On this, International Women’s Day, I thought I would briefly feature strong women who have helped influence my love of nature, farming, the environment, the outdoors, and the challenges I have made goals in my lifetime. Any quotes not otherwise credited are from Wikipedia.
As an English Lit. major, I have studied many of the works of two sisters who are (still) widely-read for struggling to eke out an existence as early pioneer women in Canada. “Catharine Parr Traill described her new life in letters and journals, and collected these into The Backwoods of Canada (1836). She described everyday life in her community, the relationship between Canadians, and the natives, the climate, and local flora and fauna. More observations were included in a novel, Canadian Crusoe (1851). She also collected information concerning the skills necessary for a new settler, published in The Female Emigrant’s Guide (1854), later retitled The Canadian Settler’s Guide.”
In 1852, her sister Susanna Moodie, living a few hours away, published one of my favourites – “Roughing it in The Bush”, which “detailed her experiences on the farm in the 1830s. In 1853, she published , “Life in the Clearings”, about her time in the (then-village) of Belleville. The inspiration for the memoir “…Bush” came from a suggestion by her editor that she write an “emigrant’s guide” for British people looking to move to Canada. Moodie wrote of the trials and tribulations she found as a “New Canadian”, rather than the advantages to be had in the colony. She claimed that her intention was not to discourage immigrants but to prepare people like herself and her sister, raised in relative wealth and with no prior experience as farmers, for what life in Canada would be like. Moodie taught her daughter how to paint flowers and Agnes later illustrated the much-used Canadian Wild Flowers, published in 1868. ” Because of my degree, I had to do several courses just in Canadian Literature and found it interesting that Moodie’s books and poetry inspired our famous Margaret Atwood to write her collection of poetry, The Journals of Susannah Moodie, published in 1970. Moodie was also the inspiration for one of Atwood’s later novels, Alias Grace” and it was at this time that I was getting my B.Ed. in Kingston, and was thus able to meet Atwood as she gave talks there about the Kingston ‘Pen’, where murder convict Grace Marks was held. Grace was mentioned numerous times in Life in the Clearings, and thus, as a direct result of Susanna Moodie’s writings, there have now been both a television film, a t.v. series (produced by Sarah Polley of Road to Avonlea fame) and a stage play. Sadly, as we have no television, I was unable to watch Alias Grace, but no doubt we shall look it up online at some point. Interestingly, Moodie was also a source of inspiration for Carol Shields, who published a critical analysis of her work, Susanna Moodie, Voice and Vision.” Shields also mentions Moodie in her novel, Small Ceremonies. So those two sisters were certainly inspiring to many more than just myself!
(I’d like to give a shout-out here to my cousin Linda Baxter, for recommending I read Gladys Taber’s farming chronicles as well – I’ve one of her books waiting for me at the library right now! More on her in another blog…)
Having lived and taught in and around Haworth, West Yorkshire for several years, I have walked the same pathways as the Brontes, heading out from my stone cottage to traipse miles of haunting moors, so well depicted in this other set of sisters’ works. Especially Emily and Charlotte have always been very inspirational in my love of the wilds, as well as one of the reasons I’m such an Anglophile at heart. I could write volumes about my experiences of and around the Brontes, and their Haworth village, but I’m sure most of you have read Wuthering Heights, and/or Jane Eyre, both novels which are highly descriptive in capturing their beloved, untamed ‘wilderness’.
While most people are familiar with the only other portrait of the Brontes (painted by their ne-er-do-well brother Branwell, and which originally included him standing behind them , then angrily painted out in a telling psychological statement) the above is a newly-discovered portrait of them, found just a few years ago and not shown until last year, after much research had been done to authenticate it. It is believed to be by E. Landseer, a frequent visitor to Yorkshire at the time the three sisters were still alive.
above, Richard and me when I lived there last, in 2009, outside Haworth’s Black Bull (Branwell’s favourite pub) and just across the street from the Bronte parsonage where the family lived most of their lives. A quick two minute walk and you’re out on the wild and windswept moors that inspired so much classic writing.
