Lorenzo Reading Series: Ecologist Don Gayton Reads at UNBSJ

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The Lorenzo Reading Series featured an author of a unique disposition for their Monday, Feb. 10 reading. Don Gayton is an award-winning writer, an ecologist, a peace advocate and a consultant. If anything, his environmental focus drew a diverse crowd of regular Lorenzo patrons and newcomers to the Ganong Hall Lecture Theatre.

Gayton writes technical articles on grasslands, climate change and fire ecology for Canadian Geographic as well as writing his own literary works of both fiction and non-fiction.

The Canadian author’s literary recognition is vast. Gayton has won The Lake literary non-fiction contest, the Saskatchewan Writers Guild Non-Fiction prize, the U.S. National Outdoor Book award, the Canadian Science Writers Award and the Peace Corps Travel Book Award. Don has also been shortlisted twice for the B.C. Book Awards in the non-fiction category.

Gayton read excerpts from two of his most recent works, Man Facing West and Okanagan Odyssey. While Man Facing West merges fiction and non-fiction in its semi-autobiographical narrative, Okanagan Odyssey is a travelogue that makes use of poetic language to describe the natural landscape of the Okanagan Valley.

Man Facing West is a novel that straddles the worlds of science and creative writing, a difficult feat for any author. Gayton chronicles his youth as an American, his disappointments with his country’s actions, his move to Canada where he became a passionate Canadian and the author’s adventures internationally.

Though the work is somewhat fictional, it merges autobiographical aspects of the author’s own life to make for an interesting read. The excerpts Gayton chose to read included a father and son “roots” trip to Nova Scotia in the chapter entitled “A Schooner in Memory.” Another excerpt focused on the author’s journey to a Columbian village for an ecological project. The hilarious right of passage, wherein Gayton discovers that the Columbians didn’t need his scientific expertise after all, reflects broader issues with environmental studies and projects.

Okanagan Odyssey is a very different novel from Man Facing West. The work is a travelogue that follows Gayton’s progress across the Okanagan Valley, beginning at the American border. Rather than a stereotypical travel guide, Okanagan Odyssey is a wine-infused exploration of the valley’s history, local ecosystems, famed vineyards and its residents. The book is poetic in its description of landscape, sensitive to ecological facts and most importantly vernacular in its appeal to readers of any genre. The Okanagan’s terroir, or sense of place, is emphasized by Gayton in his scientific explorations of how wine is affected by local environment. Living up to an overly determined classical influence, namely Homer’s Odyssey, Gayton rose to the challenge and created a travel book of epic proportions.

The author concluded his readings with a quote from his Okanagan Odyssey, “wine is a message in a bottle,” which appropriately summed up his literary endeavours with said work.

Gayton’s interest in wine doesn’t stop with the Okanagan Odyssey, when he is not busy at work the author tends his own 60-plant vineyard in the Okanagan Valley. He elaborates further on notions of place and product, from personal experience: “There’s this whole concept of terroir which is, you know, this is the juice from a particular place, a particular geology, a particular climate, a particular culture. And that culture is my backyard.”

To find out more about Don Gayton, check out his website http://dongayton.ca/

For more information upcoming Lorenzo Reading Series events, check out their website http://www.unb.ca/saintjohn/arts/lorenzo/readingseries.html or contact Lorenzo Reading Series Coordinator Margaret Anne Smith at Margaret.Smith@unb.ca.