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Erratic North: A Vietnam Draft Resister’s Life in the Canadian Bush

by Mark Frutkin

In 1970, like a hippie version of Henry David Thoreau, Mark Frutkin rejected the Vietnam war and left his native Ohio for Canada to live off the land, settling in a cabin in the woods of Quebec’s Gatineau Hills, an hour north of Ottawa. Erratic North, Frutkin’s memoir of his time on “The Farm,” celebrates self-reliance and rugged individuality in the same way Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance did nearly 35 years ago, and Walden did a hundred years ago.

During Frutkin’s decade-long sabbatical from mainstream society, he and his various cohabitants learned to work together with nature to eke out survival, though the author did also find time to read everything from Chinese poetry to Shakespeare, Moby Dick to Kafka. Along with the descriptions of planting vegetables, cutting brush, chopping wood, maintaining the wood stove, clearing snow, reshingling the roof, and avoiding blackflies, Frutkin also tells the parallel story of his Jewish grandfather, who himself rejected Czarist Russia and escaped oppression and the pogroms of the late 19th century to come to America.

Frutkin meditates on war, Canada’s conscription crises, self-immolation as protest, and the controversy that surrounded the Vietnam Veterans’ Memorial Wall being designed by Maya Lin, a woman of Asian descent.

The style here is simple, light, and elegant, with a sense of humour and modesty and none of the sanctimoniousness of those who romanticize rural life and denigrate the evils of the city. Having lived communal life off the grid, Frutkin knows that mixed in with the fresh air, divine silence, and brief, enchanting glimpses of wildlife, you also have cabin fever, cold nights, boredom, no electricity, no running water, and the occasional flea outbreak. His book is a quirky, enjoyable read.


Reviewer: Stephen Knight

Publisher: Dundurn Press


Price: $24.99

Page Count: 240 pp

Format: Paper

ISBN: 978-1-55002-786-0

Released: Aug.

Issue Date: 2008-7

Categories: Memoir & Biography