Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Tatlayoko Lake, Looking South

The title of this post takes its name from a photograph title given not by myself, but by the photographer, one Chris Rowat, head designer for the very successful area magazine, Kootenay Mountain Culture. Back in the days of creating Touchstones Nelson, the new museum, although she was no longer the managing director, Shawn still had a number of responsibilities, about which I naturally maintained an interest. Thus, over morning coffee, I would ask her what she was up to at work.
And quite regularly, while the permanent exhibition, on the second floor of the old city hall, was coming into being, she would say, "I have to go and see Chris and Daiva." This was the couple who were designing the PME.
Having once prided myself on my role as a kind of cultural welcome wagon to creative types new to Nelson, I was curious about these two, especially as Shawn assured me they were very good at what they did, but I knew that all my concentration had to remain on the Church and my writing and music research. Anything and anyone not a direct responsibility was a distraction, and any alteration to that schedule could only be wrought by startlingly plain act of Providence.
Or, more precisely, a series of acts, as in a play. 
The opening act took place two or three years ago when KMC editor Mitchell Scott and I began emailing back and forth about the possibility of my writing something for the magazine. I had noticed the publication's  beginning efforts years before in the gym, when local outdoors supplies and clothing store owner Dave Elliot had started up a small, beginning, version, because there was a good little article in it on interval running by Ed Natyshak, founder of the Summit Health and Fitness, where I was  busy learning about weight training; but I had paid only a limited attention to the more ambitious successor because I was no skier, and although I hiked constantly in our local hills, I rarely climbed mountains. Nor did I skate board or mountain bike. I did wonder about writing for KMC at some point, but there seemed no way in specifically open to me.
But because they had once lived on Lasqueti Island, where my father logged with horses after World War II, I was pulled into the KMC orbit after I met Jim and Lily Drake, who had sold their house on  the island and moved to Nelson. Jim became, briefly, one of my keyboard guinea pigs, and he and Lily were also parents of Julia, Mitchell Scott's wife. I happened to drop by one day when Julia was visiting her Mom, and Lily handed me a copy of the latest KMC, just brought along by her daughter. From that particular issue I learned why Whitewater, our local ski hill, has such enviable powder, as opposed to the coastal ski slopes. But none of this was going to tempt me to turn skier. Contemplation and writing about contemplation were adventure and challenge enough. Moreover, as a story teller I still had miles to go before I had done justice to the time I had spent in the kind of youthful adventures KMC thrives on.
But then came an inspiration to somehow crack the pages, and also have a bit of literary fun. MT and I went out on the annual search for huckleberries, an integral part of her fabulous winter feasts, and we went with a new picking device, a kind of toothed scoop, actually modelled, I later learned, on a native implement carved out of wood, usually cedar. Our scoops were red plastic, from Lee Valley, and they really worked, although it took me all day to catch up with the skill Marianne exhibited from Bush One, and then it was only because an incredible, bone chilling, deluge in the berry mother lode convinced me to imitate her profoundly swashbuckling approach and thus catch on. Her buckets had all day filled at an humiliatingly greater rate than mine, but I somehow clung to my own more careful approach until the heavens opened.
Once I did catch on, the whole process got quite exciting, especially with the thunderous sound track of primeval downpour and the gale in the trees, and I was reminded acutely of the climax of Ernest Hemingway's unmistakeable classic hunting tale, The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber. Macomber had lost his nerve when his lion charged, then regained it later when dealing with a herd of Cape buffalo. I had stopped being meticulous in a losing cause, and finally learned to go with the flow. There was, I realized later, an analogy, with a story and a summer of Hemingway stories I had always felt grateful to have had the opportunity to study. And there was also a way into Kootenay Mountain Culture, which seemed important to utilize.
So I got in touch with the magazine, and wrote, and then had to fiercely edit - in the middle of the night, which is usually dedicated to contemplation over much more significant things than huckleberry harvesting - and was published, in company with the most wonderful photograph of dear old Ernie with his gun and a mighty black buffalo, quite dead. Shawn had said to me one morning, "Peter Moynes came into the museum yesterday and said 'Wait till Ken sees the photo we found to go with the story!'" Peter is co-publisher of KMC and the photo editor.