Three women who are inspirational horsewomen were very significant in my outdoor and competitive career. Marie Hearn was a ‘take-no-prisoners’ toughie who let me work for her in her small stables through my late teen years, and it was she who put me on to the (new at that time) National Coaching Certification Program, which for equestrians could take years to fulfill the requirements. Luckily for me, I was able to take a ‘crash’ course (and for me, that was literal in several instances) and do it all in an intensive 3-month live-in course. Victoria Andrew, who was responsible for seeing the manuals written for the national course at that time, and who is now considered one of the few top National Master Learning Facilitator/Evaluators of the country was my primary coach. No one could have whipped me (NOT literally, but she did have me in tears once insisting I CARRY a whip) into being less of a suck, and more someone who could stand the pressures offered by The Great Outdoors and the world of dedicated horsepeople everywhere. Vicki is truly an inspirational woman to so many in all aspects of education and higher learning, not just in the equestrian field. Her constant challenges made me a better person as well as coach, and she instilled in me more bravery than I could have imagined I would ever possess.
above (Vicki, to left) coaching me at my first jumper show on Pal O’Mine, in the Ottawa Valley, 1986. She had raised the rail to 3 ft. 3″, higher than we’d jumped previously, because we were about to go into the ring for the jump-off (final round) of the 3 ft. class, and she wanted us to be ‘sharp’. We were 4th in that class, and a few weeks later I went on to become nationally certified to coach others, which would only ever have happened by being under her stern yet motivating and encouraging tutelage! Truly a strong woman to remember on this, International Women’s Day!
The third horsewoman I mentioned above is one whom I have written of many times before here in this blog and on social media. This is Kim Walnes. Many of you will know that she and her amazing life are so inspiring that I have gathered a group of filmmakers together to produce a documentary about her, and run the first stage of a group fund-raising to ‘kickstart’ the process. To read more about Kim and the film project, have a look at the following article, where I am quoted a number of times (in fact, every paragraph in quotes is my own writing, though I don’t get credit for a byline, of course!)
Lastly, while many of you may not think of my mother as a rough-and-tumble outdoorswoman, it may surprise you to learn that she has taken a log-house building course, helped fell and strip many logs to build a cabin (until my father died, aged 47, and those plans were sadly put aside), hiked up into the Alps, lived and worked on a building site in the ‘wilds’ of Sierra Leone, Africa and was the person responsible for my very first love of nature, by both reading (A.A. Milne’s stories of The Hundred Acre Woods and Thorton Burgess’ “Adventures of”… series) AND by introducing us to “Country Walks”. This was always capitalized when spoken, because they were a big deal. She would drive myself and my sister (and sometimes Brenda and Lesa Floyd if they were visiting us for that weekend) to a “Back Road” (also, always capitalized as such). We would hike and explore for hours, and always found new places and sights to talk about for days. It was also Mom who encouraged me to go into nine months of Katimavik immediately following high school, as it was another experience that would make me strong and show me how much I loved the wilderness (and being a hermit!). Because of Katimavik I was able to live for three months along the Cabot Trail, on cliffs right above the ocean, see the Northern Lights at their strongest in my three months in the dark winter of Dawson City, Yukon (where I also got to eat caribou and moosemeat, dog-sled and help the museum catalogue in the Robert Service cabin there!) and help a farming family on the prairies of Manitoba!
Now, while Joy and I both STRONGLY despise guns, and I have had a running campaign on FB for years about better gun laws in the States, I do find the following photo amusing, as it is of “Wild” (albeit horn-rimed-glasses-wearing) Mom in her days of dating my father. (She was trying to impress him by target-practicing with his “pea-shooter”.) It was taken by Dad, with the house his parents built in the early 1950s and in which we all lived together later in the 1970s and ’80s, behind her). Actually, Joy is standing only 30 or 40 yards from the site of the log house on which she and my father had chosen to build, which at that time in the mid 1980s had become a lovely pine forest, as planted just after this photo was taken, by my grandfather.
So, here’s to all the strong WOMEN OF THE WOODS AND WILDS who have inspired me to live on two farms in Canada, in a log cabin in the Rocky Mountains of Montana, and in a stone cottage on the windswept Yorkshire moors…. Happy International Womens Day!
And to ‘celebrate’ the first of 3 Nor’easter winter blizzards we are having right now, here’s me ice-fishing during my ‘wild days’ of Katimavik – in Portage La Prairie, MB: