More than a decade after Lines on the Water, his 1998 Governor General’s Literary Award–winning non-fiction book about fishing on the Miramichi River, David Adams Richards returns to the Northern New Brunswick of his youth, this time to the woods.
Now in his early sixties and living in Toronto, Richards seems to have been sparked to write this treatise after running into one too many urban academics rendering opinions on the subject of hunting without an iota’s worth of first-hand knowledge. Richards takes direct aim at the cocktail party hypocrites who “have ceded fishing as a benign and enlightened and intellectual pursuit of well-thinking, hearty, and well-meaning fellows, who might spout Yeats if afforded the time … and made hunting a pariah worse than dogs of war.”
However, the book is more than an argument against urban ignorance, the uselessness of gun registries, the presumptuousness of back-to-the-landers, and the venality of poachers. It is also a love letter to the places and the people of the author’s life – especially his hunting buddies. For some readers, there may be too much of this sort of thing. Sometimes the best fishing or hunting stories resonate only for those who were there; though each hunt is special for the hunter, readers may grow weary of a repetitive story arc that can only end in one of two ways.
Richards’ volume has a kind of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance feel about it, as the author explains the ethics of hunting moose and deer for meat rather than as trophies for the mantelpiece, and the importance of holding animals in respect rather than preening in photos atop the kill. He also excoriates hunters who mortally wound animals and fail to track them to ensure the kill, thereby potentially reducing their suffering.
Over the course of his life, the author has learned a rugged self-reliance from the land and the animals that inhabit it. This toughness often appears at odds with Richards’ growing sense of his own mortality, and the book occasionally reads as if he has become a ghost in the forests he used to call home: his body is no longer present there, but his spirit remains.