A review of Luanne Armstrong’s, Blue Valley: an ecological memoir. by Anne Edwards.
Published in the Winter 2008 Issue of the Journal of BC Studies
Luanne Armstrong is a walker. Walking the land where her ancestors farmed and where she has lived, walking the cities where she and her children have spent time, walking by rivers and lakes and mountains and over the soil—walking has been the centre of her connection and her understanding of ecology. “Sometimes,” she remarks, “going for a walk is a very long journey.” It is this journey she records in her memoir, Blue Valley.
Born on the eastern shore of Kootenay Lake near Sirdar, Armstrong sheltered in the cocoon of her family farm. In the most elemental sense, the farm nurtured her, educated her to the world, and remained her centre over the years. In Blue Valley she traces all the phases of her growing, either on the farm or sustained by it while she was away learning about the wider world, finding the assurance and education she needed in order to fulfill her childhood determination to become a writer. What she records is a truly rural experience—a circumstance rare today and becoming more and more rare as time passes. Her facets of light and chords of harmony demand the reader’s knowing and remembering, and thus the reader finds her/himself adding new layers of excitement to Armstrong’s elemental recognitions. Perhaps her eloquence draws more easily the descant of other rural readers, but I believe her “ecological memoir” is so basic that it echoes also in the souls of those who do not live in a rural landscape set in mountains or by water, but appreciate the harmony of land, sea and air, flora and fauna, and vibrate to the ecological truth of her insights.
Armstrong the narrator is a complex person who sought urban as well as rural experiences. She was a tomboy, grew into being a woman and a mother, succeeded at her studies, fled from her peers—when she recognized them—shared her home in harmony and discord, reached into the wide world or retreated into sanctuary. The constant anchor was the land, the place that was also loved by her parents and her family and friends, the farm that demanded sacrifice and endless work if they were to survive. She stresses the contradictions: the poverty and the plenty, the bonds that can so easily be chains, the singularity of her place every time she walks—although “it’s the same beach and the same summer repeating itself like an ancient liturgical chant.”
A few points of epiphany mark Armstrong’s progress into the wider world. She determined to be a writer when her first schoolteacher taught her to read “at six and I never went back on the idea. . . . As far as I know, no one in our family had ever met a writer or had any idea how anyone went about being such a thing.” When her dad cursed her little brother for lagging when there was work to be done, because “it was work or starve and, by God, we were going to work,” Armstrong writes, “I got it clear. It was one of those moments when life suddenly made sense. We were all in this together. We had this thing to do, called survival.” Even feminism came “like a cold clean wind blowing through my head, blowing out the humiliation and the embarrassment. For the first time I realized that what had happened to me, the abusive marriage, the children, the fear of university, hadn’t all been my fault. Perhaps . . . I could prevent it ever happening again.”
Armstrong’s home retained its central importance in her life: it gave her an identity which fitted. A Toronto woman looked at her worn backpack when she went to Halifax for a conference leading to an international women’s peace conference in Nairobi and remarked, “Oh, going camping?” But participants cheered Armstrong for her contribution to the Canadian position statement. Most of the people who moved into the Kootenays in the ‘70s to create a new counterculture were a new wave of pioneers, but “For me, the counterculture was real and deeply felt; it reflected the values by which our family had always lived: being independent, self-sufficient and living a life centred around family, community, animals, gardening and nature.”
Armstrong is an evocative, companionable, insightful guide to a life well-incorporated into the ecology of the Kootenays.
Published in the Rocky Mountain Outlook June 21, 2007
Book launch aimed to help preserve Purcell wilderness
by Lynn Martel
Perhaps ironically, one of the most recognizable photos ever captured by early Banff photographer Byron Harmon, was not taken in his home mountains, the Canadian Rockies, but in the neighbouring Purcell Mountains.
Harmon’s image of Lake of the Hanging Glaciers reveals one of the most beautiful spots anywhere in western Canada, said Canmore filmmaker Pat Morrow, who grew up in Kimberley BC, in the heart of the Purcells.
