A Shuswap Passion column for the Shuswap Market News
By Jim Cooperman
This month marks a milestone in my many years of passion for the Shuswap, and therefore this column, my one hundredth, breaks my rule for avoiding the first person narrative. Forty years ago, I arrived here, an idealistic war-resister with a degree in psychology from the University of California in Berkeley and a rudimentary carpentry apprenticeship, to settle on 40 acres of logged over “bush” above Shuswap Lake. To describe my first six years here as rustic would be an understatement, as during those years, we raised three children in a small log cabin without the “luxuries” of running water, telephone or electricity.
It was easy to become enamoured with the Shuswap, not only with the impressive geography, the many options for outdoor recreation, but also for the people, who were independent, resilient, tolerant, creative and like me, contemptuous about the United States and its disastrous Vietnam war. During my tumultuous years in Berkeley, I had worked with the anti-war movement and had even helped lead a large demonstration in front of the Oakland Induction Center.
During my early years here, I lived the “back-to-the-land” life without modern conveniences, by doing most jobs by hand, including cutting the winter firewood and building sheds and fences. It wasn’t long before a community of like-minded neighbours settled in close by and gatherings became more frequent with homemade music and home-grown food. It was as if the imaginary future world, I wrote earlier about as poetry, was becoming reality:
In the now isolated country
Where the creeks still run true and the deer abound
A race of people
once almost run extinct
by mindless plastic butchery
Now turn their heads
With the patient balanced rhythm
that nature intended
They raise their crops and children
Play music, dance, and sing
And mould the dirt, clay and wood together
To build a together space
In harmony with the land
By the mid-seventies, as good as life was in the old log cabin, it was time to spend some winters working in Salmon Arm, beginning with helping to construct the log Youth Centre, now the Roots and Blues office. For the next seven years, much of my free time was devoted to promoting local music through the many very successful Shuswap Coffee House open mikes, concerts and dances; and to acting, directing, and working behind the scenes with Shuswap Theatre. It was during those years that I gained so much admiration and respect for all things cultural in the Shuswap.
This month also marks the twentieth anniversary of the Shuswap Environmental Action Society (SEAS), which I helped establish along with other local activists who had begun their local activism by opposing uranium exploration and the diversion of Shuswap Lake to the Okanagan. In 1989, we held a well attended “Earth Day” event at the Salmon Arm Community Centre with displays and speeches during the afternoon and a dance that night.
Well known and award winning environmentalist, Colleen McCrory, who passed away just last year, was our keynote speaker and she spoke about the need for communities to develop their own sustainable forest management plans with the involvement of all sectors through round table negotiations.
The money raised at the event helped SEAS publish its first educational newspaper, the Shuswap Eco-Watch, which included articles about the toxic fires at the local garbage dumps, declining Shuswap Lake water quality, forestry and sustainable development. Over these twenty years, thanks to many campaigns and thousands of hours of meetings, SEAS helped create over 25,000 hectares of new parks in the Shuswap and helped develop a land use plan that improves protection for wildlife, old growth forests and rivers and streams.
During these twenty years, SEAS has organized numerous public forums on topics such as climate change, water quality, forestry and food safety. More recently, SEAS helped achieve the provincial moratorium on private sewage effluent outfalls into Shuswap Lake, helped halt the proposed West Beach development near the mouth of the Adams River (although a smaller version is now moving forward) and it helped halt the proposed big-box shopping centre on the Salmon River floodplain
All told, my passion for the Shuswap that percolated over those early years in the log cabin, first led to many cultural endeavors, then to a number of years of local history research and writing and then to twenty years of environmental activism. And now this passion can be found in these columns that are devoted to Shuswap geography, its people and its places.