In the summer of 1964, Timothy Findley and his companion, William Whitehead, were romantics who believed that a tumbledown, vacant, nineteenth-century farmhouse on fifty acres of land just outside Cannington, Ontario could be turned into a home, workplace, and haven. With the considerable help of neighbours, the duo did manage to rescue the property from decay. Findley named it "Stone Orchard" as a tribute to his favourite writer, Chekhov, and because stones were its only true crop for a while. Of course, in local terms, the phrase means "graveyard", and many of Findley's dead pets lie buried there, along with the ashes of his brother and parents. But "Stone Orchard" became part of Ontario's literary map. Its luxuriant gardens, fields of rippling grass, and lush woods made a perfectly pastoral environment for the writer (who wrote many of his best novels there), and retreat for his guests. These guests, however, sometimes wrought mayhem, as on "the night the bed fell, exposing the occupants, who were making love, to the shouts and screams of the rest of us who were not making love; and the dinner party, when everyone went outside in the twilight, dressed like royalty, napkins and wineglasses in hand, to watch a herd of deer, with majestic stag, pass through the gardens, pausing to eat our grass."
From Stone Orchard: A Collection of Memories (HarperFlamingo Canada, 170 pages, $26 cloth) is an album of reminiscences in the form of brief anecdotal sketches and reflections which were all previously published in Harrowsmith. It has moments of fleeting excellence, as in the passage quoted above; however, the spirit of place was better suggested in Inside Memory (1990) where the reminiscences were less repetitive, thin, and sentimental. It does offer thumbnail personality sketches, rural recipes, woodcut drawings, and descriptions of country living. And, while From Stone Orchard is a minor work by a major writer who here often appears to be a male version of Catherine Parr Traill, it stands as a genuine homage to a private world to which Findley and Whitehead, now residing in Stratford, have bid farewell.
Keith Garebian's next book is The Making of `Cabaret' (Mosaic).