Alan Bradley: This Writing Life
There's a case to be made, I suppose, for the notion that bodies of water encourage the springing up of writers in much the same way they promote the growth of trees and wildflowers.
The young Shakespeare grew up dabbling along the green banks of the River Avon; Steinbeck was born on the Pacific shore; Poe and Emerson on the Atlantic. Mark Twain gifted the entire world with tales of his childhood and young years on the Mississippi. James Joyce was born on the River Liffey. And then there were the Lake PoetsŠ
Closer to home, Pierre Berton was born on the Yukon River, Farley Mowat on the shores of Lake Ontario, Margaret Atwood on the Ottawa River. And here in the Okanagan, a string of lakes, each of near-mythic beauty, has nourished poets and writers as diverse as Patrick Lane, Jack Whyte, George Ryga, L.B. Greenwood, and Frederick Niven. Writing early in the twentieth century, Niven was reminded by our valley of his native Scotland, as was Lady Aberdeen, who, in the eighteen-nineties, en route to the Okanagan, had written:
"Šthe beauty of a country is often over-rated (and) we had schooled ourselves not to be disappointed." She was not.
"A quiet, gray morning, with light soft fleecy white clouds floating about the mountaintops, had brightened out into an afternoon full of sunshine."
The quiet, the clouds, the mountains, the sunshine and the Okanagan moonlight were the memories she took away with her: images she would carry with her for the rest of her long life.
Even today, busting at the seams with beehive industry, the Okanagan remains a quiet corner for the writer. The landscape cannot be ignored: it is right there, all the time, rising up in steep slopes of snow and summer green. In springtime, the very air above our heads is a sea of yellow wildflowers, and when a summer storm blows in off the lake, it is often of a ferocity that might well have inspired Coleridge.
It is difficult - perhaps impossible - for an Okanagan author to set down words that are not influenced by these lush surroundings: surroundings which seem to infuse themselves in every line. Could this be the reason why so many of our writers, from poets to media columnists, are gifted with such lyric expression?
The rocks rise up around us, the lakes, streams and rivers refresh and inspire us, the sky covers us all with the same blue blanket. Tucked into a stone dish beneath a crust of fluffy clouds, we are cherries in a lovely pie, and the living is sweet.
Alan Bradley's latest book is "The Shoebox Bible", published by McClelland & Stewart. Visit his website at www.alanbradley.ca