“The jewel of the range is definitely Lake of the Hanging Glaciers, photographed by Byron Harmon when he went there with Conrad Kain,” Morrow said. “That lake, in sheer beauty, is comparable to Lake Louise or Lake O’Hara.” Bordered by the Columbia Valley on the east, and Kootenay Lake on the west, the Purcells are home to the Bugaboos, vertical granite spires that attract climbers from all over the world.
The Purcells are also home to grizzly bears, a few remaining mountain caribou and many other wonders of nature. While much of the core of the range is protected by Bugaboo Glacier Provincial Park, the Purcell Wilderness Conservancy Park and St. Mary’s Alpine Provincial Park, Morrow said, outside of those areas the range is open to mining, logging and boundless recreation.
As such, Morrow said he was thrilled to be invited to write the forward for a new publication, titled The Purcell Suite. Edited by K. Linda Kivi, and published by Nelson, BC based Maa Press, in partnership with Wildsight and Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative (Y2Y), the book features a collection of 25 essays by Canadian and US writers exploring the ecological wonders of the region, which extends as far south as northern Montana. The chapters include personal letters and essays by historical figures, including Conrad Kain, the highly respected Austrian mountain guide who settled near Invermere, BC, who made dozens of first ascents in the Rockies and the Purcells in the early decades of the 20th century, including the Rockies highest, 3954-metre Mount Robson in 1913, and the technically challenging Bugaboo Spire in 1916, and by J. Monroe Thorington, former American Alpine Club president who explored the Purcells extensively. As well, the book features personal essays by contemporary writers living on both sides of the range, including Dave Quinn, Luanne Armstrong and Rick Bass, whose essays express their relationships with the landscape and the meaning it infuses in their souls. “All who wander in the Purcells have been touched at some profound level from their direct experiences among them; it’s the least we can do to try and give back through our stewardship efforts,” writes Morrow in his Foreword.
More than ever, Morrow said, the time for that stewardship is now, as efforts to build a monstrous ski resort at Jumbo Glacier continue to threaten the region. “This is a critical time in the history of the Purcells,” Morrow said. “This is not just a book launch, we want to draw attention to the imminence of the ski resort plan. The BC government keeps seeking devious ways of trying to push the project forward, even in the face of widespread public opposition. More than ever the Purcells need public support.”
All profits from book sales will go toward efforts to prevent development of the Jumbo resort.
Reviews of The Inner Green
The Idea of Home
by Luanne Armstrong from Winter 2005/2006 issue of Geist Magazine
Most of the interesting books to be found on the subject of home and place, where we live and how we relate to it, are American, but The Inner Green (Maa Press) is a collection of natural history and personal essays by K.Linda Kivi and Eileen Delehanty Pearkes about the place they live: the Columbia Mountain ecosystem in B.C. This book is about things that matter. It's beautifully produced, it has been polished until the writing sings and one can refer to it whenever one wants to remember some interesting fact about cedar bugs. It's about trees, squirrels, mountains, salmon and other inhabitants of a particular ecosystem, an amazing part of the world that is really an island in the mountains bounded by the Columbia and Kootenay rivers. The mountains, the natural diversity, the distance, the closed-in valleys in winter - all have contributed to a culture where people live out their dreams in various, often eccentric ways. The book provides an antidote to alienation and a glimpse into what it can mean to form a profound relationship with a particular place.
Local writers share their inner green
by Anne DeGrace
It’s rare that the preface of a book tells you to put it down. And yet, that’s what The Inner Green does. Go ahead,lay it on the table beside your favourite reading chair and move outside, it says.
When K.Linda Kivi and Eileen Delehanty Pearkes wrote: The Inner Green: Exploring Home in the Columbia Mountains (MAA Press, October, 2005), they brought a reverence for both the natural world and the written word. If the book works, you put it down and go outside, where the red squirrel and the gentle stream take on a new glow. Even the lowly stink bug becomes a thing of wonder once Kivi has explored, with humour, her personal relationship with Geoffrey, representative of that ubiquitous clan.
