A memoir about a couple who were inspired by anti–Vietnam War sentiments and the return-to-nature movement of the 1970s to pull up stakes in the American Midwest and make a new life in Canada.
Nothing in their upbringing prepared the author and her husband for their future adventures when, in 1972, they bought a 300-acre farm in Echo Bay in northern Ontario. They had moved from America to Canada four years earlier, after learning that the baby they were expecting would not exempt Jack Dunning from the Vietnam draft. Now, they were fulfilling a dream of becoming homesteaders. In this evocative remembrance, Dunning (Education in Canada, 1997) looks back at how she, a young woman from a middle-class Quaker family in Pennsylvania, and her spouse, a young man from a wealthy family in Connecticut, wound up raising goats, chickens, and cattle and learned, often painfully, the difficulties of plowing, planting, harvesting, and baling. In addition to doing such fieldwork, Jack had a position teaching psychology at Algoma College in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario. Dunning, meanwhile, took care of their three small children (Erica, Robin, and Galen), gathered eggs, tended the vegetable garden, fed and watered the livestock, and milked the goats, among other tasks. They also ate what they raised, as they were dedicated to the idea of caring for the planet. The chores seemed endless, though, and after 15 years of them, the Dunnings finally decided that it was time to devote their energies to other things.
Dunning regales readers with some wonderful, funny vignettes, telling of Alexander the ram attempting to mate with every cow in heat or Jack trying to recapture a flyaway turkey. These are counterbalanced by the pall of animals dying while giving birth or getting killed by wolves or farm machinery. The author’s eldest daughter, who was always closest with the animals, is shown to be most affected by their loss: “Everything dies here,” she cried when her dog was tragically killed in a beaver trap. At one point, following an account of the death of a cat, Dunning poignantly muses: “losing animals hadn’t gotten any easier for Erica. It had become troublesomely easy for me, I thought, as I looked at her stricken, tear-stained face.” Although the book generally moves through the years sequentially, it also jumps around a bit, as one memory or another makes its way to the forefront. (Today, all the animals are gone and the fields are now worked by others, but the Dunnings still live on the same land.) Through it all, however, the author insightfully questions her path, juxtaposing her life choices against her expectations of being a “liberated” woman of the 1970s and ’80s: “Our lives create us as much as we create them. Mine created a farm wife, yes. It also created an endless search for self-definition, a conflicted stay-at-home mom, a dreadful businesswoman, and finally, a wordsmith.”
A thoughtful reflection on life, marriage, and child-rearing told from a unique perspective.