The old growth wisdom keepers of the Kootenays

Nelson author interviewed local seniors for book on aging.

Nelson author Lee Reid sets out to dispel myths about aging in her new book launching at the Nelson Public Library at 7 p.m. on Thursday.

Nelson author Lee Reid sets out to dispel myths about aging in her new book launching at the Nelson Public Library at 7 p.m. on Thursday.

There are plenty of different ways to approach aging.

For local poet Tom Wayman, for instance, growing older meant retreating to his estate in the Slocan Valley and focusing on his gardening. For Helen Jameson, it means taking care of wild animals and nursing them back to health on her Blewett farm.

And when Nelson author Lee Reid set out to interview these local seniors about their thoughts on aging for her new book Growing Home: The Legacy of Kootenay Elders, she was stunned by the stories she heard.

“The roots of this go all the way back into my childhood, when I saw people as they age disappear. Nobody talked about aging or death, and it looked to me as a child that there was a code of secrecy around what was happening to them, and then they were gone,” Reid told the Star.

“I realized I was an orphan of sorts. I had no mentors, no models for aging. It didn’t matter until it occurred to me one day that I too am old.”

That’s when she started writing small profiles of local gardeners, a project that morphed into this book. In it, she’s hoping to dispel myths around aging and death.

It features full-colour portraits of her subjects, including grocer George Coletti, beekeeper Rob McIntyre and Fred and Liane Rudolph of Shutty Bench.

Reid will launch the book at the Nelson Public Library Thursday at 7 p.m. But it wasn’t an easy process to get here, and at times convincing people to share was difficult. For instance, Jameson originally turned her down.

“Helen said to me ‘I’ve had a hard life, I’ve lost three husbands and two children, and I don’t want you to write about it because I don’t want people to feel sorry for me.’”

Reid eventually convinced her, though. And she was blown away by the insights shared.

“Helen said to me, ‘If not for you telling my story, who would know?’ And that’s when it hit me that many people just expect to die and that’s it. For Helen, her legacy is her sanctuary and she said she wants to see it continue past her death.”

It was around this time that Reid became “mildly militant about spreading the gospel that you’re not alone”.

“I’ve been here in the Kootenays for 33 years and for almost 20 of that I was a health professional with Interior Health, where I was an addictions specialist. I saw a lot of the creative and dark side of the culture, but I didn’t get to venture forth,” she said.

It was only when she retired she had the room to learn and grow.

“My epiphany was that I felt this deeply rooted sense of belonging I never had. I’ve always felt on the outside, and my work kept me confined. But with aging now I feel a growth, and expansion, and I’ve been able to engage with the culture.”

Her advice: “Talk to the elders.”

“The presence and compassion and cherishing of time now that they can bring to the lives of people around them in the community is an enormous contribution I’ve learned to really value. They’re not invisible, but you have to go out and ask, ‘Will you talk to me?’”

She calls them “the old growth wisdom keepers of the Kootenays.”

The book also features gardening advice and recipes, with art from Nelson artist Amber Santos and pictures from local photographer Rod Currie and others.

More information can be found at growinghomestories.com.