Windsor’s Poet Laureate Emeritus Marty Gervais hopes his new book, Walk in the Woods: Portrait of the Ojibway Prairie Complex, will be an inspiring read.
The book was a collaboration between Gervais, Windsor’s Poet Laureate Mary Ann Mulhern, and Youth Poet Laureate Alexei Ungurenaşu, and grew out of solo walks the trio took through the complex, a 350-hectare provincial nature reserve, during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“At the beginning of COVID, everything was shut down, and people weren’t going anywhere, and people were staying home,” Gervais said. “I wanted to be in the sunlight.”
“I didn’t set out to write a book, or put together a book, or even have a photographic journal,” he said. “But essentially, that’s what this book is, kind of a photographic journal. It brought me to the woods, for moments of meditation, and silence, and introspection and also just finding new territory.”
Gervais said he had been to the Ojibway Prairie Complex before, but admitted he never really paid close attention, rather just walked along and talked to people.
His solo walks, which took place over the course of about 20 months during the pandemic, were different.
“I found myself looking at the shapes of trees, hearing, the sound of the wind in the trees or or the snapping of branches,” he said. “Hearing the frogs in the wetlands, or even just walking through the tall grass and hearing the swish of my body as it went through the prairie grass, or spotting deer in the winter in a snow flurry, or seeing snakes and possums in the underbrush.”
Through it all, Gervais carried his camera, capturing images of the animals, trees, and plants he came across.
“[At] one point I tripped on some undergrowth, some vines, and I fell flat on my face,” Gervais said. “My camera rolled out into the snow and and when I got up, there were three white-tailed deer standing there looking at me as if to say, ‘So you’ve made quite a spectacle of yourself.”
Eventually, Gervais spoke to Mulhern and Ungurenaşu, and they began going on their own walks through the area (all the photographs in the book were taken by Gervais, while Ungurenaşu and Mulhern contributed the writing).
“I believe trees can communicate with each other, and, with us,” Mulhern said in a statement. “When I walk in Ojibway, I love to be in the company of trees, to feel their welcome. Birdsong cheers me along pathways of peace. I always hope to encounter a deer hungry enough to eat an apple from my hand.”
Gervais said he hopes people that read the book are inspired to get close to nature in their own ways, and try to see things a little bit differently, even if they’re in an area they’ve been to before.
“Mary Ann Mulhern, she talks about the dance of the leaves, the changing from green to gold,” Gervais said. “And she says she’s watching these trees dance through the autumn wind.”
“That’s a poetic way of looking at it,” he said. “So instead of just looking over the landscape, now you look at the trees as being in a dance.”
“I guess my hope is that they will take away a glimpse of what we’ve experienced.”