Flash Back Fridays
LEARNING TO LIVE OUTDOORS BIG JIM BOULDING SURE KNOWS HOW
(Excerpts) By Sean Rossiter
Jim Boulding is one of those BC characters who have turned their lives into trademarks, have built their own corners of this province. Boulding’s surroundings are exceptional. Here is the raw material for a mini Whistler, in front, sunsets which in mid – October drop right into the V formed by the mountains around the Elk River valley across from Upper Campbell Lake. From there Boulding can range out to windy Escalante Point, south of Nootka Sound, or up to the top of Mt. Waddington in the Coast Range, the tallest mountain wholly inside Canada. Boulding is intimate with the most of North Vancouver Island, somewhere near the middle of a Nootkan tribal heaven, between the mountains and the sea, the rain and the sun, warmth and the cold.
Boulding is a big man, as required by the genre and is bigger in person than his physical dimensions. Urban sophisticates find him irresistible. He has this style fine tuned down to the ten pound wool trousers, bulky Cowichan sweater and sweat blotter Clint Eastwood hat. At the Ankor bar, he ordered whiskey and within minutes came the invitation to join the manager’s table. Strathcona Lodge catalogues were passed around. Boulding uses them like business cards, 33 pages thick. As always in these junkets to the air conditioned, he was a smash. He returned with a few more lines open from the bricks to the sticks.
There is a stimulating blend of intelligence and celebrity at the lodge: Rod Haig Brown, Burl Ives, Ted Peck, Jim Conway, were among the guests in the early days. They came for the fishing with the best Class A guide on the North Island. Jim guided and Myrna cooked during their summers off from teaching high school in Campbell River. The town was split over the principal John Young who had strong beliefs about learning. Some parents saw his methods as eroding their authority. Bouldings were hard core supporters of John Young and his outlook. Jim was sympathetic because of his two months of hooky during high school in Penticton. When John Young was driven from Campbell River to become an auto parts millionaire, the Bouldings found themselves with a summer lodge and nine months’ time on their hands. The lodge as it has evolved is partly a product of the educational theories of John Young. Other influences include West Coast Native elders, local pioneers, and the Bouldings own philosophy about nutrition, good food and a physical relationship to the natural world.
“People who come here have tremendous courage,” muses Myrna Boulding, whose forthrightness counterbalances Jim’s occasional overstatement. She speaks in a tone that conveys wonderment that guests will trust the Bouldings not to lose them forever in places where communication is by messages in a bottle.
“They come here with their sneakers and their backpacks and no idea what they are in for. Even with catalogues we put out, they have no idea what goes on here. They don’t know whether it’s a head trip or an Outward Bound or what.”
One wonders why Myrna goes to such candid lengths to discourage the golf- clubs-in-the-Maserati set from coming considering the Bouldings have their noses pressed against the poverty line. But of course this is a negative kind of travel poster. Come to Strathcona If You’re Good Enough! A blatant appeal to the martyr complex in each and everyone of us. Who could resist? Make your own bed? About time. Separate the garbage? Serve myself breakfast? Cook? Wash dishes? Show me the Brillo.
After filing her comprehensive list ofthe lodge’s drawbacks, it occurs to Myrna that there are a few benefits available for your $200 and up investment. “No matter who you go out with, what ever course you take you’ll get a bit of ethno-botany, a bit of heavy duty walking, and a bit of canoeing.You will get involved in the other courses, spontaneously, despite yourself. Almost everyone here does the ropes course, a combination of high wire stunts and Marine boot camp agility drills. If there are four courses going on simultaneously and you have family in other ones, you can’t help but learn something.”
At the root of the uncertainty about Strathcona Lodge is the paradox of Boulding himself. In his charming Mr. Natural way, he is quite capable of damning all the grand schemes of mankind, while praising in lyrical detail the intricate patterns of life along the shorelines. This is not an unusual viewpoint these days, even when stated as succinctly as Boulding puts it: “Planning is bullshit. If it is gonna happen, it will happen naturally. That’s organic planning.” But it takes gall to talk that way while you’re working on your master’s thesis in Planning at the University of Reading, England. Not that the profession couldn’t use a little of that thinking. It’s just that Boulding is in leafy drag. The lodge has that same double identity.
The Bouldings’ problem is how to promote an outdoor centre that has elements of the basic RCMP training and Ken Kesey’s communal farm, circa 1968, complete with a clone of the big man himself.
Boulding ambles around the lodge site, chewing on a blade of grass, beside the two main buildings in cedar/fir post and beam style with overhanging roofs, skylights, an attached greenhouse and that magnificent view reflected in the westward glass. He introduces the staff. We pass the efficient Swiss made compost tower and the site where Ray Green, a log cabin builder and Berkeley ecology graduate, is teaching his timeless skill. Michael Rewald who graduated from Fordham University (environmental studies) and is a former forest ranger, now manages Strathcona’s facilities. Bob Sutherland (U of T biologist), the program director, can play five musical instruments and is a one man hoe down. Bob built a Buckminster Fuller style “icosocabin” dome, by himself for his own accommodation.
The Japanese teahouse set among the lakeside firs was built by Paul Bragstad, a Harvard alumnus who winters at Marin County College, north of San Francisco. There is Bill Conconi, an ex Canadian navy captain, who teaches environmental studies at Mt Douglas high school in Victoria and organizes Strathcona’s inside passage cruising programs. Lori Babb has a master’s in plant biology (nutrient transfer through membranes) from the University of Alberta, which may not be all that impres- sive until you learn about her welding and beekeeping capabilities. UBC law student Michael Robinson, a Rhodes scholar, with a Master’s in anthropology and his thesis was on Chief Maquinna of Friendly Cove on Nootka is a west coast specialist.
On and on it goes: heavy academic backgrounds, they can all do Eskimo rolls in kayaks, and often come to Strathcona from executive life. Brian Patterson was in charge of Vancouver’s IBM office. For all of his pinecone pretensions, he does point out the four PhD’s on the lodge’s board of directors including John Hogarth, law professor and former head of the B.C. Police Commission, and Bruce Fraser, the botanist, former head of Selkirk College and now head of post secondary programs for the B.C. Dept. of Education. I found Boulding’s brochure not in some travel agents office, but in the ante room of B.C. deputy education minister Walter Hardwick. The Tseshaht band’s George Clutesi is an honorary director. Author Hilary Stewart teaches native art and culture.
Boulding’s final objective is to subvert traditional schooling by teaching self reliance in the wilds and breaking down the classroom master – slave system. He is continuing John Young’s work. Boulding wants recognition from the universities for his teacher training courses which are funded by the Dept of Education. Let’s face it that’s like Ralph Nader asking GM for money to sue for faulty Corvairs!
Escalante Point where the Japanese landed the only ordinance on North America, a single shell which the commander hoped would panic the continent. Escalante Point is not much of a port in a storm. It reaches out in turmoil. Gales blow from Alaska unimpeded by mountains. Ancient conifers rock in the breezes, awaiting real winds to crash them to the forest floor. We do not want to be around here when the clouds move our way. We had been there four five? Six? Days. We saw the sea lions huddle barking on the reefs. We tried to fish for late spawning salmon. We saw mink coats still alive, cougar tracks and raccoons identical to the ones in Kitsilano. Strawberries that had gone unnoticed before were seen growing on the beach. We foraged for the edible root of the silver leaf, pulled up goose grass to eat like Spanish onions, pried limpets off rocks at low tide, drank tea made of licorice root and balsam needles to prevent scurvy. We built our own sauna. We would have killed for dry socks.
I mean, we survived.