“Nature needs art"

- Amber McMillan

One of Canada’s most acclaimed nature writers has arrived at UVic as the Haig-Brown Centenary Writer-in-Residence. Don Gayton is a highly respected grasslands ecologist and author of four books, including Interwoven Wild, Kokanee, Landscapes of the Interior and The Wheatgrass Mechanism. He writes for such popular magazines as Canadian Geographic and Equinox, and was short-listed for a BC Book Award.

The writer-in residence position was created in 2008 to mark the 100th anniversary of the birth of Roderick Haig-Brown—noted author, conservationist, magistrate and former UVic chancellor.

For the next year(?) Gayton will be based in the Department of Writing. He will work closely with students in ecology and writing as a mentor and will participate in public lectures and events.

Gayton has worked as range ecologist for the BC Ministry of Forests and as a provincial range specialist in Saskatchewan.

Gayton holds an undergraduate degree in agronomy from Washington State University and an MSc in plant ecology from the University of Saskatchewan. On Oct. 22, Gayton delivered the 2009 Haig-Brown public lecture, “Canadian By Nature: Conflict and Paradox in our Relationship to the Natural World.”

After a brief introduction, Gayton explored the concept of what he calls “intergenerational river guilt.” He described his experience with guilt about the damage inflicted on the natural environment by the generation before, which has left him with an urge to learn from and improve on past systems of natural management.

Gayton is particularily concerned with the effects of technology on concepts of nature and how technology intersects with agriculture. He drew on personal anecdote from his childhood as a segway into descriptions of the environmental effects of irrigation, fishing, river damming and hydraulic practices in the Okanagan Valley.

Gayton called for a revision of our complex and often contradictory relationship with nature, saying that we need to “realign nature into the fabric of our everyday culture. It’s a change of mindset. It’s simple.”

The evening lecture concluded with a reading from a book that Gayton is currently working on called Okanagan Odyssey: A Journey Through Terrain, Terror and Culture. He describes it as “travel guide to the Okanagan” complete with unusual pairing suggestions for local wines and local books.

“Nature needs story. Nature needs art. Nature needs music,” Gayton said in conclusion—a fitting expression of his personal and unique contributions to both ecology and literature.

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Keywords: haigbrown, writer, residence


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