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Finding Farley Media Coverage

Canmore family to follow path of famed author by Lynn Martel

Canmore family set for six-month canoe odyssey to visit famous author

Published: Monday, April 30, 2007

He did it on a whim.

Karsten Heuer sent a copy of his book, Being Caribou, to Farley Mowat, prolific writer, activist and beloved Canadian icon.

To Heuer’s delight, Mowat replied, on paper bag brown stationery, typed on his Underwood, his name in bold capitals at the top left corner, complete with typos and alive with spirit and vigour.

“I thought he might enjoy it,” Heuer shrugged.

Mowat didn’t just love the story of how Heuer and his wife Leanne Allison followed a caribou herd on foot for 1,500 kilometres across the Yukon to Alaska and back for five and a half months in 2003, in effort to raise awareness of the U.S. government’s plans to drill for oil in the caribou’s calving grounds in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge – he was sorry to finish the book.

Then a few days later, the phone rang in the couple’s Canmore home. It was Mowat himself, inviting Heuer and Allison to visit him at his Cape Breton farm.

“He just called out of the blue,” Heuer laughed.

Thrilled, the couple accepted, then immediately pondered, as keen environmental stewards, how they should travel.

“We get to visit with Farley Mowat, but we can’t fly, and we can’t drive across the country,” Allison said. “Then I tossed out – how about canoe?”

Within moments they were tracing potential routes on maps with their fingertips.

On May 8, Heuer and Allison walked three blocks from their house to the Bow River, loaded their two-and-a-half-year-old son Zev and border collie Willow into their canoe, and started paddling.

They’ll follow the Bow River to the South Saskatchewan River to Saskatoon. No strangers to uncertainty in adventure – they never knew from one day to the next where they might be following the 120,000-head Porcupine caribou herd – Allison said they aren’t certain yet how they would travel from Saskatoon to Reindeer Lake.

From Reindeer Lake, which straddles the northern Saskatchewan/Manitoba border, they plan to follow a route Mowat paddled in 1947 to Hudson Bay. Along the way, they’ll pass through the communities and landscapes of Mowat’s best-loved stories – Owls in the Family, Born Naked and The Dog Who Wouldn’t Be in Saskatchewan; Never Cry Wolf, People of the Deer and The Desperate People in northern Manitoba.

At Hudson Bay, they hope to hitch a ride on a supply ship from Arviat, Northwest Territories, out to the Atlantic and down the coast to Newfoundland.

“We’ll try and visit the exact place A Whale for the Killing took place,” Allison said. They hope to arrive in Cape Breton in early November.

Having both grown up in Calgary, the couple admits neither of them has ever visited the Maritimes, or eastern Canada.
“One of the things I’m looking forward to the most with this trip is that it will expose us to all sorts of geographies of Canada that we’re pretty ignorant about,” Heuer said. “We think it will expose us to many different ways of life too.”

Throughout their journey, they plan to correspond with Mowat, comparing his experiences paddling through communities as an activist crusader decades ago with theirs, as those communities face modern challenges including climate change.

So many of Farley’s stories are set in times of cultural change in the North, people moving off the land and into cities,” Heuer said.

“Those shifts were also imposed from the outside, so we’ll be looking at how they’re dealing with the shift that’s happening now,” Allison said.

For his part, Allison said Mowat, who turns 86 in May, is completely energized by their plan.

“He said, ‘I can’t do it, but I can do it through you!’ ” Allison said. “He was a childhood hero of mine. Owls in the Family was my first real book that I read. And A Whale for the Killing was what got me to have my first World Wildlife Fund membership at 10. It’s a chance to pay tribute to him. I think his stories have the potential to be forgotten. Through our trip we can bring them to light in a different way. And I’m hoping our journey will tweak memories for him.”

As with Being Caribou and Heuer’s 1998/99 3,400-kilometre trek along the spine of the Rockies from Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming to the Yukon, which Allison participated in too, Heuer, a wildlife biologist, plans to write a book about this latest project, while Allison captures the journey on film – with enthusiastic National Film Board support.

While the couple intends to rely on the teamwork that’s carried them through their previous adventures, they are also excited to welcome their newest team member, Zev.

“He’s a big part of our motivation, I think,” Allison said. “It’s such a great time to expose him to travelling and sleeping on the ground, while his little mind is still forming.”

“That’s going to be the big unknown factor,” Heuer laughed. “But we’ve already done a couple of eight-day canoe trips. There’s actually a calmness that comes over him on these trips, then when we come home there are all these distractions with his toys and friends that almost overwhelm him.”

Asked if they think he’ll sit in the canoe for long stretches, both laughed.

“Sit? He climbs!” Heuer said. “Then he collapses. Really, we do expect some pretty big challenges. We’ll have portages through some terrible bugs, and on one river in northern Manitoba we’ll be travelling up, not down. We’ll be lining and poling and portaging up for at least 10 days. We don’t know how we’re going to manage that with a 2½-year-old. But you never know. It’s the leaving and the going, and then you figure it out.”

“These trips are always incredible bonding times – they always have been with two, now we’re trying with three,” Allison added. “It will become a common narrative as a family, we’ll be able to look back and share. Zev will learn all sorts of values about patience and perseverance and working as a team, and through experience, not us telling him.”

Allison added she planned to give Zev a little video camera so he could record his own journey.

“I think it might be fun to see what he captures from his perspective,” she said. “Maybe nothing will come of it, but you never know. With these kinds of trips too, it’s a great way to slow life down. They’re great time expanders. It’s as if we live a lifetime in a few months.”

Heuer agreed.

“We look forward to that simple, clear, rhythmic living that surrounds that kind of travel,” Heuer said.
To learn more, visit http://www.necessaryjourneys.ca/findingfarley/

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