One afternoon in the autumn of 2003 a manuscript arrived from Pereaux, Nova Scotia. The covering letter was jotted in pencil on the back of some correspondence to do with harvesting HoneyCrisp apples. Our interest was piqued.
Probing Minds, Salamander Girls and a Dog Named Sally is a meandering memoir of growing up along the back roads, orchards and hillsides of Nova Scotia’s Annapolis Valley. Harrison Wright’s hardy sense of humour, love of adventure and confident voice usher us into a world characterized by fascination and delight with life. Wright regales with stories about friends, farming, beat-up cars, rousing get-togethers, pets and wildlife, unattainable college girls and home-brewed adventures. Coupled with these are his reflections on life and the particulars of growing up. Like a roughly hewn Garrison Keillor, Wright records his daily passings through his landscape. Set “on a small winding dirt road with a No Exit sign at the end of it,” these narratives are told thoughtfully, with ease and humour, and a solid sense of self and place.
Wright demonstrates a similar approach to life and writing: testing the limits, then going beyond them. Probing Minds is a treatise on living well and a coming-of-age memoir set against the well-worn landscape of Nova Scotia’s agricultural region. The collection is comprised of sixteen narratives, many of which you can bet have been told once or twice on a back porch on a hot afternoon or next to the wood stove on a cold January evening. At twenty-six, Wright has learned a thing or two, but has not lost touch with the best of his earlier exploits. He relives a day spent building an aerial shortcut across a deep gully, the joy of digging a hole for the sake of a hole, and the kinds of adventures that emerge naturally on a farm: spring burning, engine fires and near misses with tractors. Alongside are sobering encounters with nesting pheasants and leopard frogs, and silent afternoons spent tilling fields; experiences that centre him in the natural world. Probing Minds, Salamander Girls and a Dog Named Sally is the product of an unwieldy imagination, thoughtful outlook and Wright’s refreshing willingness to have a laugh at his own expense.
“A lot of these stories were actually inspired somewhat by depression, or as a counter to depression,” says Wright. “It’s a common theme in the world today; I don’t know if the world’s a more depressing place, humankind is more self-inspecting, or if in the information age we feel we just know too much. I’ve seen it in my life, in others, sometimes in myself. But sometimes things happen, things I feel sort of excited about, or I’ll get this surge of something in my brain that makes me glad to be doing what I’m doing, or maybe there’s some mystery about that I want to be a part of. Most of the stories are me trying to capture those things that make life livable and enjoyable, things that when they happen you know you will remember them. These stories are a giant list in my pocket.”
This 5.25 x 8-inch book is a smyth-sewn paperback bound in card stock with an offset-printed jacket. The text is printed offset on laid paper.