This is a longer version of an article I wrote for the Valley Voice December 17, 2014 issue, including excerpts from letters I couldn’t resist.
Witty, wacky, weird, obsessed with wilderness and often well-informed. The Valley Voice Letters to the Editor page seems to obey a slightly different rule of journalism’s five ‘W’s but its letter writers are almost invariably entertaining. And it remains one of the newspaper’s runaway favourites. In an age when most newspapers only allow letters well under 300 words, our pages allow writers to stretch out and fully develop an argument or even just a rant. Often the letters give evidence of the unusually erudite population we serve here along with the merely odd. In doing my Valley Voice Year in Review I chose a few of the best – including not only those with good points to make but the decidedly eccentric.
In one of my most prized and tattered old books, The World’s Great Letters (1940), anthologist M. Lincoln Schuster wrote, “man’s character (is) best revealed in his letters.” It’s become somewhat of a lost art since the advent of email, with its hurry-up-and-get-it-sent imperative and its tendency to truncate the language. Thankfully the art of letter writing is still alive and well in the region the Valley Voice serves. Probably my favourite quote about letters comes from the 12th century, from the love letters of Heloise to the philosopher Abelard: “What cannot letters inspire? They have souls; they can speak; they have in them all that force that expresses the transports of the heart; they have all the fire of our passions.”
In his inimitable fashion, New Denver’s Peter Roulston threw gasoline on the fire in the February 26 issue with another of his characteristically provocative letters to the editor. “If the last registered Sinixt person died in 1956, and neither federal nor provincial courts recognize the name, and if other bands don’t respect you, then perhaps the extinct status is indeed valid.” Predictably, this met with a flurry of angry letters in the March 12 issue. Cindy Moser of Slocan Park wrote: “Peter Roulston, I declare you extinct. Oh look, you’re still here… see how that can happen?” Chris Dawson countered: “If there’s anything more pitiable than a white protester in a headdress, I’m not aware of it. Peter Roulston for Sheriff.” In contrast to Dawson’s ascerbic tone, in the December 3 issue Dal Stromquist wrote a note of gratitude “to all those who have the courage to take a stand, do not want to live in ignorance and refuse to live in fear,” whether it’s about “a hydro smart meter, a pipeline, a tailings pond breach or another useless bill introduced into the House.”
The March 26 issue sees anxious letters about Interior Health’s slashing of Kaslo’s ER ward to 9-5 hours. “Sorry folks, I can’t guarantee that accidents or heart attacks will only happen during bankers’ hours,” writes David Stewart of Argenta.
Slocan councilor Patricia McGreal makes a seldom-heard but vital point in the June 18 issue about the carbon footprint of the Internet. “A study by the French environment and energy management agency found that sending email is particularly energy intensive. …Improvements in energy efficiency result in increased overall energy consumption, a phenomenon known in economics as Jevon’s Paradox. Hence, a typical email user sends 60 times more emails than the number of letters they might have posted in the past – the result being that nominally lower carbon technology generates a higher carbon net result simply because it is used more.”
In the July 2 issue Dal Stromquist writes from “a small cabin in the woods” in the south Slocan Valley to lampoon the current mania for money-making gadgets like ‘smart’ meters: “I had just finished parking diagonally as if I had just docked my space shuttle to that galactic city among the stars (and)…my partner gracefully departed my company to go about necessary errands within the space station. So I decided to try a novel trick and just think. Like so many times before, it popped right out of the ether that there must be a better mousetrap. I use the word mousetrap figuratively to express what every motorist dreams of, a new way to cut their own financial throat; let’s charge a toll. Naturally it made perfect cents, a metering device which could be slickly adapted from the hydro electricity smart meters, gas meters, and maybe even water or oxygen meters that promote conservation in the form of less services and products but of course increased cash flow. What potential this holds. …One could slip this idea upon the masses without a blink of an eyelid. …Just have the peasants open an electronic bank account that automatically takes their sweat and blood effort out at random in a timely fashion. … So here it is – I will just spill the beans – it is a New World Order Global Wi-Fi Meter System under one gigantic electronic cloud connecting all ignorant races regardless of the hick village they dwell in…”
Brian Gunn, an engineer with Concerned Professional Engineers writes in the July 16 issue that PM Harper, by endorsing the National Energy Board decision to grant Enbridge permission for the Northern Gateway pipeline, is “squandering he opportunity to develop a route for export of Canadian bitumen (dilbit) in the least risky manner.” Gunn points out that by using Kitimat instead of Prince Rupert or Port Simpson, tankers will have 16 hours of navigating high risk channels along the northern BC coastline before they reach open sea. This decision saves Enbridge $2 billion in pipeline costs but had the line been extended to either of those other ports, at least 14 hours of that dangerous navigation could have been shaved off. Further, “A tanker spill cleanup fund of $1.3 billion is totally inadequate to clean up a spill of any consequence (five million litres or more). Compare this fund to the Exxon Valdez spill cleanup costs of $7 billion (and counting) to clean up less than 10 percent of the product spilled in 1989.”
Retallack resident Ross Fedy wrote on July 30 of the persistent problem of speeding on Highway 31A, most recently resulting in the death of a motorcycle rider. “Last year I went to the RCMP in New Denver and suggested they do some traffic controlling… in particular the straight stretch from Retallack to Fish Lake or it was a matter of time before some not so pleasant outcomes would occur. The hundreds – yes hundreds – of motorcyclists, local and otherwise, that tear down that stretch, going speeds of up to 200 km/h… is growing exponentially, and the word is out in the North American motorcycle community (that) it’s open season for speed on this world-renowned stretch of windy roads with no enforcement.” Tamara Barkowsky of New Denver countered in the September 10 issue: “There is no question that motorcycling is dangerous, but the spectrum of danger is wide, and some dangers can be vastly mitigated with the judicious use of the brain.”
Probably the quintessential Kootenay letter came from Jozef Clark of Edgewood in the October 8 issue: “Deep in the woods, off grid, my only window on the world a small radio that runs on a couple of AAs. It’s not much of a window, I’m afraid. It seems to be a pathological liar and, in the last couple of years, is obviously coming down with some form of dementia and is constantly repeating all this utterly banal babble over and over again. Is the world really going to hell in a handbasket, or is my radio just a very sick little puppy? I must admit, the situation causes some anxiety and at times, I wonder if I should follow Lao Tsu’s advice and throw it off the top of Cold Mountain.”
“At any rate, according to my philosophical bent, I am disposed to seek meaning in life’s quandaries. ‘What’s it all about, Alfie?’ I give my brain a rest, step outside and play my flute in the sunshine. Soon Raven comes flying west to east, a loop in his beak and, as he flies by, I see it’s a serpent he holds by head and tail, like Ouroboros.
“So, Raven carries the Gnostic symbol of Everything toward the Light. Holy Omen, Atman! Apparently it’s time Ouroboros is understood! In contemplation of the symbol of Everything, one sees: half the pie is evil, half the pie is good. In such uncertain times, this helps make sense of things. Ouroboros, everyone.”