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Escape: In Search of the Natural Soul of Canada

by Roy MacGregor

Why, then, could I not look for the soul of the country,” Roy MacGregor asks early in his new book “in the desire to escape?” It’s an interesting thesis, rooted as it is in the settlement of Canada as a result of immigrant escape from Old World troubles, but a difficult one to wholeheartedly endorse (a comparison of those fleeing religious persecution with those fleeing Toronto on a summer Friday afternoon pushes the thesis to ridiculous extremes). It does, however, make an appropriate hook upon which to hang a very fine collection of nature writing.

Escape follows the personal and haunting family history of MacGregor’s wonderful A Life in the Bush; readers of that earlier book will find many familiar characters and locales here. With Escape, MacGregor pushes beyond the merely personal, exploring the history of Canadian exploration and settlement, the social history of villages now lost, and the allure and fall of intentional communities.

MacGregor is at his best, however, when he turns his attention upon himself and his family. These personal recollections, much more so than the distanced histories, fully evoke the necessity and rewards of escape, even for an afternoon spent walking the dog in an undeveloped city tract or a pick-up game of hockey on a cleared frozen lake with his grown son. The closing chapter of Escape, which explores MacGregor’s own cottage lifestyle, the growth of his children, the death of old family friends, is arresting, powerful writing. This isn’t escape at all; this is the full concentrated involvement of mind and soul in conscious awareness, and savour, of the passage of days, seasons, and years.