The voices of the two writers are distinct: Kivi’s approach is personal and unapologetically down-to-earth, and for that reason may be more accessible to some readers. It’s hard not to be infected with her curiosity for rock formations and Rubber Boas. Pearkes’s approach is philosophical, steeped in the craft of language itself, with lines that resonate long after the page has turned. Both can get subtly political: effects of clearcut logging, or the survival of mountain caribou. As the two voices interweave, the reader is treated to a breadth of vision that, for the most part, shifts smoothly.
The balance in creative non-fiction can be a tricky one: what may be thin on hard scientific fact for those in the know may at times be technical enough to lose the lay reader. But creative non-fiction melds poetry and treatise: for those of us who lean towards storytelling, it’s a gentle, welcome way to learn. For the most part, Kivi and Pearkes kept this passionate fiction-reader’s interest.
The writing in The Inner Green is dominated by Kivi, who initiated the project. I kept looking for a pattern, a give and take between the two voices, but the chapters don’t alternate, although some are shared by both. Consequently, having become familiar with Kivi’s voice for an extended number of pages, I found the transition to Pearkes’s a little harder than it might have been. Nonetheless, these are strong writers with a gift for language and an infectious love for landscape that comes through in each page.
Pick up this book, but heed its advice: put it down from time to time and go outside, and there: find a landscape that will spark your curiosity, challenge you, and help you encounter your own inner green.
Reviews of If Home is a Place
David Ingham, "Escapes and Discoveries" in Event, Summer 1996, Vol.25:2
"...A somewhat similar (personal) quest informs If Home is a Place, and ranges both outwardly, through time and space, and inwardly. It is a disquisition - explicitly and implicitly - on what 'home' means, and a recuperation of the central character's search for that elusive nexus of belonging we call 'home'. The narrative structure involves alternating chapters between a Canadian 'present' (from summer 1988 to fall 1991) and the war-torn eastern European past (fall 1943 to September 1947). The chapters that form the latter are first person accounts by Maria and her daughters, Sofi and Helgi, mostly of their displacement by the war, and of their escape to Canada. The counterpoint is third-person narrative that centres on Esther, the grown daughter of Sofi, though the other women are also present. (Male figures are - as the narrator says of Sofi's husband, Elmar, "not quite present and not quite absent.") Home was Estonia - though with invading armies and shifting national boundaries, even that fact becomes problematic.
The twin narratives intertwine, parallel and circle back on each other. From the ancestral residence (now on the other side of the Russian border) to a commune on the West Coast, through grad school and family and family history and a brief relationship with a distant and self-serving man, Esther searches. A house is not necessarily a home (though her family might disagree), but it can be, especially if one makes it oneself. It is finding one's place in space and time, but it is also something one finds in one's mind and heart, and in the hearts and minds of others. This novel takes its place as a worthy addition to a recognized sub-genre of Canadian Literature - immigrant fiction - but the intricacies of its narrative strategy and the universality of its concerns allow it to some extent to transcend the restriction of generic classification."
Hannes Oja, "Vanetmate jutustused aluseks pogenikeromaanile" Vaba Eestlane, oktoober, 1995.
"Karen Linda Kivi on sundinud Torontos 1962, kainud eesti alg- ja keskkoolis, olnud Joekaarul lastesuvekodus, olnud Rajaleidjate gaiduskuses liige, kellele Kotkajarve tuttav oma laagritega. Edasi jargnesid ulikooliaastad Guelph'is, kus oppis rahvusvahelist arenguteadust. Siis keset ulikooliageag laks Ugandasses aafriklastele prantsuse keelt opetama 1982-1983. Naastes lopetas ulikooli.
...Kaheksa tunni kaugusele Vancouverist Nelsonis ostis koos viie teise inimesega 88 aakrit (ca 40 ha) maad... Umberringi mets,...ahju koetaskse puudega, umberringi karud, podrad, puumad raakimata pisielukaist. Ometi on Nelsoni keskus pooli tunni kaugusel...Sinna ta ehitas uksinda vaikse maja (ca 500 ruutjalga).
Esimene raamutu "Canadian Women Making Music" ilmus siiski 1992.a. Torontos. Selle 140-lehekuljelise raamatu kirjastas Green Dragon Press. Esimesel poolel ajalooline ulevaade kanada naistest 1867. aastast alates. Teises osas 12 intervjuud naismuusikutest labiloike kanada kunstist. Intervjuusid oli 50, aga piiratud voimaluste juures tuli neist ise valida 12... Ontario Art Council andis selleks toostipendiumi.
