Thursday 10 November 2011

Trevor Herriot: The land I know and love

Trevor Herriot writes about southern Saskatchewan – Regina and the Qu’Appelle Valley. This is where he was born and where he has deliberately chosen to spend his life.

Herriot describes himself as a bioregionalist. Rather than travelling the world and experiencing a wide variety of different geographies and cultures, bioregionalists put down roots and make a commitment to their home region. It’s an opportunity to become very, very familiar with one particular area – its geology, its social history, its plants, animals, and birds.

“It has probably meant less wealth and has created some job limitations,” says Herriot, “but it has also been very rich. I’ve had the opportunity for great relations with so many people. I’ve had the chance to know a lot of people and places and their history, as well as the birds and the plants [of this area]. That’s much more important than a touristic tasting of all the delights of the planet.”

Herriot’s family moved around a great deal when he was growing up, so it was important for him to provide his family with more stability. “There’s a lot to be said for staying put,” he says.

He has worked for SaskTel for 30 years. “A crown corporation is a good way to provide telecommunications,” Herriot says, “and they support me as a writer and give me time off to write.”

He has done some travelling, but it isn’t a priority, and it isn’t environmentally sustainable. “It’s more important to live well where I am,” Herriot explains. The Herriots and some of their friends own property in the Qu’Appelle Valley, and this is where the family enjoys leisure time.

A sense of place
Near the end of his university studies in English literature, Herriot was introduced to books by North American authors, such as Wendell Berry, Barry Lopez, Peter Matthiessen, and Wallace Stegner. The books were culture and nature narratives, often involving a journey, seen through the lens of the first person narrative.

“I realized that it was possible to write a first person narrative about the land I know and love. It was a legitimate way to write,” explains Herriot.

Herriot’s first book, River in a Dry Land, looks backward to his childhood growing up in the Qu’Appelle Valley while also exploring the Valley’s social and natural history.

His most recent book, Grass, Sky, Song, is an evocative portrait of the songbirds that inhabit the prairie grasslands and seeks to discover why they are disappearing.

“There has always been a sense of pride and connectiveness to place here [Saskatchewan],” Herriot says. “It can be romanticized and distorted, but there is also a genuine desire to relate to the places we knew as children. People who leave the Prairies still talk about how they miss it.” Herriot says that he tries to appeal to this side of human nature in his writing and speaking; “I try and take that on a path that will inform our relationship to the land through respect and reverence.”

Acceptance and gratitude
Trevor Herriot says that he is currently gathering research and circling around topics for his next book, which he plans to start writing in the fall. “I’m hoping to move away from the elegiac tone and sense of lament for what’s lost and move towards a sense of acceptance and gratitude for what we have here,” he says.

Herriot believes that environmental critics can become attached to their analysis of the problems rather than appreciating what is around them. “We must simply accept what can never be any more, see what we still have, and where we can go from here,” he says.

Further reading
Trevor Herriot’s Grass Notes is an online blog about the Prairies and its inhabitants as well as the threats it faces from industry, agriculture, and urban development.