To present these ambassadors of nature who are unlike any others, here are the words of Serge Bouchard, excerpts from his preface to the beautiful book FRISSON SACRÉ du monde sauvage.
Gisèle and the Wolves
At the beginning beauty prevailed, and somewhere inside this beauty there was a little girl asleep on her big dog listening to the heartbeats of the wolves. Children dream, but we do not always take these dreams seriously. However, there is nothing more true and more determinant than a child's dream. If it resists, if it is not broken, it will hold you, and will pull you forward until the end. Mine were also inhabited by forest animals, trees, lakes, and mysterious trails. All that was magical in my childhood bore the name "wild". How could you imagine that I would not fall in love with the Benoit family when it crossed my path?
The Benoits’ story is unique: a family united around a common passion, total, demanding, sacred. A story such as one sees only in books, in fact, in the tales... the father, mother and daughter who enter the woods as one enters a sacred temple. The red foxes lie down beside them, the grouse march on them, the chipmunks run in their pockets, imagine! A true story, though, with its quests, its excesses and its setbacks – as you will read in Gabriel Leblanc's fascinating and sensitive account. The Benoits have sought the perfect place, the absolute, to realize that, in spite of the apparent immensity of the territory, it was absolutely rare, this country of free animals. Nature became almost unreachable. There were too many trees cut, too many roads opened, wild lands occupied, species trapped and hunted down, and darkness was electrified: the result of too little respect for the heritage value of virgin areas.
Then, in the wake of a childhood dream, Gisele's dream, the Benoits followed the track of the wolves. For one reason or another, there are no wolves south of the St. Lawrence River. The family had to leave Gaspesia in search of an even harder place to find. It was in the boreal forest in the heart of Ontario, near Chapleau, that they found this new "territory", a kind of natural refuge made up of a large forest hitherto protected against exploitation. Then in this removed area, with time and endless patience, came the encounter – the unlikely friendship with a wolf pack. I had the privilege, at that time, of receiving Gisèle Benoit on my Radio-Canada program Les Chemins de Travers. We discussed artistic vocation, life choices and passion. But we mostly talked about wolves and the value of wild environments. It was for me and for the listeners an exceptional radio moment: two hours presenting the gray wolves of the Chapleau forest, live on a national network.
Do we know that Quebec society has long denied, even exterminated its wolves? Already in the nineteenth century the government offered a bounty to anyone who presented the magistrate with an animal's body – the head with its whole ears. The wolf had a bad reputation. It was said to be injurious, vicious, an enemy of the cultivator and of the good Christian, a slayer of children. It was accused of attacking moose, deer and caribou, and threatening the survival of big game. In the early 1960s, hunting and fishing chroniclers cried out for the eradication of the wolf and nobody dared to contradict them. Our governments had even endorsed a policy of extermination of the species by strychnine poisoning, putting an end to this medieval practice only in 1979. Just writing this sentence gives me chills in the back. By denying the wolves we denied ourselves, neglecting our territorial heritage and selling our natural resources in the name of very short-sighted economic policies. The work of the Benoit family was going in the opposite direction, ascending the current like the salmon which no contrary force could divert from their race to the source.
At the beginning beauty prevailed, and this beauty is found intact in the book you hold in your hands, simple and sacred, as if "in the curly bark of a white birch" one could read "the teachings of the wild". I see the Benoits as illuminators. Their monastic work corrects and repairs a fault of disaffection against magisterial nature which surrounds us, against the fabulous animals that live there, against our own humanity when it renounces the best of itself. As a child, little Gisele dreamed of wolves not in fear, but in deepest wonder. She held to her dream, and the wolves thanked her very much.
Montreal, April 13, 2016
Preface to the beautiful book FRISSON SACRÉ du monde sauvage.
To find untouched nature, the Benoits have listened to the call of the West, and of the Yukon in particular, following the natural tendency of our north american fantasies. The moose is always bigger towards the west, like the bears, like the mountains. "Wilderness" always seems more authentic there, over there... Fortunately for us, the Benoits discovered a true moose sanctuary in the Gaspesia hinterland, and it is there, among the splendours and solitude of the Chic-Chocs, that they began to live away from the world. Three hermits living together, who made sketches, paintings, photographs and documentaries, three passionate people who moved forward groping, and experimented with instinct to finally reveal themselves, without knowing it, as formidable ethologists. In the manner of Paul Provencher, they adopted participating observation: merging with the animals in the heart of the wildest forest, living like moose to better understand the nature of the beast… "to be" a moose. So we discovered on television the one that would be nicknamed "The Moose Lady", wearing false antlers, and grunting like a bull moose. Not only did Gisèle Benoit and her family offer us close-up images of the wilderness, but they documented the behavior of the world's largest deer, survivors of the Pleistocene Epoch. They brought a valuable contribution to science.
Frédéric Back, who was for the Benoits an accomplice, a mentor and an epistolary friend, envied their happiness "to escape for a moment from the world of bipeds". But above all, in each of his letters he encouraged them to continue their struggle. For behind the happiness emerging from the Benoits’ way of life, a thousand leagues from the sounds and effusions of modernity, Back recognized a real combat against insignificance. To alert society, one must write the poetry of the world, name the blessed lands, militate for beauty. When Gisèle Benoit takes up the pen, when the whole family paints, films and documents the morning mists, the cold of the first snows, the autumn light, the starry nights of the North, when it communicates the mysterious energy emanating from the old rocky crests, when it fixes the gaze of the animal, it puts things back in the direction of nature. The Benoit family reveals to us a national treasure, this treasure of which we have collectively retained only the tinsel: the commercial value of trees, the economic utility of animals, the power of water, diamonds in stone and gold in the rock.
Documentary series Wilderness Encounters chronicles the adventures and discoveries of a passionate naturalist trio (the Benoit family), who have studied wildlife within the Chapleau Crown Game Preserve, in northern Ontario, since 1996.
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