I did wait, eagerly, and then when I saw the photo I was delighted. Nothing could be better. Nothing could more clearly state, in print registered for all time, how much of a debt I felt to Hemingway for those clarifying literary summers of my apprenticeship as a writer. It is quite possible that because I was a mystic I got more of him than anyone else ever has, but all the special illumination of his sparseness by the mystic's Muse still required the blood, sweat, and tears that went into his text in the first place was a most useful clarifier for my imagination. And he was probably the first modern writer who had given me a sense of my own writing voice, or who put pressure on me - as well as giving me hope that I could do it - to feel my way into my own style. He was startling in that way, as F. Scott Fitzgerald, to a lesser degree, would be a few months later. Other writers had given me other things, of course, but not with the same authoritative sense of myself.
By literary summers that particularly belonged to Hemingway I mean those of 1956 and 57. By 58, theology had taken me beyond humanism, and as much as I might enjoy reading fiction thereafter, I knew that its earlier signal influence as my only mentor had been lost forever.
The way that the publishing  industry works now, you can barrel along at it for some time without actually meeting any of the people at the hard copy end. A stunner, of course, because in my days with The Ubyssey, I even knew the press men, because I had to wander into the print shop behind the front office to hand them corrected galleys. So it was months before I met Chris, and learned that it was actually he who had found the buffalo photograph and judged it the perfect match for my story. And we ran into each other entirely because of accident, because we both wanted to talk to the same man, even though he had nothing what to do with my story or Chris' magazine and other commitments.
The man was Stan Triggs, who grew up in Nelson and had been attending UBC and was involved with the student annual as photography  editor the same year I met Shawn. He played an excellent mandolin as well as sang folk songs, and we had found ourselves jamming together one afternoon in the Ubyssey offices. A few years later, while I was teaching in Terrace, I spotted a Folkways record he had put out, Bunkhouse and Forecastle Ballads of the Pacific Northwest. It became a standard in our record library, and I used a number of his songs in the classroom and in performances with Shawn and others. We met again after we moved to Nelson, as Stan regularly returned to his roots from Montreal, where he was by then director of the McCord photography museum at McGill.
It was for this part of Stan's history that Chris was anxious to meet him. He had grown up hearing about Stan's work from his own mother, and when he first learned about the virtual museum  exhibit in Nelson that Stan had helped with he could not believe it was the same man! This was another of those early morning tales from our household and just one more in the long roll of annals of the initial disbelief in the world class excellence of so many aspects of Nelson's history and culture.
Chris and I arrived at the building about the same time, I think, somewhat after the initial proceedings of simply gathering, so we were contending with a standing room only museum lobby and a long job of getting near to Mr. Triggs. So we took the next best step: we started taking to each other and thus two things of vital importance to past and future fell out together. Chris described the anxieties he goes through over his design projects, such as matching just the right illustration to my story, trying to combine the best elements in the best way, and then somehow it came up that he knew Tatlayoko Lake and area very well. He had encountered it on a mountain bike tour a few years back. I might have said, in reference to the late buffalo, that it had been my dream at the time  that when I was rich and famous - in just a few years, of course - I would come back to the Chilcotin and hire Alf Bracewell to take me on a moose hunt, and thus get my own experiences as a hunter to write about.
But I also mentioned the music research and, as I feel relatively close to publication point, began to search him out about designing the text. That it will have to be more radical than anything ever printed so far is a foregone conclusion, and I have always hoped that all that creation could be done right here in Nelson.
Eventually, he said he was too busy. For one thing, KMC has recently doubled its output by adding a Coast version. But Chris and I continued to rattle our computer keyboards at each other and he swiftly sent me the photographs he had taken on the Tatlayoko/Chilko Lake bike tour.
And then things really started to take off, as I will continue to explain.