Esimese raamatu ilmumine andis hoogu kirjutasmiseks. Olles Vancouveris luhijuttude kirjutamise kursusel, kirjutas ta loo ainel mille oli vanaema raakinud soja teemal. Lektor utles hinnates, et on hea jutt, aga pole luhijutt, see on romaan. Autor kasutas aine nii ara, et kirjutas uhe osa ette ja teise loppu - ja oligi romaan. Kirjutamine noudis aasta aega ja Canada Council andis elamiseks $9000. Ta kirjutas valmis esimese versiooni, ja siis sellest poole taielikult umber, paaril korral tegi veel vaiksemaid viimistlusi. Viimane silumine toimus kirjastuse toimetajaga.
Kui kasikiri oli valmis saatis valjavotte raamatust paarilekumnele kirjastusele, kellest neli sooviside kogu kasikirjaga tutvuda. Polestar kirjastusega saadi kokkuleppele, kuigi ka teised selle kirjastanuks.
Millest ta kirjutab oma esikromaanis? Sellele vastas, et tahtis kirjutada sojast ja pagemisest, aga kirjutada ka oma generatsiooni elamusist Eesti vabanemisel N. Liidu varisemise jarele, kuidas seal on vabaduse saamine inimesi mojutanud. See on uhe perekonna lugu, aga koigile arusaadav, paljudele uhine teema. Kui kolmapaeval (27.septembril) oli Vancouveris raamatu tutvustamine, ole seal paar tosinat huvilist kohal - igauks tuli autorile raakima oma saatusest, immigratsioonist.
Romaan raagib peamiselt naistest... "Nelja naise elu kaudu ilmneb pogeniku kogemuse tasutal kodu tahendus, " utleb kirjanik. "Palju on saadud materjali ema ja isa jutustusist, aga sellesse on pandud veel Ivi Valgre ja Ando Kallase eluloike, teistegi jutte, mis on autori silmade ja tunnete kaudu uheks tervikuks kujundatud, mitte otseselt edasi antud, kuid need motted on mojunud kaasa raamatu kirjutamisele."
Selles on pogenimisele iseloomulikke seiku, soja ajal ema-tutar matavad potid-pannid, et tagasitulekul oleks need olemas. Esimesel poolel on aastad 1943 - jaanuarini 1948 asumisega Kanadasse, teine pool 1988 -1991 sama perekonna elust.
Kusides selgust raamatu tiitli ule, utleb kirjanik, et "selles on nagu kusimuse algus, mis paneb inimesed motlema, kas kodu on koht kus elad, kas kodu on sudames, inimestes, tundeis. Pogenike kodu on olnud mitmel pool, pogenike lasel on iga elukoht kodu. Eestlasil on raskem olla pagulased, vaatame tugevamini maale, mullale ja valgeile kaskedele."
Romaan algab siiski Narvast, areneb ule Tallina Saksamaale. Teises osas Esther laheb Eestisse oma vanemate endist kodu kulastama...
Kirjaniku esimesed tunded nahes oma loomigut kaante vahel, on lootusrikkad. International CBC prantsuskeelne programm tegi 10-minutilise saate, kus kusitleti pogenikuajast, vanemaist, eesti uhikoona elust, immigrandi ja pogenikuksolemise vahet. Ta loodab, et jouab ka ingliskeelsesse meediasse.
Autor pole raamatu valmimist ootama jaanud, vaid juba on teine romaan peeagu valmis... Nimeks on "The Speckled Trout", selline lapse nimi on voetud uhest luuletusest.
Kas metsa eralduses ei muutu elu igavaks, leiab ta, sest sealses kunstnike uhiskonnas on kunstnike peod, koos raagitakse kunstist ja arutatakse sellelaadilisi probleeme maaelu lihtsama tervislikumas keskkonnas. Seal muutuvad elavaks vanemailt ja tesitel kuudud lood, mis seotud oma rahva juurtega..."