How many times did Leonard say to me, write to me, that he would love to show me the Labrador, that he wished he could take me to visit his seagoing friend in Nova Scotia who was building a yacht, that he could take me back to the places he’d been. They are countless, and I know this because you can do it all on the computer, right? Go into the manuscript and find them, and count them.
In the precious twenty-two years of his life that I knew him, he wrote about 7000 pages of letters, to me. He wrote thousands to other friends, but I think our connection was so close that he wrote more to me than to any one other person.
Now I am taking him home, not to the Labrador this time, but to where he went to secondary school in St. John’s, to Nova Scotia, to Fogo island where his father was born. If Len had had his preferences in life, one of them would have been never to leave the Maritimes; another would have been to have had a life on the sea.
Arctic Twilight is edited from the first four thousand pages he wrote me. Three thousand of those pages were of his family whom I knew, and who knew me. I heard of each new tooth a grandchild had struggled with, of a daughter’s gardens, of his wife Muriel’s Alzheimer disease.
The other thousand were of everything else he loved, mostly the people he treasured, native people he called, as they did back then, Indians and Eskimos; seagoing men, and women. he thought women were much higher in the scheme of things than men. He wrote of his Arctic postings with The Hudson’s Bay Company, of animals, of dogs and ospreys and owls and whales and seals. Goats. An early reader said his writing was magical, that once you get into it, you can’t put it down.
Unofficially he started working for the Company when he was twelve, behind the counter in North West River, Labrador, and driving nurses and doctors by dog team to distant locations on the Labrador. His official start was at Cartwright when he was 18 years old.
It’s a wonderful photo, isn’t it, Len at 18; it was once on the cover of Them Days Magazine as he often wrote for this oral history publication and was close to editor Doris Saunders. (He wrote many, many letters to her too, of course.)
So I will bring Leonard and his writings to Newfoundland and to Nova Scotia, reading in five libraries and several other venues. I could read for weeks never stopping, as although I’ve been taking him to places like Whitehorse lately, his writing is always alive to me, and I find it hard to stop reading his words aloud when the audience still seems to want more.
On Fogo I will be staying where he had lived for that seminal year when he was a boy, finishing the sequel to Arctic Twilight. I can’t wait to have my feet walk the places he walked. I can’t wait to bring his words to more places. Places that will be the richer for them.
I love being able to say that Arctic Twilight: Leonard Budgell and the Changing North is one of the best books anyone can read, that every Canadian should know his writings, because I didn’t write this book, Leonard did. It can be found on Amazon, also available on e-readers. It was published by Blue Butterfly Books, but is now under Dundurn Press.
To everyone ‘down east’, I’m looking forward to seeing you soon!