In April 2017, Justin Barbour and his Cape Shore water dog, Saku, arrived in Robinsons, on the Rock’s west coast, where they began a quest to experience the province’s woods and waters first-hand. A late winter lingers as they push over the Long Range Mountains to the interior of the island, where they hope thawed lakes and rivers will allow them to continue by inflatable raft. From sunrise to sunset, follow the companions as they battle the dangerous and unforgiving elements to reach Cape Broyle, some 700 kilometres away.
I like travel. Simple as that. Travelogue, travel lit, travel memoir – I’ll read it, and I’ve read a lot of it. Written some too. So when I saw Justin Barbour’s Man and Dog on my friend’s stack of books, I had to have it. That friend being generous, the book’s now mine. And I’m glad it is.
There’s an old joke. Goes like this. Those who can, do. Those who can’t, teach. And those who can’t teach, teach gym. Untrue but funny. So if I were a prejudiced profiler, in any way influenced by the old joke and its associated stereotypes, I may be disinclined to include part-time phys-ed instructor Justin Barbour with the literati. I don’t like to judge, mind you. Nor have I been asked to. But as a comedian once said, the job was there. However. Preamble, prejudice and tasteless jokes aside, author Justin Barbour is in fact a capable, engaging writer with a knowledge and passion for the outdoors as exemplary as Wordsworth, Macfarlane, or Oliver, with the ability to capture it like Proenneke or Stroud.
I liked Man and Dog the moment I started reading it – timeline, maps and photos laid out with care – the methodical approach of a well-prepared adventure-traveller, with enough cockups and poor decisions to make it relatable. It’s impossible to dislike our nonfiction protagonists – in this case, Barbour and his Newfoundland Cape Shore water dog Saku. As the two undergo their audacious quest – a self-powered trek across Newfoundland, we can’t help but pull for our affable explorers. Whether by default or design I can’t say, but Saku quickly becomes our story’s hero. Barbour’s love for his dog – his best friend – leaps from the page, puppy-like, to lap at the reader’s face. It’s infectious in its sincerity. In the author’s honesty, I see the welcoming warmth of east-coast storytelling taking the lead like a fiddle-fuelled ceilidh.
With that, we walked off the pond. Near an outlet to a river I heard a few rumbles under our feet. I froze and called Saku to my side. We were at least a hundred feet from the opening, but I was worried the day’s heat was further loosening things up. It was either that or an air pocket. Thankfully the latter proved true, and we continued back up the hill and over the snowdrifts. I went back to the summit, but there was no case to be found. I came to grips with the loss and headed back to Rang Tang. Trekking back, the landscape resembled a vast wasteland. With rolling white hills as far as the eye could see. Still no big game had surfaced, and I was starting to feel disappointed. Where were they hiding? This was a playground for them!
If you, like me, like travel writing and armchair adventures, Justin Barbour’s Man and Dog delivers. I applaud this outdoorsman-writer-photographer-filmmaker on his accomplishment – the trek, the photos, the book – a well-executed, outdoorsy trifecta. Like anything, even if it’s not your thing, hearing it from someone with knowledge and passion makes it interesting and enjoyable. Which Barbour accomplishes in spades. To take a page from this book’s openness, I now have a confession. I’m not one for adoration but reading this book I developed a bit of a fanboy crush. Yes. I’ve fallen for Saku.
Title: Man And Dog: Through the Newfoundland Wilderness
Author: Justin Barbour
Publisher: Flanker Press, 2019
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