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A Canadian icon gives us his final book, a memoir of the events that shaped this beloved writer and activist.
Farley Mowat has been beguiling readers for fifty years now, creating a body of writing that has thrilled two generations, selling literally millions of copies in the process. In looking back over his accomplishments, we are reminded of his groundbreaking work: He single-handedly began the rehabilitation of the wolf with Never Cry Wolf. He was the first to bring advocacy activism on behalf of the Inuit and their northern lands with People of the Deer and The Desperate People. And his was the first populist voice raised in defense of the environment and of the creatures with whom we share our world, the ones he has always called The Others.
Otherwise is a memoir of the years between 1937 and the autumn of 1948 that tells the story of the events that forged the writer and activist. His was an innocent childhood, spent free of normal strictures, and largely in the company of an assortment of dogs, owls, squirrels, snakes, rabbits, and other wildlife. From this, he was catapulted into wartime service, as anxious as any other young man of his generation to get to Europe and the fighting. The carnage of the Italian campaign shattered his faith in humanity forever, and he returned home unable and unwilling to fit into post-war Canadian life. Desperate, he accepted a stint on a scientific collecting expedition to the Barrengrounds. There in the bleak but beautiful landscape he finds his purpose — first with the wolves and then with the indomitable but desperately starving Ihalmiut. Out of these experiences come his first pitched battles with an ignorant and uncaring federal bureaucracy as he tries to get aid for the famine-stricken Inuit. And out of these experiences, too, come his first books.
Otherwise goes to the heart of who and what Farley Mowat is, a wondrous final achievement from a true titan.
school determined to get good enough grades to let me become a professional biologist, but what I really wanted was to regain the limitless horizons of Saskatchewan after graduation. I had much to do that winter, but still found time for the Others. Andy occasionally came out for a weekend of bird-watching, and Harris and I spent a lot of time tramping over fields and through woodlots, making countless small discoveries about the lives of the ”lesser beasts.” I tried to train Fang to come along
as custodian of several thousand dead birds and many more of their eggs. His one complaint was that the current war had put a halt to the acquisition of additional specimens. ”Frightful loss to science, you know. But I trust young chaps like yourself will soon be able to take up the good work again. We’ll drink to that, shall we?” Cliveden also possessed an ornate boathouse containing several sculling punts and, wonder of wonders, a Canadian-made cedar-strip canoe. These were available for the
human burials, was bursting with birds, rabbits, and other creatures but rarely visited by living human beings since even the verger had given up the struggle to keep nature under control. It was my kind of place and I felt instantly at home there. Headquarters was small, cozy, and friendly. Since almost all of its half dozen officers were new to their respective jobs, nobody put undue pressure on me and I had time to find my feet. My ”command” consisted of a ten-man Scout and Sniper Section and
a squirrel at two hundred yards. My batman (who had been assigned to me at Witley by someone who probably thought he was playing a practical joke) fitted into the I section perfectly. Doc Macdonald appeared to be bashful, awkward, and ineffectual, someone forever destined to be a victim of the system, military or civilian. This was protective camouflage. Inside his bumbling, innocuous outer self lived a shrewd and talented manipulator. What Doc set out to get, sooner or later Doc got. He and I
the afternoon or evening stripping down some piece of Germany military wizardry to see what makes it tick. It seems I’d rather dice with a deadly device that might blow up in my face than seek a sensible future. I seem to be trying to escape reality by an infatuation with mechanical toys – like a grown-up with an electric train set. There’s no real satisfaction in it – just a way of passing the time away. It may be better than passing the bottle, but it leads nowhere. I even have to flog my