Castlegar’s Elizabeth Fleet has published a book of reminiscences. These cover an extensive period of time — from when she left England as a young woman to her current tenure as a retiree. In essence, we get glimpses in both stories and poetry of more than 50 years of her life.
For those who don’t know Fleet, she and her husband have lived in Castlegar for 30-plus years and raised three children. For several years, Fleet was a member of Selkirk College’s board of trustees and its chair for several of those years. She also served terms on the Open Learning Agency and Royal Roads University.
A dedicated walker, you may have noted her rambling along the streets and byways of Castlegar. In fact, as her book Another Land (Friesen Press, 2019) makes clear, she has been involved in at least two walking clubs, one in the north and the other in Castlegar.
The book is called Another Land because Fleet was only coming to British Columbia to teach for two years. However, the beauty of the land and the pleasant lifestyle captivated her, and then when she fell in love and married, it wasn’t long until this country became her country.
The stories in the book are moments in time of events that happened to her and her family and friends. These narratives are recorded in a straightforward voice — not trying to hide anything or keep the reader guessing. One such story called “Crossing the Columbia River” deals with a group of friends walking in the deep snow along the east river bank and noting three deer on the far shore beneath where the Fleets lived.
The bit of suspense in the story occurred when the group startled a deer on their side of the river. Its escape was to launch itself into the frigid Columbia waters and swim to the other side. And the group watched in awe as the deer swam across and joined the others.
Another story got me laughing because I’ve experienced similar situations. Fleet’s husband Terry loved fishing, although he rarely brought many fish home. He and a friend went fishing one afternoon and found a likely spot on the Kalum River. The friend walked out onto an overhanging log and was immediately attacked by a nest of hornets. The friend batted at the hornets near his face and managed to knock his glasses into the river.
Terry, now the only one of the two who could see, went out onto the same log to see if he could retrieve the glasses. The hornets immediately attacked him. Desperate to get rid of them, he too swiped at them and ended up knocking his own glasses into the river.
Much of the poetry in Fleet’s book is nature based. Some stanzas proceed from observation of the immediate landscape and demonstrate an immense knowledge of plant and animal life. Often Fleet will let images speak for themselves, but occasionally she will reflect on what she has seen. “Snow falls gently, floating down/Builds unwieldy loads on bending branches/Partly fills tracks, leaving a ghostly hint/Of what was here just yesterday.”
Quite a few poems comment in an enquiring way into the depths of our existence: why we were born, what’s in store for us in the future. These are wondering and examining and reflective verses — a few commanding readers to take notice of things: “Do not judge me now/Live a day first and see/Tread in my footsteps/Feel for me.”
There are poems of congratulations as in celebrating her husband’s 70th birthday and examining his life until then. There are poems in praise of individuals such as a former lieutenant governor of B.C., and there are poems in memoriam. In particular, I was impressed by the poem Fleet wrote upon the death of her father, part of which reads as follows: “You ran your race with honour/Supporting those held dear/You’ve moved beyond our vision/But your guiding light is clear.”
The incidents in this book are brought further to life by the water colours of artist Sandra Donohue. All 15 of her remarkable images parallel aspects of Fleet’s writing. The watercolours work beautifully as they complement the written words and don’t overwhelm them.
The reader will find “Notes” on the works at the back of the book, but these are not necessary to enjoy the lives and events Fleet has laid out for us.
Fleet will be reading her book at the Castlegar and District Library on November 12 at 6:30 p.m.
The book is available direct from the author by calling 250-365-8019 or at the Kootenay Gallery of Art.
Gordon Turner is a Castlegar News columnist.