Monday, January 31, 2011

What is Grey Owl doing here?

I keep a file on my computer called "blog" and it's that file I open when I'm stumped for something to write about. It has about two dozen ideas in various states of life - some are only a sentence or two, some longer, some out-of-date, and some too revealing (at least for now) to release into the world. Some ideas I return to every few days, adding words or taking them away, massaging the lines into something that feels finished. Some sit in the file, untouched for weeks, until a night comes along when the mental tumblers slide into place and I suddenly see what I was trying to say. Here's something I wrote that I've been hacking away at for over a month:
“Have you ever heard of Grey Owl? He was an Ojibwe Indian guide and trapper who lived in central Ontario, and he was one of the first people to write about conservation - a new concept in his time. He gave up trapping and devoted his time to publishing books and articles about the wilderness, writing in an eloquent and engaging style, and his popularity grew to the point that he toured Canada and England, even meeting with King George VI. He influenced the early conservation movement and inspired individuals like David Attenborough to become naturalists. The twist in the story? Grey Owl wasn’t really an Indian. His real name was Archibald Belaney. Born in England, he sailed to Canada as a young man and eventually adopted an Indian identity, a ruse he sustained for roughly twenty years. His origins were revealed after his death in 1938, and the revelation caused publishers to pull his books and his name to virtually disappear until a recent resurgence in interest.”
I haven't changed it too much from its original state, but I could never figure out why this idea came to mind as I sat pondering Violet and what to say about her. I still can't figure it out. Maybe I just want to tell you about Grey Owl because he was a great writer with a compelling backstory. Maybe it's because he spoke up for something that means a great deal to me and I hope will mean a great deal to Violet. Maybe he's a great example of how we all show one side of ourselves to the world - the side that we want the world to see - while the "real" one looks out from the mirror when we're alone. Are the happiest people the ones who can reconcile the two to some degree? Maybe this idea is so persistent because I find it frustrating that Grey Owl was such an eloquent voice for the wilderness and a treasure trove of backcountry knowledge but also a horrible husband and father, abandoning children and wives from England to Canada. They're all good reasons to write about him, I suppose, but I'll leave it to you to decide. What does he have to do with Violet?

72 days old

Wikipedia article on Grey Owl:


  1. I, too, hate it when I have a brilliant idea and then it evaporates. You are wise to keep a file. Iroquois teacher Terry Thurston Booth used to encourage her AT students to keep a "Big Ideas (and Questions)" notebook. The Grey Owl/Violet connection may still come to you....

  2. Anne - Isn't it the worst? I can't tell you how many times I've had great ideas for posts (or other things)and I think to myself - "That's so good, I won't forget that" and of course, an hour or so later, all I can recall is that I had some kind of good idea.