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Northern Wild: Best Contemporary Canadian Nature Writing

by David R. Boyd, ed.

It is somewhat curious that Canada, a country very much aware of its natural heritage and with an abundance of nature writing (both in periodicals and books), lacks significant, contemporary anthologies of nature writing. Despite a game attempt, Northern Wild fails to fill that void.

The failure is not due to the authors chosen. Editor David R. Boyd has assembled an impressive transnational representation. David Adams Richards, Sharon Butala, and Des Kennedy are wonderful writers, but the selections chosen (from Lines on the Water, The Perfection of the Morning, and the slugs section of Living Things We Love to Hate, respectively) are too obvious, and will already be known to many of Northern Wild’s readers. More welcome are less familiar works such as Terry Glavin’s “Hundreds of Little Jonahs” and Heather Menzies’ “When Roots Grow Back into the Earth,” and works by newer or less familiar writers (Briony Penn’s two short essays and John Theberge’s “Amber Fire” are standouts).

The main problem with Northern Wild lies in the selection criteria. Any anthology will reveal the biases of its editor, and Boyd is at least upfront about his mandate. In the introduction, he comments on the unifying characteristics of the pieces in Northern Wild, on their common tones of “wonder … reverence … and responsibility.” Overlooked, however, are the darker correlatives to these themes. Any sense of fear, of the overwhelming and often frightening power of nature, is marginalized or completely absent. As a result, the collection becomes bland, with a monotonous reverential quality that does not reflect well on the individual works.

As Chris Czajkowski writes in the conclusion of her essay, “to deny one side of nature is to abrogate the other.” It is advice that Boyd should have heeded. As it is, any sense of wonder and awe in Northern Wild gets lost behind the veil of piety and noble intentions.