If there is one thing I have learned over my many years with the Advance it is that if a book arrives at my office from Luanne Armstrong or one of her emissaries, it will be well worth reading.
Such was the case with Kootenay Inspired, a collection of photos and stories about a dozen fascinating people who have made their home in the Kootenays.
The book’s author, Nelson’s Paul Saso, is an inveterate traveller and hitchhiker, and he chats up everyone he meets along the way. He is a fine writer and, obviously, a great listener. And, although his choices for subjects is pretty Nelson-centric, as one might expect, there are a couple of stories that pertain directly to Creston. Writer and editor Luanne Armstrong is the subject of a wonderful piece, and another chapter is devoted to an anonymous woman who may or may not live near Creston. The story of Tanya Wilson (probably not her real name) brought me to tears.
“It must be something in the water, or maybe for some, the snow, that has drawn such a variety of intriguing and inspiring people to the Kootenay Mountains,” Saso writes in his introduction to Kootenay Inspired. “The snow-white peaks and rich green valleys seem to act as garden beds for all sorts of human greenery to spring up. The lack of significant employment opportunities ensures that people aren’t here for a job, they are here because they love it, and they are willing to give their all to make it work.”
Now, I’m not sure the Kootenay Mountains actually exist, although there are mountains in the Kootenays, to be sure. But I do know that Saso has identified one of my favourite aspects about living in the Kootenays. I have often said that people who live here really do want to live here—the ones who are lucky enough to find a good job are as often not the most likely candidates to move on to more lucrative opportunities when they arrive. The folks who contribute immeasurably to our culture, though, tend to be creative, innovative and committed as all get-out to finding ways to stay. After more than 38 years in Creston I am still surprised when I chat with someone I think I know fairly well and learn something about them that was previously unknown (to me).
With 192 printed pages in Kootenay Inspired, each subject gets a dozen or more pages. Even with a peppering of quite wonderful photographs, that leaves Saso plenty of space to tell their stories, which are liberally bolstered with quotes. His subjects are not only interesting, but they are articulate, as well.
One of Saso’s criteria for selecting his subjects was that they have inspired others and, even among the small number of subjects, they represent a remarkable range of interests and passions. Some are skiers—but not only skiers, one is a nurse—but not only a nurse, another is a painter—but not only a painter.
Luanne Armstrong’s chapter is a case in point. She shares stores of her early life as a young mother whose relationships with men never seemed to last for long, and of her struggles to raise children, most often as a single mom with not a lot of financial resources. It isn’t that Armstrong wanted to be a writer—she was always a writer, for pretty much as long as she can remember. She just needed to figure out ways to further her education and earn enough to keep her and her family sustained. That meant a lot of moving around and a lot of sleepless nights, I suspect, but it led, eventually, to a PhD and a reputation as a fine, prolific writer of fiction and non-fiction, poetry and essays. She is also an editor and teacher, and mother hen to an ever-growing brood of now published writers.
Armstrong is the only of Saso’s subjects that I know personally, but when I finished the book (on the same night that I started it) I felt like I had added to my own list of friends. Their stories are deeply personal and, in every case, inspiring in one way or another. I can’t imagine anyone reading Kootenay Inspired and not thinking that in would be a privilege to sit and chat with any of these 12 characters—and they are, indeed, characters.
Saso has not only shone a light on some of the Kootenay’s very interesting citizens, but also delivered a reminder that there are stories in everyone we know, if only we care to sit and listen.
Kootenay Inspired is available in Creston at Kingfisher Quality Used Books. It can also be found on the East Shore at Gray Creek Store and The Lakeview store. More information about this book can be found at www.kootenayinpsired.ca. Anyone needing another reason to purchase the publication should be further motivated knowing half of the proceeds are being donated to Kootenay charities.