Don Gayton, born in 1946, has been a prolific contributor to a wide variety of publications including Equinox and Canadian Geographic, writing chiefly about ecology, history and geography. He came to live in Canada in 1974 and has produced seven wide-ranging books since his arrival in British Columbia in 1989. Information about his books can be found at abcbookworld. Here are just his three most recent titles.

Merging fiction and non-fiction, Man Facing West has been described as "a story of commitment to the causes of peace, rural development, and ecology." Gayton recalls his American childhood infused with guns, Republican politics and dissent. "A stint in the Peace Corps spawns an enduring interest in small-scale agriculture, but then Gayton comes home to the moral quagmire of Vietnam, and the Draft. Becoming a passionate Canadian, he rediscovers his attachment to the rugged landscapes of the Canadian and American West."

As a range ecologist with the BC Ministry of Forestry for ten years, Don Gayton placed the garden within both historical and artistic perspectives, examining the garden-related works of painters and writers, as well as the work of park designer Frederick Law Olmstead and architect Christopher Alexander, for Interwoven Wild: An Ecologist Loose in the Garden. He traces the apple back to Kazakhstan, explains how the tulip arrived in Holland from Turkey, and relates how a smuggled Asian cherry tree ruined B.C.'s cherry orchards.

In Okanagan Odyssey: Journeys through Terrain, Terroir and Culture, Don Gayton examines British Columbia's Okanagan Valley, from Osoyoos to Armstrong, describing and enjoying local fruits and regional wines. Gayton matches up books and landscapes with local vintages, and, as an ecologist, he "negotiates the tension between the beautifully delicate Okanagan and the Okanagan that is the mecca for developers and urban refugees." Not a travel guide, Okanagan Odyssey is nature writing for both pleasure and education.

Don Gayton describes his racial background as "Shanty Irish" and Norwegian. He has been the 2009/2010 Haig-Brown Centenary Writer in Residence at the University of Victoria and served as a judge for the Hubert Evans Non-Fiction Prize in 1999, but mostly he has lived outside the mainstream of B.C. literature, mostly residing in Nelson and now Summerland, as a science writer whose work has gradually led him to fiction.

In 2011, he wrote, "I've reached a stage in life where writing is a distinct pleasure, and I use it to indulge a series of personal fascinations. The evolution of landscape painting. The aerodynamic mysteries of the airplane wing. Rural development, the ecology of natural grasslands, the geology of the Great Spokane Flood. And more of that ilk. I call myself a scientist, because I flunked Algebra."

For Gayton, science is the undiscovered country of the literary imagination. As a reader, fiction has always been his first love, followed closely by scientific journals. "So as a writer," he says, "I like to threaten the fortified boundaries of non-fiction, shouting and waving my arms. More and more I gravitate to story as our primal form of communication."

Gayton his 1950's childhood mostly in southern California, "in a new invention called the suburb." His father's powerful attraction to fishing prompted a move to a tiny coastal community on the Olympic Peninsula of Washington State, where he spent a couple of glorious years roaming beaches and fields and forests. The family moved to Seattle, where he attended a multi-racial highschool, played football, read Dostoevsky and channeled the beatniks. After graduation, Gayton hitchhiked around Europe then "answered Kennedy's call," spending several years in Colombia as a Peace Corps volunteer.

My father was deeply offended by the hippie movement of the 1960s," he recalls, "particularly by its rejection of technological progress and established values, not to mention the hair. I, in turn, as part of that movement, was deeply offended by technology and established values, not to mention Vietnam, which loomed larger and larger."

Gayton returned to the US in the fall of 1968, to race riots and body counts. "The notion that my government would ask me to help peasant farmers in the Peace Corps, and then ask me to kill them in Vietnam, did not sit well. Tumultuous years followed, ending in our move to Canada. We have six children (thank god for socialized medicine!). All of us are proud Canadians, but America still tastes of home waters to me, in spite of the politics."

The places Don Gayton has lived or worked include San Pedro, Pasadena and Fullerton, California; Dungeness, Seattle, Twisp, Tonasket and Omak, Washington; Las Cruces, New Mexico; San Felipe de Ocoyotepec, Mexico; Riosucio (Choco) and Zuluaga (Huila), Colombia; Zagreb, in the former Yugoslavia; Munich, Germany; Saskatoon, Regina and Fort Qu'Appelle, Saskatchewan; Nelson, Vancouver and Summerland, British Columbia.

For many years Don Gayton mainly worded as an ecologist, specializing in grasslands, grazing management and fire ecology, and he wrote in my spare time. He liked to say, "In the last century, the physicists interpreted science for the public; in this next beleaguered century, we ecologists will get our turn." Now his evolution as a writer has led him to a fascination with Ranald Macdonald, resulting in his manuscript-in-progress, Columbia Son.


(2002) Ghost River: The Columbia Journal of Ecosystems and Management, Vol. 1 no. 2, p. 1-4. (2002) Little Bluestem and the Geography of Fascination (nature essay) in Eye in the Thicket, Sean Virgo, ed. Thistledown Press, Saskatoon, SK. (2001) Landscape Mathematics (nature essay) in Northern Wild: Best Contemporary Canadian Nature Writing, David Boyd, ed. Greystone Books, Vancouver. P. 223-233. (2001) Ground Work: Basic Concepts of Ecological Restoration in BC. FORREX, Kamloops. 25 pages. (2001) All Flesh is Grass (feature article on elk and native grasslands) Bugle Magazine, 18:1, p. 69-75. (2000) A Schooner In Memory in Going Some Place: Creative Non-Fiction Across Canada, L. Van Luven, ed, Coteau Books, Regina, Sask. p. 231-250. (1999) Sonora North (article on yucca and horned lizard) Equinox Magazine, Vol 105, p. 58-70. (1999) The Cartography of Catastrophe: Harlen Bretz and the Great Spokane Flood. Mercator's World, May-June 1999 Vol 4 (3) p. 54-61. (1998) Healing Fire (article on fire ecology) Canadian Geographic, July/August, 1998, pp. 32-42. (1997) Cry of the Wild (article on endangered species) Canadian Geographic May/June, pp. 30-42. (1996) Turf Wars (article on crested wheatgrass) Canadian Geographic May/June 1996, pp. 70-78. (1993) Big Bluestem and the Tallgrass Dream (ecological restoration). Equinox, Jan/Feb., pp. 30-39. 1991: Grazing Pressure on Saskatchewan Rangelands (technical article) Rangelands, 13 (3):107-108.


Canadian Science Writers Award, 1999
Saskatchewan Writers Guild Award for Non-fiction
US National Outdoor Book Award (for Landscapes of the Interior)
Peace Corps Travel Book Award, 2011


(2010) Man Facing West. Thistledown.

(2010) Okanagan Odyssey: Journeys through Terrain, Terroir and Culture. Heritage.

(2007) Interwoven Wild: An Ecologist Loose in the Garden. Thistledown Press.

(2003) British Columbia Grasslands: Monitoring Vegetation Change. Forest Research Extension Partnership (FORREX), Kamloops. 49p., illus.

(2002) Kokanee (book on the kokanee salmon) New Star Publishers, Vancouver 96 pages, illus.

(1996) Landscapes of the Interior: A Re-exploration of Nature and the Human Spirit. New Society Publishers, Gabriola Island, B.C. 176 pages.

(1990) The Wheatgrass Mechanism: Science and Imagination in the Western Canadian Landscape (book of essays) 156p. Fifth House, Saskatoon. (Second edition published fall, 1992)

[Alan Twigg / BCBW 2014]