Sunday, November 4, 2012

Litfest 2012 in Edmonton

Last weekend I was lucky enough to be involved in Canada’s only purely non-fiction literary event. Litfest takes place each year in Edmonton and runs over ten days. Dozens of authors are involved and talks of varying length and styles were given in several venues.

David Cheoros and Jerry (l) sorting out some admin details. (ph Kim Fong)
David Cheoros and his wonderful team organized everything to a “t”. My flights were booked and when I arrived in my hotel I was astonished to find an empty beer carton with a carefully labeled sticker attached. The sticker stated “beer in fridge.” Many volunteers ran me to and fro  - thanks to Pamela, Kathy and John.

Dr. Ole Nielsen at Litfest
My presentations started in the Strathcona County Council chambers in the community of Sherwood Park.  It was here that friend and former dean of the Western College of Veterinary Medicine, Dr. Ole Nielsen, introduced me. I was given 40 minutes, which is a long spot at a literary event, and so that rather than reading from my “Of Moose and Men” book I told some stories in the style of the ancient Cantastoria tellers who used picture boards and drawings to engage the audience. Of course the most modern form of this art is electronic and I used a PowerPoint presentation to share some of my experiences with this most remarkable animal. To pay homage to Ole I also started with the opening paragraph of the book, which is a telegram sent to him from Rwanda after he had offered me the job that launched me on my university career. It reads:


In one segment of the presentation I told about how moose have been domesticated through the ages. There does not seem to be an old history of domestication in Eurasia, but we do now that the Aboriginal peoples of North America were using them in this way from at least the 1600s.

School bus, or fun outing in Russia.
They have been ridden, used to pull sleighs and buggies and kept as pets. The grainy B&W pic showing a sleigh full of small children being pulled by a cow moose caused much amusement. Was it a “school bus” or an outing for fun? I have no idea.

Tatiana Minaeva at milking time
In Russia there are at least two moose farms, and it was from Dr. Alexander Minaev that I learned about a farm at Kostroma where moose are routinely milked every day. He has a fascinating web site that shows many aspects of the operation and here are some pictures from that site. The milk goes to a local sanatorium for medical use, particularly for patients with stomach problems.

One account of a moose farm in Sweden has it that this is the source of the world’s most expensive cheese. I know that one audience member tweeted this little gem and before that day was over she received notice that it has been RT’d four times. I wonder if this was because the price, at last report, was a mere eleven hundred dollars per kilo. That is $1100! Any orders out there?

My next event was at a dinner in the Santa Maria Goretti Centre as one of four authors. This centre uses the same parking lot as Commonwealth Stadium, so it was a good thing that the CFL's Edmonton Eskimos were not playing at home that night. After a chicken meal served “family style” and some excellent wines sponsored by Naramata Bench Wines we all read or told sections from our books.

First up was Marcello Di Cintio who read a section about the Mexico / US fence from, his book Walls. As he said, the entire book, by its very nature, is pretty dark. For instance one of the walls he visited during his research was the one that divides Gaza from Israel. His fence piece told the story of a musician who ”played” the wall.

Telling about large antlers after dinner (ph Kim Fong)
Then I came on. I read a short piece about the confusion caused by the Scottish use of moose as opposed to mouse and Robbie Burns’s famous poem. I followed this with a reprise of my Montreal Story Slam about the role of antlers in during the rut of moose. I have posted this one on YouTube and if you haven’t seen it you might enjoy it.

After the dessert Carmen Aguirre read from her book Something Fierce: Memoirs of a Revolutionary Daughter. The story she tells is a harrowing one and as she read an account of her struggles against the Pinochet regime in Chile I was much moved.    

AndrewNikiforuk wound up the session with a piece from his book Empire of the Beetle. He chose an account of the role of bark beetles in forest ecology. Of course, as far as Canadians are concerned the pine beetle that has wreaked such havoc in British Columbia was the main theme. As he pointed out, the beetle has been the principal regenerator of forests from time immemorial, long before humans began to try and manage the resource.

Pamela, Candace, me and Andrew at the panel session. (ph Kim Fong)
The final event of the entire festival found me at a panel session in the Milner library in downtown Edmonton alongside Andrew Nikiforuk again and also Saskatoon’s and East End's own Candace SavageOur topic was Fauna. We each read short pieces from our work, Candace from her book A Geography of Blood. Then we had to try and field questions from our moderator, Pamela Anthony, and from the floor. We tried to answer some of the questions, but as Candace carefully dodged one impossible one I realize that we would need weeks, if not years, to make any kind of meaningful reply.

We all, panel and audience alike, realized that humans are the main driver of changes in both Canadian and global fauna. I did make a point from my African experiences. Why would a family living on a dollar a day be concerned about preserving the lions that kill their cattle or the elephants that devastate an entire year’s supply of staple foods such as maize or millet in a single night’s feeding? Thoughts of conservation are all very well for us in Canada, but these folks may have a different view, and who would blame them?

In the spirit of the whole event. Jerry and Pamela (ph Kim Fong)
All-in-all the festival was an amazing experience. Thanks to David and his team for all their hard work.


Unknown said...

Thanks for sharing these updates! I love to read the updates about Edmonton! I have been real interested in veterinarians edmonton lately so I really thought that the updates about the animals were real great! Can you tell me where I can find more information about the animals in Edmonton?

Jerry Haigh said...

Sorry Suzy,
I'm a Saskatoon guy and so Edmonton is outside my territory. I'm sure the Edmonton Vet Assn can guide you. Good luck. Jerry

Unknown said...

Ah man, I typed vet in Edmonton as well and it brought me here. Didn't find what I was looking for but your story and the service you do is great! What made you want to start doing what you do? Where do you get most of your fan base? How often do you do your shows?

Jerry Haigh said...

Hi there Tom,
Thanks for your note. I'm a wildlife vet who was born in Kenya and went back there 3 days after graduation from Glasgow. The fact that I could play a decent game of tennis had a huge role in my subsequent 40 some years as a wildlife vet. I'm sure you can figure out the link :)

I have writen about part of my career in my 3 books and hope to do one or two more.

I'm not sure how much of a "fan base" I have, if any.

As for shows, I have told stories across Canada, in Africa, UK, NZ and Australia, mixing my true-lfe widlife experiences with folk tales. It is not everyone who has had soldier ants up his shorts, an arm up the backside of a rhino, or been chased by an irate mother moose.

As for "doing what I do" I jsut gort into thsi career by chance, and I guess grasping the opportunity. The Haigh family motto os "Tyde what may."