November 20, 2010

Okanagan Odyssey

I just finished reading this beautiful book by Don Gayton, an ecologist and writer who lives in Summerland. Okanagan Odyssey, subtitled "Journeys through Terrain, Terroir and Culture," takes us on a tour of the Okanagan from south to north. Gayton reflects knowledgeably about the terrain and takes wine pairing a step further by positing wine triplings for the various Okanagan ecologies he explores.

In fact, I would say he does wine quadrupling, putting together a simple wine grown in the territory he's discussing with local foods and some suitable reading for his often solitary dinners. For instance, his exploration of Lake Okanagan's Rattlesnake Island leads him to writings about the Lebanese entrepreneur Eddy Haymour who tried to develop it. He makes some lamb kebabs and adds a Muscat wine from Naramata (muscat being a grape with Near Eastern origins) to celebrate this quirky corner of the Okanagan.

One of the best ideas I've taken away from the book is the concept of placemaking - that in order for a place truly to be home, you need to understand the geography around it. Gayton says he feels uncomfortable when people say, "Oh, you're so lucky to be living in the Okanagan." He says he doesn't like putting one bioregion above another, and that merely because we move somewhere doesn't mean any of its cachet becomes ours. "Mere association with a place does not transform our lives," he says. "The Okanagan is not a trophy wife." The better we understand where we live, the more likely we are to live wisely and honour our surroundings.

Gayton is engaging and natural both in person and in his writing - the serious covers of his books belie the funniness within. Previously I'd read his Interwoven Wild, which is mostly about the ecology of his own yard. I learned a lot from it, especially not to plant tulips starkly in the middle of nowhere but to give them a home near a shrub, around or under something, an idea that has made a lovely difference in my spring garden. Gayton (and my children) also inspired me to compost food waste, a venture which, after just seven months, has been really successful. We've got some nice compost happening. I think everyone who has a yard should compost their own food waste - a normal little thing we can do to preserve, sustain and even enhance our environment.


  1. A beautifully, eloquently written post/tribute to Marj. Thanks.

  2. Thanks. I really appreciate your comment and still haven't given up on a "guest review"! I think this comment belongs with Poems and Readings for Funerals but got onto this post by accident. It's OK. I knew which one you meant.

  3. Oops, I guess I put it in the wrong spot. Sorry to mess up your beautiful blog! I really had good intentions about doing a guest review but need to set aside some time for that and it just hasn't happened yet and now probably won't for awhile.

  4. I'm looking forward to revisiting this book, maybe over the Christmas break. I so enjoyed digging into Interwoven Wild, and almost finished it on the way home from Winnipeg. There's a real richness and warmth and lack of pretension to his writing, and when it is about our places, it feels like a gift.