Choosing Wildness: My Life Among the Ospreys

Choosing Wildness: My Life Among the Ospreys

by Claude Arbour, Joan Irving

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In Choosing Wildness, Claude Arbour describes his unusual life on a wilderness lake in northern Quebec amidst a lively community of wild birds and animals. In vibrant, moving prose, he documents his personal journey from high school dropout to noted ornithologist and conservationist, explaining how he goes beyond reintroducing birds into the wild to preserve a network of nesting sites in the lake region. Arbour brings readers deep inside the mind of a man with the courage to forsake city life and the insight to explore the transformative power of nature.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781926685106
Publisher: Greystone Books
Publication date: 07/01/2009
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 208
File size: 275 KB

About the Author

Claude Arbour is an ornithologist, an ecologist, a conversationalist, an expert on backwoods survival, medicinal plants, and animal tracking, as well as an accomplished writer. From his lakeside home, he set-up the Fondation Naturaliste du Lac Villiers and continues his research and conservation activities, including the construction of numerous nesting platforms for ospreys threatened by loss of habitat. Widely recognized for the quality of his observations and data, Arbour frequently collaborates with scientists and professional animal trainers. He lives in the wilderness of northern Québec, near Saint-Michel-des-Saints.

Joan Irving is a translator specializing in film and television. She has written the subtitles for numerous feature and documentary films, including Les Invasions barbares. Her translation of Récits de Mathieu Mestokosho, chasseur innu (Caribou Hunter: A Song of a Vanished Innu Life) was published in 2006 by Greystone Books. She lives in Montreal, Quebec, Canada.

Read an Excerpt

From "With sweetness, with sweetness, with sweetness . . . " Paul Verlaine

This almost perfect team that obeys my least gesture and glance is the result of what I call my gentle training method. I don't pretend that it's the only viable method of training sled dogs or that everyone who raises them is brutal with their animals. However, in the world of sled-dog racing, there are trainers who will do anything to win: beat their dogs, inject them with anabolic steroids, put down those who don't run fast enough, and so on. I've seen dogs cower with fear when their names are called.

I decided to treat my dogs as friends, to put my faith in their intelligence and loyalty. My dogs live in a clean kennel where their poop is removed twice a day. They are attached to their small, log doghouses by chains 3 to 4 metres long. The doghouses protect them from rain and sleet. As for cold, it doesn't bother huskies; it's not unusual to see them sleeping on the snow in -40 C weather. I have noticed that a long chain, which allows a dog to walk in a wide circle around its house, helps keep it in shape during summer, until dog sled season arrives.

When the puppies are still young (under three months), I let them become attached to me but don't spoil them too much. I pick them up and put them in my lap, without petting and hugging them, so that later they will need and desire my presence but not my patting. When the pups are put in the kennel with the adult dogs, they must understand that I'm always there to provide for them. At first they are bored and bark all the time. But they mustn't bark except in dangerous situations or when the dogs need me—when a chain is tangled or a water bowl has spilled, for example. When a young dog barks for no reason I go out to the kennel and scold it, raising my voice a little, then put it in its doghouse. If it still barks for no reason after a few days, I shout at it from a distance, "Quiet! Doghouse!" and if it persists I'll go over and scold it. The dogs eventually realize that they can call me when necessary but mustn't abuse this.

Once the bond between the dog and the person is established there is nothing these animals cannot learn. Personally, I don't need my animals to sit up and beg. I want them to be able to walk over to the sled on their own as soon as I untie them and to help me put on the harness by lifting first their left, then their right foot, and by sticking their heads into the collar. I wouldn't be surprised if someday good old Moyac hitches himself up and takes off down the trail without me. Or that he hitches me up in his place!

Table of Contents


Part I

1 Where I Come From
2 A Mountain for Acturus
3 The Big Inventory
4 April, and the Annual Return of the Ospreys
5 June and July, Birthing Season
6 Fly, Thibon, Fly!
7 First Autumn Winds
8 Winterizing
9 A Christmas Present on the Way
10 The Bath Ritual
11 The Loner
12 Otters
13 Moon Rising
14 Sirius
15 Christmas Night
16 Tourists at Lac Villiers
17 Intelligence
18 Putting Up a Platform
19 "With sweetness, with sweetness, with sweetness . . . " Paul Verlaine
20 Let's Go!
21 Danielle and Shema

Part II

22 Running with the Dogs
23 The Dear Beavers
24 Observations in the Cold
25 Lupus, Lupus, Lupus
26 The Solitary Wolf
27 Kiakita, Yesterday and Tomorrw
28 The Last Wolves of Lac Villiers
29 Hard-to-Avoid Failures
30 The Big White Pine and the Backhouse
31 Never Forget the Swallows
32 A Word from Danielle
33 Ornithology, Family-Style
34 File 1641-1022, 94-BA-01
35 Hydro-Quebec and the Chicks of LG1, LG2, and LG3
36 The Release
37 The Common Loon
38 Superb Progenitor
39 A Race Against Time
40 Your Turn, Magic Light

Part III

41 Spring at Lac Villiers
42 The Children of Lac Villiers
43 The Trails at Lac Villiers
44 The Black Missile
45 Plenty of Ospreys
46 The Northern Pike
47 Reproduction of the Common Loon
48 Solstice, the Bald Eagle
49 The Pleasures of Ornithology
50 The World of Raptors
51 The Sandpiper
52 The Bird We Named Aurora
53 Bird Feeders in the Woods
54 Those Magnificent Ravens
55 A Marten Around the House
56 The Little Blond Demon
57 Ravens and Their Dirty Tricks
58 One Flew Over the Raven's Nest
59 Our Solitary Birds
60 A Happy Spring


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