Tofino Profile: David Pitt-Brooke
by Shirley Langer, Tofino
Every so often, David calls around at my door, and we catch up on each
other’s news over coffee or Cinzano. I am always amazed at how
out of the Tofino loop he can be. How often have I shaken my head,
laughing —“How can it be you don’t know about that,
Actually, it’s understandable. The guy is friendly, but quite
shy and modest. He’s very polite, so would never pry. He minds
his own business and is reluctant to burden people with idle talk.
Add to this seven years in his quarters squeezing words out of his
head to write a book, a book which required that he often be out hiking
or kayaking in the wilderness on book-related research. This guy was
seldom seen scoping the village bulletin boards or schmoozing at local
cafes. Not that he’ll suddenly become Mr. Man About Town now
that the book is published, for David Pitt-Brooke is a naturally reserved
During the interview, David responds to all my questions thoughtfully—all
that is, except those he doesn’t wish to answer, questions that
dig too deep. For those he would smile and simply say, “Next
question?” Of course we talked about the book first. Chasing
Clayoquot: A Wilderness Almanac. How it feels to be a published author.
What he feels like following seven years of disciplined writing. “Writing
the book”, he says, “was a long and tortuous process, and
often I despaired that it would ever be published. Now that the book
is being read, I feel gratified.” His original desire to express
his great affection for Clayoquot Sound, to make the area better known
to people the world over who have too little time or knowledge to fully
experience this unique place has been realized. Reviewers have praised
the book highly, one reviewer citing David as “…the Thoreau
of the west coast”. Ever modest, at one point David quotes George
Orwell—“To its author, every book is a failure.” Explaining,
he says, “In the editing process, only about half of what I wrote
made it into the book. Every author wants their book to encompass so
much more, but it had to go. In addition to the painfulness of editing,
those cuts represented hours and weeks of labour.”
How the book came to be published is in itself an interesting tale.
The editors at Raincoast publishing read the manuscript, didn’t
reject it, but put in the big slush pile of manuscripts with potential
to be considered— someday, maybe. There it remained in the dark
until a new editor happened to draw the attention of a colleague to
an impressive article in Canadian Geographic that David had written
about a colony of falcons on remote Langara Island in the Queen Charlottes.
The colleague remembered that there was a manuscript by this fellow
Pitt-Brooke in the slush pile, and the rest, as they say, is history.
A footnote to this anecdote is that the article in Canadian Geographic
earned David a national award for science journalism. Everyone was
sure David would have a career in the sciences, not the arts. His schooling
was in natural history, and he got a degree in veterinary medicine
as a route into wildlife research and management. He says he never
actually thought or planned in terms of a career. “My main motive
was to live in beautiful, out-of-the-way places.” He was working
for National Parks doing public education when the concept of Chasing
Clayoqot occurred to him. Today, David still dreams of out-of-the-way
places. “An ideal life”, he says, “would consist
of being a comfortably well-off nomad able to travel and live in each
environment at its most characteristic time—the time when it
delivered its ecological payload.” This man does not lust after
luxuries or trendy anything. But I can imagine his excitement if he
were to, let’s say, be present and surrounded by ten thousand
flamingos touching down on their annual migratory route.
I ask David to name some things which are highlights for him. He
leads off with the thrill of receiving the science journalism award.
the annual lantern festival held at Tofino Botanical Gardens. Camping
in the Chilcotin is big. And the Vancouver Folk Fest. “I love
the music, and I love hanging out with Tofino friends on the big tarp.” David
in fact, is one of the runners that race with the tarp when the gates
open to claim a space as close and center to the main stage as possible.
He calls this yearly race the “Birkenstock 500”.
Answering the question, “What’s next?” was not easy,
and he answered it by musing on several possibilities. Deciding on
a topic and continuing to write still appeals to him. Then again, though
not yet old, but no longer young, he says this may be his last opportunity
to make a major change. “Writing books,” he says, “is
very time consuming.”
Sitting outdoors eating fresh bread David had baked, and fruit and
yogurt, I spring one last question. “Is there anything that you
would rather have done or been?” I look away, and offer him lots
of space to answer. Eventually he does. “Everyone would rather
be this or that—like the bionic man or woman— stronger,
faster, smarter. The life I’ve been living has been an odd one.
Closeted in a small space for many hours a day, divorced from life
in order to reflect on it and write about it. I feel like the writer,
whose name I can’t remember, who said he wished he had written
less and lived more.”
But we are lucky, I think, that David did what he did to give the
world Chasing Clayoquot, a very special book of experiences and insights.
Shirley Langer has resided in Tofino since 1995.
She describes herself as a woman about town with a well developed
Tofino profile of local author David Pitt-Brooke, written by Tofino writer Shirley Langer for Tofino Time magazine.