Flash Back Fridays

ROB WOOD AND JIM – 1986 A Story by David Boulding

While Jim died in 1986, he is still alive to Rob Wood and other like-minded folks. Rob Wood climbed in the Himalayas, in Yosemite, England, Baffin Island, and of course, Colonel Foster in January. Rob recognized an immediate spiritual kinship with Jim’s restless spirit. Jim was a teacher by profession; his classroom was Strathcona Park and the west coast of Vancouver Island. The untamed geography matched his big heart and big teachings. On more than one occasion he advised his survival students, “If the weather is bad, you have to learn to think like animal.” This wild animal intensity was infectious as his students soon were caught up in his energy and devoured his various teachings. Jim’s animal spirit, best seen in a breaching Killer whale, allowed him to connect with people because he convinced them that they mattered, and that the natural world mattered. For Jim, and likeminded, the natural world was alive and we needed to fit in and not to conquer. He would frequently say, “The natural world is not an obstacle course,” a dig at those who would choose routes that offered only physical challenges.

Rob met Jim one evening during a visit and has stayed in touch with the lodge ever since. Rob is the man to see if you want to know about Jim. Jim, unlike most other people, took people personally. In a moment, in a gesture, by listening and looking you in the eye, Jim could convince anyone they had been his best and closest friends for years. Rob Wood, besides having a career as husband, rock adventurer supremo, environmentalist first class and working architect, has still maintained Jim’s energy in his work with his students.

Jim had several phrases he repeated, knowing that repetition is a teacher’s second most used tool. He maintained the first tool a good teacher uses is to build relationships. He also stressed the world is run by secretaries and janitors…. “Make sure you get along with them!” Jim often repeated the following phrases: “happy warrior”, “generosity of spirit”, “do more with less”, “living on the edge” and of course, “make it happen”. His favourite cuss word was “pusillanimous”….. Usually in line along with five or six other descriptors and applied with vigor to various government lackeys, or with a smile to close friends. Rob was lovingly called, “that pusillanimous pomey pencil pushing”…..and on and on.

Jim learned that relationship skills were physical and honed his as a full back at U.B.C. He taught school for years in Campbell River, coached a million sport teams and had a following of students who loved him for over 25 years, even after he stopped teaching. Most of the men who went to High School in Campbell River will tell you about the time Jim applied a sawed off hockey stick to their backsides, then will relate to you the story how Jim got them through grade 12. He would often pick up troubled youth in his famous bear hug and hold the kid off the ground sending two clear messages: first, that he was the biggest guy you ever saw, and second, that he cared for you and with him no harm would arrive.

He could tell winter employees he had no money, and that he needed this building completed by spring and 15 fellows, along with their girlfriends would jump to get it done. He could walk up to loggers and tell them, as they were usually ex students from Campbell River, that he was taking these logs because he needed the firewood.

In 1973, S.P.L. went full time, as Jim and Myrna quit teaching trying to make Strathcona happen. In the beginning, Jim taught survival courses. A favourite lesson was to put all you needed into an old juice can (no pack no other gear) and follow Jim to the wet coastal forest for an overnight. While students would cram in matches, aluminum space blankets, whistles, twine, and all manner of modern gear, Jim would cram in a few steaks. Rob Wood, as a pomey mountaineer, knew all about the value of a brew. All mountain historians agree the “pusillanimous pomeys”, with Edmund Hillary in charge, summitted Everest because they had the common sense to stop for a brew of tea before trouble arrived. So, when Rob discovered that making a fire to have a brew was the cornerstone of Jim’s survival course: it was a match.

While Jim was, in theory, teaching survival to students of all ages who did learn about pitch sticks and fire lighting; the main lesson was how to be in tune with the natural environment. Jim said, over and over again, “through learning to love nature, we learn to love ourselves.” On first aid he said: “The most important thing you can do for the casualty is to make them feel as comfortable as possible, relieve their anxiety and let nature get on with her healing processes.”

The source of Jim’s Great Spirit varied. He learned a lot playing sports at a white hot intensity: there was no such thing as “touch football” as the delicate bearded hippies from Friends World College painfully discovered. The west coast native elders gave Jim the phrase “generosity of spirit”. Specifically, two major influences in Jim’s life were an old native trapper from Penticton and George Clutesi, an elder from Port Alberni. As a young high school student, Jim was frequently truant when he went hunting and fishing in the mountains above Penticton. George Clutesi, from Tofino, met Jim while he was coaching high school and had a galvanizing effect.

When organizing his epic west coast safaris he made it clear he hated the master servant style of adventure tourism. He would say, “we are going out to the coast, what do we…. all of us ….need to do,” and he would bring out his captain’s checklist. This blunt egalitarianism appealed to Rob Wood and Rob’s friend the great Himalayan climber Doug Scott.

Like these Himalayan hungry limey’s, Jim had a spiritual sense that encompassed and was informed by the natural world. Combined with his fullback vigor, this spirit sense of everyone he met allowed him to see the test each student needed to pass. Jim knew that for some children, being away from home was their test to pass and for others it was a hard hike up Elk Mountain in the heavy wet snow.

For years, Rob Wood has continued Jim’s tradition of speaking to the students about the spiritual aspect of the wilderness. Rob tells stories of Jim, “just knowing” that this was not the right place to be at the moment, or the right time to be in a place, and would change the trip route. Inevitably, the place they left would avalanche, storm or some similar calamity would occur. Rob believes, like Jim, this kind of listening can be learned. Both Rob and Jim insist that by listening to the spiritual sense of the natural world we can live a bigger life. Rob’s favourite song is: “When the Coho Shine Silver all Over the Bay.” Rob bellowed lustily this song at Jim’s funeral with Annie Boulding on guitar. The coffin was decorated by Diane Porter and Ifan Evans, former gardeners from New Mexico who had returned to help when they heard that Jim was ill. Jerry Jack and his wife came in at the last minute which we considered a great honour. He was a long time friend from the Gold River, later a chief.

A few days before Jim was admitted to Campbell River Hospital, Jim and Myrna stopped at the Post Office to pick up the mail. Jim, sick, was unable to walk into the Post Off ice, so Myrna went in for the mail only to find out the Post Office staff would not give her the mail. After going up the chain of command, the pusillanimous pompous prick in charge said: “I know your husband but I don’t know you”.

Myrna had similar obstacles with the banks of Campbell River. She was unable to get a loan, even with her father Wallace and her brother Bruce as cosigners who had the amount of the loan in their personal accounts. Finally Myrna got a loan from the credit union and the lodge has dealt with the women at the credit union ever since.