The Salt Path

If savouring the majesty of the great outdoors is not your thing, you would be well-advised to steer clear of The Salt Path. However, if you are in need of a  meandering hike on Britain’s sea-swept South West Coast Path, you will will find this wilderness romp a satisfying way to spend a winter weekend.

In The Salt Path, Raynor Winn begins this heart-breaking story by revealing that she and her husband Moth are about to lose their home as a result of an investment in a friend’s business having gone awry. After years in financially ruinous litigation to save their beloved home, the court’s final decision is a ruling not in their favour. As they huddle in a cupboard under the stairs while they listen to the bailiffs pounding on the door, they are withered by the reality that their family’s dream life is irrevocably coming to an end.

As if that isn’t enough burden to bear, they also learn that the chronic pain that Moth has been experiencing in his upper back for the last six years is actually the result of a rare disease called corticobasal degeneration which will begin to further destroy Moth’s body and mental acuity resulting in a slow and agonizing death. Losing the love of her life is a burden too onerous for Raynor to bear and she simply believes that the doctors have got it wrong.

Knowing that they have nothing left to lose, they embark on a 630 mile walk of the Southwest Coast Path from Somerset to Dorset. Their decision to wild camp along the way is borne from the fact that they have no money except for the 40 pounds the government will deposit into their account each month. Food wins over comfort and, with only the bare essentials of life in their backpacks, they begin their journey.

a1o3bibuohlTheir constant companion on the trip is a guidebook of the trail hike written by the much fitter and more experienced Paddy Dillon. They quickly come to understand that there is no chance of completing the walk within the same time parameters that Dillon did. This release of their preconceived expectations is just the beginning of the emotional and spiritual journey they both experience as their need to survive ellipses all other previous concerns that have burdened them.  The power of nature is a force that they eventually learn to stop fighting. In letting go they find that their struggle with their financial and emotional impoverishment falls away.

The Salt Path is a story of the power of love and the recognition of the interconnectedness of all things. It is a story of survival in the darkest of times and the joy of opening one’s eyes to seeing the world in a whole new way.

— Nancy C.

Unforgettable Ontario

I’m having a bit of a problem. But a good one, a fun one.

Shortly I will be entertaining a visitor from England for a few days. So where to take him, what sites to show him?

Help has arrived in the shape of a great new library book, Unforgettable Ontario: 100 Destinations by Noel Hudson. He previously wrote Unforgettable Canada: 100 Destinations in case you are looking for destinations farther afield.

I guess I’m a bit of a blase Ontarian. I tend to take my home province for granted. But flipping through this book, and looking at the gorgeous photos, it’s like, wow, there are a lot of amazing places to visit in Ontario, so much to see and do.

Unforgettable Ontario, with destinations arranged by region, is a wonderfully eclectic mix of big city/small town/rural destinations; well-known and lesser known sites; indoor stuff and outdoor stuff, as well as festivals galore.

A couple of selections grabbed my attention. For instance, the Bonnechere Caves in eastern Ontario look mighty intriguing. Or for a cheesy option, the nearby Oxford County cheese trail (with artisanal cheese producers listed) looks like a fun day trip. Apparently Oxford County has a long tradition of cheese-making. I did not know that. Or here’s something I’m all shook up about: the world’s largest Elvis festival held annually in Collingwood. Oh, yeah!

So borrowing heavily from this book I’ve come up with a tentative itinerary for my English visitor. I think we will head east, first to Prince Edward County to visit Sandbanks Provincial Park and maybe sample a few (?) local wines. Then on to Kingston and area to visit Fort Henry and do a Thousand Islands boat cruise. Problem solved.

-Penny D.

Have You Met The Durrells?

