Unaware of how seriously ill Huntley was, I was stunned to receive an e-mail in February about his death. A part of my heart, and with it, a huge chunk of my history, was suddenly ripped out. It seemed impossible that this man, whose enormous enthusiasm for life, and respect for all others, could just disappear.
I should have paid more attention. For the last thirty-five years, I usually saw him at least once a year. Our visits, jammed between his many academic conferences and social engagements, never felt rushed. He had the amazing gift of making you feel like you were the most important person in the whole world while he was with you.
I knew of, but did not know, Huntley when we attended the same Regina high school. He was the gangly, pimply-faced guy who everyone knew was much smarter than they. He belonged to clubs and organizations, like the NDP Youth; I belonged to a part-time job, paving my way to university.
Our paths crossed some years later while, both members of the Saskatoon Environmental Society, we (and others) attempted to tackle down the Blakeney proposal for uranium development.¹ Ours was a friendship unencumbered by political rhetoric or dogma. It wasn’t that we didn’t share some like-minded views, it was just that the focus of our collective camera was wide, while at the same time deeply personal.
Later, post my Victoria-based NDP sessional press / research position under then B.C. Opposition leader Dave Barrett, I prepared to depart on a salmon fishing deckhand job off the B.C. coast. I’d spoken to Huntley that I felt I was suffering a wide deficiency in my reading, despite my B.A. I asked him for a “must-read” book list. He sent a detailed one. It was a university of ideas. I remain grateful to this day.
Completely bored with my post-graduate studies at the University of Saskatchewan, I saw fishing as a welcome distraction. I gathered the books on his list and couldn’t get to Tofino fast enough. While Huntley attended a national NDP conference in Vancouver, I was adrift on the B.C. Pacific, dressed in three layers of long underwear under a slicker, icing salmon down in the hold. I read in between my fishing duties.
Comparing agrarian farming to coastal fishing was so exciting! I sent Huntley letters whenever the chance presented, filling him in on the political, economic, and cultural aspects of the fishing way of life. It was the summer of a long strike by the B.C. Fishermen’s Union. Luckily for me, my skipper, one of only a few women skippers on the B.C. coast, was the vice-president of the B.C. Fish Cooperative. It was actually called the B.C. Fishermen’s Cooperative, but I complained to Huntley on more than one occasion that farmers are not called “farmermen,” so why are fishers called fishermen?
While I fished and explored coastal B.C., Huntley was coming into his own as a brilliant and highly regarded economist. While I caught and prepared my own salmon caviar, he was wolfing his down with great delight at some very fine restaurants. He sent detailed postcards from all over the world.
Huntley never appeared to waste a moment. On our Vancouver forest walks, my dog on one arm, plant book and pen in the other, I would attempt to figure out what species of lovely green was laid about me and if and where I might plant it in my Vancouver garden. Huntley would routinely floss his teeth on these walks, while the two of us would also be knee deep in some world issue. And of course, discussing where we would go for dinner.
On one of his visits to Vancouver, he clipped his in-grown toenail in my living room, mere moments after he arrived. Visuals provided. I’d warned my partner that Huntley was eccentric, but it is difficult to accurately draw the word eccentric.
Between the fishing, a brief romance with him, and the in-grown toenail, I flew from Iqaluit to Ottawa to post-produce an educational video production in consort with the Inuit Broadcast Corporation. Budgets being what they were, I slept on Huntley and Shirley’s couch. The next day Huntley and I drove to the Gatineau Hills and took in a four-hour feast. He ate at the pace of a snail, an early version of “Mindfulness.” I envied that. He flossed until after we were back in his car. He wasn’t the world’s best driver.
We geographically missed each other while I was in England reading for my M.A. I love the British approach, where one is actually left to do whatever reading one deems vital. I had many conversations with Huntley about the deficiencies of the North American university model. We challenged each other’s ideas and, at times, his allegiance and salary! He eventually conceded my point.
There were those great Christmas tomes which eventually got him into big trouble with me. My partner repeatedly questioned the weight of those envelopes.
“Tomes,” I said. Then I would pour a glass of wine and launch in, dreaming all along the way.
After three years of no mention of Shirley in any sentence, I called him up.
The following year, we met for a walking, cultural, and eating tour of Boston. The evening he returned to Ottawa, I attended my first M.A. food culture class at Boston University. I was totally levelled by the strict schedule of readings and assignments. Huntley and [David] Brittan had spoiled me.
I fled. I ate my way through New York, then Amtraked back to Vancouver via L.A. I called Huntley when I got home.
“What?” he queried.
“Remember our conversations,” I said. “My university is the world; your world is the university. There’s a big space in there.”
He laughed in acknowledgement. Out came the dental floss. I could hear it at the other end of the phone line.
I invested in the two-volume tome [titled] The Cambridge Encyclopedia of Food and started in, discussing various interesting facts with Huntley from time to time. I also severely increased my established habit of eating my way around the globe. We would compare notes whenever we got the chance to visit.
To honour his death (please don’t tell me he has passed), I have collected all the dental floss from my home. You might ask yourself why I would have enough to collect. Annually for the past several years, I have blackmailed my dentist for almost all of his office stock prior to paying my bill. I take the floss with me on my winter trips to Nicaragua, and hand it over to the community dental office.
Nicaragua had been a slow dinner conversation with Huntley, over Korean BBQ. Now I am passing the hat. Please take some dental floss and toss in whatever financial contribution you can. I will make sure it gets to his memorial fund.
Huntley darling, we all loved you.