A Geography of Blood by Candace Savage

geographyA Non-Fiction Pick by Jean-Louis
(Greystone Books, 2012)
Candace Savage is an award winning author of nature books and her latest is a great addition to her long catalogue. This book, which is subtitled “Unearthing Memory from a Prairie Landscape,” is really a personal meditation and investigation into a specific location in Saskatchewan. But, like many a personal investigation, the connections keep extending out, down, and back through time. Not everything that Savage finds is a happy discovery.
The kernel that starts the book is an account of what was to be a two-week stay in Eastend, Saskatchewan. Savage has wisely chosen to tell her story in a quite personal style as the story is really about how this place has gotten under her skin, piqued her curiosity, and spurred on her career in unsuspected ways.
The town of Eastend is a little bit famous for a few reasons, one of which is that it was the home of Wallace Stegner, a great American writer. His book “Wolf Willow” is an account of his growing up straddling the American and Canadian borders in the early 1900’s. Savage finds herself rereading Stegner and struggles to accommodate her understanding with his account of the place. Misadventure, chance, and happenstance force Savage and her husband to stay still in the small village and once there, they become hooked. Eventually they buy a house and become frequent visitors as they commute from their permanent residence. The place has Savage on a string–and it keeps drawing her back to it.
As a nature writer, Savage tells us about the land, the animal life, and even of the dinosaurs that once populated that part of Saskatchewan. The Cypress Hills, which stretch across parts of what is now Alberta and Saskatchewan have been a popular gathering spot for millennia and Savage is drawn to the stories of all the visitors.
It is in this landscape that the prairie culture changed dramatically, and violently at the end of the 19th century. Anyone who has read Guy Vanderhaeghe’s fascinating trilogy (“The Englishman’s Boy”, “The Last Crossing” and “A Good Man”) will know the power of this story. Candace Savage’s book is her account of encountering, and being changed by this landscape.
If you are planning a summer trip, consider a journey through Eastend and on through the Cypress Hills. You will not find a more interesting and powerful landscape in all of Western Canada. But be careful, the encounter may pull you in and change your life as it did that of writer Candace Savage!

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