You know how bookstores have ‘Staff Picks”?  Well I think we should have ‘WPL Customer Picks’.  Or maybe when customers return a popular DVD or book we could keep a tally of who is reporting that it is good/bad/worth the trouble and then post it at the returns desk with a little image of a thumbs up or thumbs down.  The opinions of our neighbours should be more important than the reviews we read in the Globe & Mail or the New York Times, and I would rather watch a DVD that a WPL customer recommends rather than one that gets a high rating on Rotten Tomatoes.  In fact, I find that material suggested to me by WPL customers is a guaranteed good read or good watch.  Thumbs up!

A favourite customer ‘gifted’ me with the television miniseries The Durrells in Corfu recently and I was as smitten with the series as she so confidently said I would be.  In fact, when I placed my hold on Season One she told me that I should place a hold on season two right away as I would be sure to want to watch Season Two as well.  She was right – it was that good (I have since thanked her for her sage advice, not to worry).  The miniseries originally aired on the British television network ITV and was picked up by PBS as part of their Masterpiece series.  We are fortunate to have both seasons at WPL and when the third season is encased in plastic on our shelves I will be faithfully waiting for it to arrive.  I will have a cup of tea ready to go and might even break out a festive meal in celebration.

The television show is an adaptation of the trilogy of books that Gerald Durrell wrote about the years his family spent on the island of Corfu.  He is at the centre of the books My Family and Other Animals, Birds, Beasts and Relatives and The Garden of the Gods but the screenwriters have chosen to make his mother, Louisa, the focus of their stories.  This was a great decision on their part – it gives the series a bit of snap that might be missing if the stories all centred on a young boy.  I’m sure that it would have been lovely but not quite the masterpiece we now have to enjoy.  It is fabulous.

After struggling to raise four willful children alone on a widow’s pension in gloomy England, Louisa decides to move them to a sunny Greek paradise.  Well, Louisa decides with the enthusiastic prompting of her eldest, Larry, who is determined to be a successful novelist (and becomes one – renowned author Lawrence Durrell ). The reaction of the other three is mixed at best. The chemistry between the family members is just magical.

When Louisa, Larry, next oldest son Leslie, only daughter Margo and young Gerald arrive on the island they are warmly welcomed by a taxi driver named Spiros who becomes their interpreter, protector and negotiator for everything – a villa, furniture, and the release of their funds from the bank.  While the family waits for their money to arrive they must ‘forage’ for something to eat and this is the first of many opportunities to see the different ways that the Durrells cope with adversity.  Larry flat out refuses to help, saying that he is busy writing.  Margo says that she is looking for a job and does so by sitting on their sundrenched patio in a bikini.  Leslie, always keen to help his mother, goes out with one of his many rifles and shoots some of the local wildlife while Gerald hunts for berries but ends up eating many, feeding some to their dog, and letting the remainder spoil while he is distracted by a neighbour who offers him a puppy.  Oh, the glorious little puppies.

Gerald Durrell’s passion for animals started when began keeping local wildlife as pets. They pile up so quickly that I can’t remember them all.  He had many species of birds, several types of mice, a number of insects, plus scorpions (!), turtles, otters, tortoises, snakes. In one lovely episode he wanted a goat so, so much.  The classic W. C. Fields quote about not working with children or animals does not apply in this series because actor Milo Parker, who plays Gerald, is top-notch and the furry and feathery supporting actors are sublime.  Animals and children are everywhere and make the show that much more enjoyable.  If you were to play this series without sound you would enjoy watching it for the visuals alone.

The three older children of the Durrell family also play their parts to perfection.  Larry is an aspiring novelist who spends every day wearing his underclothes and a polka-dotted robe while he types away in his room and when forced to provide encouragement or advice to his siblings he grudgingly does so but there is love behind the snide remarks.  Poor Leslie stomps about trying to find his place in their family, on the island, in the world and says “maybe I’m not the sort who is meant to be happy” but when Larry wonders if it might be time for him to return to England and they have a real brotherly conversation it is as if the two actors have really grown up together.  There is great chemistry there.  And Margo is sublime.  I’m sure that this young actor, Daisy Waterstone, is meant for great things.  She delivers every line – comic or dramatic – with such flair.  When she confesses to a local countess, played by the exquisite Leslie Caron, “I’m a bit dim”, there is really nothing more delightful.  It is so hard to choose a favourite among this cast of wonderful actors.

