A Country Boy: From Sussex to the Canadian West is a memoir of an English lad transplanted to Saskatchewan, where he took root and flourished as a naturalist, author, and artist.
Robert David Symons came by his artistic talent honestly – his father was a professional artist, and a critical one at that. He called his son’s first painting a “mess” and trampled on it “like one of Kipling’s elephants,” then showed the youngster the proper way to paint.
Symons excels at detailed descriptions of prairie life, painting vivid pictures in the reader’s mind: “Coffee bubbled in a granite pot; on the well scrubbed cabinet big, brown loaves steamed, belly upward, cheek by jowl with fragrant pies.”
With an artist’s eye, Symons describes one man who “possessed a tremendous acreage of gleaming teeth, and very dark eyebrows, like bits of moleskin pasted on.” His description of a prairie blizzard, resulting in 800 dead or dying cattle, is smack on.
Symons enlisted in the Canadian Expeditionary Force during World War I and in one particularly hot battle found himself commanding a much depleted company because all the other officers had become casualties.
He also tried his hand at farming, with disastrous results. In his first year, he reaped barely one bushel out of his entire 135 acres. After selling his land, he sold all his belongings to a neighbour, who never paid him.
This 253-page memoir nicely complements the coffee table book, Robert David Symons: Countryman: Artist, Writer, Naturalist, Rancher, by exploring the fascinating life of the man behind the paintings.
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