As an animal lover and an avid reader, I have been captivated by the writings of Scottish veterinarian-turned-author James Herriot for decades. Herriot’s style was timeless – heartrending without being maudlin, hilarious in the dry, acerbic manner Brits are famous for. At the same time, he evoked a sense of place that was so palpable, you could easily imagine yourself there. Herriot, originally from Glasgow, lived and practiced in the Yorkshire Dales area of England, and Herriot’s colourful descriptions of the people of the Dales, as well as his ability to paint a vivid landscape using words alone, has always made me want to visit this area of the world.
I still remember when I heard via the daily news that Herriot had passed away, and the wave of sadness that swept me, knowing there would be no more stories of his life and work to discover.
When I first moved to Fort McMurray, I found a parallel between my own life and the fondness Herriot feels for his newfound countrymen. Growing up in Saskatchewan, I hadn’t encountered anyone from Newfoundland before moving to Fort McMurray, and I was immediately struck by the character of the those I met almost the minute I arrived. Newfoundlanders are, by and large, some of the nicest people you could hope to encounter in Canada. Unremittingly cheerful even in the worst of circumstances, generous and kind to a fault, and with an unshakeable love for community and family, I’ve always enjoyed the company of Newfoundlanders and longed to visit their beloved Rock, to see the dramatic coastlines, wild landscapes and colourful fishing communities for myself.
When I ran across a lone copy of Creatures of the Rock by veterinarian Andrew Peacock, I felt as if I’d rediscovered the writings of James Herriot. Ontario-born Peacock arrives in Newfoundland as a newly-qualified young veterinarian, eager to discover the secrets of his trade as well as the people and landscape of his new home. There are many parallels between his own life and that of Herriot – Peacock himself acknowledges the similarities during his memoir.
The charm of this book lies in part with Peacock’s ability to spin a good yarn, laughing at himself as much as anyone and tempering his humorous characterizations of Newfoundlanders with a genuine affection for the people and the region. But just as much, I loved this book for the unique experiences that could only happen to a vet working in rural Newfoundland. Like any country vet, Peacock sees his share of calvings, cats hit by cars, horses with hoof problems and bloated cattle. But only in Newfoundland would a vet have to assist in dental surgery on a polar bear, surgically repair the damaged toe of a lynx caught in a leg trap, rescue a newborn moose calf or perform heart monitoring on a humpback whale in the open ocean.
Peacock’s love of place brings the beauty and hardships of rural Newfoundland to vivid life, and this is another reason to love this book. If, like myself, you’ve never been to Newfoundland, you’ll find yourself longing to visit the province’s rocky shores and colourful communities, and if you’re lucky enough to call the Rock home, I’m guessing you’ll find yourself a little homesick as you read through Peacock’s memoir.