Saturday, September 9, 2017

Review: Devil in Deerskins: My Life With Grey Owl by Anahareo

Devil in Deerskins: My Life with Grey Owl is written by Anahareo, born Gertrude Bernard, and I really can't begin to describe how amazing she is, and how amazing she is at telling her story. Devil in Deerskins is everything you could ever want in a memoir: humour, adventure, romance, death, separation, coming back together, journeys to find oneself...




Devil in Deerskins begins with Anahareo meeting Archie Belaney, "Englishman, trapper, and guide - later known as Grey Owl, author, lecturer and naturalist - Brother of the Beaver People." She then goes back to tell the story of her Mohawk family and their influence on her, her grandmother in particular, who raised her. Eventually, Anahareo, quite green to the ways of the wilderness (which makes for a hilarious tale), goes to stay with Grey Owl on one of his hunting trips and never goes back. The rest of the book follows Anahareo and Grey Owl's many ups and downs, as well as how they end up adopting two beaver kittens and turning from a life of trapping to a life in conservation.

It was so much fun to read about Anahareo and Grey Owl's adventures, as they were such interesting, funny people, both separately and together. Neither of them quite fit into the usual mold of society, so it is fascinating reading about their lifestyle and the kinds of things they got up to. It's especially funny when they do something more normal, like go to a dinner party, and then one of them (Grey Owl) acts silly because it's so out of his comfort zone.


There was so much tension throughout the book; of what they would do next, of what would happen to the beavers, how they would support themselves, how they would relieve their boredom (this crazy adventurous couple got bored easily), or whether they would find each other again when they left on their various hunting or prospecting trips. Anahareo drives the story forward at a great pace to keep you completely enraptured; I was hooked from start to finish. She also has a great voice and perspective on life that is so much fun to read. Wow did she know how to tell a good story.




I had actually heard of Grey Owl before; every year since I was young, my mom's side of the family has made a trip out to Riding Mountain National Park around the September long weekend. Over the years I've spent going to Riding Mountain, I'd heard of a man called Grey Owl, when wandering through the Visitor Centre or the tiny, packed museum in town. All I really knew about him was that he pretended to be an Indigenous man, and he worked for the park at some point. I'm so glad that Devil in Deerskins was my more in-depth introduction to Anahareo and Grey Owl, as they are both so much more than what I've ever heard in passing.


This year my parents, cousins, uncle, brother and I all biked just over 7 kilometres along the Grey Owl trail in Riding Mountain National Park to get to Grey Owl's Cabin, a cabin where Grey Owl stayed for six months trying to start a beaver colony (Anahareo was off doing something else at that point - I think maybe prospecting?). (All the pictures in this post are from that bike ride.) It was really interesting that Anahareo wasn't mentioned in any of the blurbs about Grey Owl on any of the trail signs or the book about Grey Owl in the cabin, even though she was a huge part of the reason why Grey Owl stopped trapping beaver and turned to conservation.



They are both such fascinating people, and Anahareo tells her story so well; it is humorous, fast-paced, and even romantic, and I definitely encourage everyone and anyone to get their hands on a copy of this excellent memoir.

Bonus fav quote: "A kiss when both parties are on snowshoes leaves much to be desired. Try it sometime."

Devil in Deerskins on:
Amazon.com
Amazon.ca
U of M Press

Thanks University of Manitoba Press for providing me with a copy!

1 comment:

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