted, short-term profits at the expense of the environment, our health and the world's climate systems, and label us "radicals".

If it's radical to insist on maintaining and strengthening values that have long defined us as a nation, then we'll wear the label proudly. We are radically Canadian! That means building on the progress we've made over the years to create a society based on compassion, equity and respect for the people and places we know and love.

Canada has long been known as a country that gets it right, that treats its citizens well and cares for the land that gives us so much, and plays a constructive role on the world stage. But now we're lagging in many areas, our hard-earned reputation suffering. We're no longer a leader in protecting the conditions that make Canada one of the best places on Earth for citizens and visitors alike.

Enshrining the right to a healthy environment in the Constitution's Charter of Rights and Freedoms would help get Canada back on track. More than 110 countries have constitutional environmental rights. But not Canada. It's not just about protecting birds, bees and trees; it's about social justice and ensuring all citizens have the right to the conditions necessary for healthy, fruitful lives.

What kind of Canada do you want? Do you treasure our spectacular natural landscapes, clean water and air and abundant natural resources? Do you value our commitment to fairness, enlightened social programs, education and public health? Do you believe we should do all we can to protect the things that make this country great?

Now is a good time to reflect on these questions, on where we are as a nation and where we want to be. Happy Canada Day!

By David Suzuki with contributions from Ian Hanington, Senior Editor

                   ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

I can't say it any better than David Suzuki has above. Stephen Harper and his rightwing conservative government are changing the very fabric of Canadian society while most of us sit passively by. Even a national institutions as sacrosanct and 'harmless' as CBC radio is being destroyed cut by cut by the agents of Harpy. If you haven't read THE LORD OF THE RINGS, hey, check out Tolkien and his description of Harper/Sauron and his ecologically ravaged kingdom, Mordor. That's what Canada is becoming under this petty reign of terror by the Harpyites.

I think it's helpful that Suzuki has shared his personal experiences with being a Canadian, horrible and racist as some of his early ones were. I'm a Canadian-born draft dodger (Vietnam), who grew up in the U.S. and who chose to return to Canada in my mid-twenties out of desperation. I also have never regretted this decision to live the rest of my life in Canada, and I've had a relatively enjoyable and comfortable life as a Canadian.

When I first returned to Canada I joined a leftwing 'Maoist' group, the Canadian Liberation Movement. The CLM had a strong anti-imperialist profile (e.g. strong opposition to American empire building & war mongering). In the mid-1970s I spent a day in jail for opposing the American colonization of Canada as part of a CLM demonstration. I wrote about this experience in my poem DOMINION DAY IN JAIL.  

Chris Faiers