“To live and take root”—Louise de Kiriline at Pimisi Bay

December 5 | 2022

As Montreal, city of my birth, prepares to host Cop15, I’m engrossed in a celebration of nature and place written more than a half century ago by a woman for whom a few acres in northern Ontario inspired a lifetime of words. Louise de Kiriline Lawrence, author of The Lovely and the Wild, immigrated from Sweden to Canada in 1927 and years later began searching for a piece of land where she “could live and take root.”

Louise considered her discovery and acquisition of her property at Pimisi Bay, 320 km northwest of Ottawa, to be “a dream come true.” But the fulfilment of her dream meant, for this Swedish aristocrat, a life of simplicity and physical hardship as the price for her intimacy with the natural world. Her dream, once realized, thus turned out to be missing “part of the original ingredients,” and yet Louise found that the reality of her life was “acceptable without them.”

Over the decades, Louise mourned the decline of bird life in her small patch of land around Pimisi Bay. Although she undoubtedly would have supported Cop15, the UN biodiversity conference to halt and reverse nature loss, Louise wasn’t by orientation a policy maker. Instead, her contribution entailed observing and recording every rock and vernal pool and woodpecker snag, every white pine and Indian Pipe and itinerant evening grosbeak in the surroundings of her home. Louise was in essence a Woman, Watching, the title of Merilyn Simonds’s beautiful and expansive new book about the life and literary output of Louise de Kiriline Lawrence. 

It was Simonds’s tribute that prompted me to seek out a vintage copy of The Lovely and the Wild with its original dust jacket (shown above). I’m by no means the first reader of this copy still bearing the card pocket from Parish Memorial Library in Albuquerque. But I am not the least admiring, nor will I be the last to acknowledge the stubborn relevance of The Lovely and the Wild