Each episode finds the family getting to know their new neighbours, the culture of the island, and finding their way to a happiness that they did not have in England.  It’s not an easy journey for them, thankfully, or the series would end and it would seem far too effortless.  It’s because life is a struggle for Louisa and her children that you keep watching, you become invested in their success, whether it be in Leslie’s love life, Margo’s quest for employment, or Larry’s constant pecking away at the typewriter.  And they are doing all of this while the sun is shining, they are wearing the most colourful clothes (well, Larry is usually wearing a dressing gown) and eating glorious meals on their patio which overlooks the Ionian Sea.  What more can you ask of a miniseries?  I read some terrific news online (there are spoilers about Louisa’s romantic prospects in this article so tread carefully) which tells us that ITV has committed to making a fourth season of The Durrells and that many key figures are returning to produce, direct and act in the show.

Besides Season One and Season Two on DVD,  we have many, many books written by Gerald and Lawrence in the collection.  Rosy is My Relative is a fabulous pick if you wanted something to read aloud on a car journey – it is sure to please everyone in your family.   You will find endless information about all of the Durrells on the Internet including wonderful content about Gerald’s conservation efforts and his Wildlife Conservation Trust.

It’s possible that after enjoying this miniseries you might be inspired to cook like Louisa, dress like Margo or plan a trip of your own to Greece.  The Durrells will keep you busy all through the summer with the help of the staff here at WPL.  And, if you are inspired to adopt a goat or a turtle then that’s entirely on Gerald.

— Penny M.

Earth Day

EarthDaypic2_editedHow will you celebrate Earth Day on April 22? Maybe an Earth Day project, such as picking up litter? Or maybe some quality time spent in nature? I’m planning to visit one of my favourite places, a nearby wooded nature trail. Running along side it is a meandering creek, and I love to stop and listen to the running water and look at the play of light on water. Just thinking about it makes me feel happy (and peaceful and calm)!

If you’re looking for some quality Earth Day viewing or reading material, here is a selection of DVDs plus a recently published book that will, hopefully, leave you feeling positive and inspired about this beautiful, fragile planet that we call home.

Taking Root: the vision of Wangari Maathai (DVD)
Wangari Maathai, a Kenyan woman, started a greenbelt movement that led to the planting of 35 million trees in her home country. For her efforts, she was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, becoming the first African woman to receive that honour.

Growing Cities: a film about urban farming in America (DVD)
The filmmakers take a road trip around the U.S. looking at urban farming. They profile people who are reclaiming vacant lots and working together to change those spaces into places to grow nutritious food. Now that’s a win all round. Growing Cities is very inspiring viewing.

Jane Goodall: Reason for Hope and Jane’s Journey (DVDs)
You can’t go wrong with Jane Goodall, the Englishwoman who studied chimpanzees for many years. She now devotes her time to travelling the world, bringing a hopeful environmental message to people. Both these DVDs examine her life and legacy. Or how about this? Go see her in person! Jane Goodall is appearing at Kitchener’s Centre in the Square on April 25th. How cool is that?

Earth: one amazing day (DVD)
I can only provisionally recommend this DVD, as, alas, I haven’t been able to see it (I’m stuck near the end of a holds list). This film, shot over the course of just one day, boasts spectacular and up-close nature photography.

The Nature Fix by Florence Williams (book)
This book poses the question, “Is being in nature good for us?” The answer is a resounding YES. Nature is deeply beneficial for our bodies and our minds. And I believe our spirits, too, should be added to that list.  In this lively-written, science-based account the author checks out many outdoor activities from forest bathing in Japan to rambling (a cool word for hiking) in Scotland. Read the book and find out for yourself how many hours a month are necessary, scientifically-speaking, to reap nature’s benefits. It’s probably less than you think!

Happy Earth Day!

— Penny D.