Years ago Kootenay activist K.L. Kivi was camped in the middle of the pristine wilderness of the Purcells when one of the developers for the hotly contested Jumbo Glacier Resort, Grant Costello, confronted her.
“He said ‘you’re camped inside the boundary of the town’,” Kivi told the audience at her library book launch for The Town of Nothing on Tuesday evening.
“I looked around and said ‘Grant, there’s nothing here’.”
The absurdity of the situation prompted her to start writing.
“Later I started writing about this nothing thing. It was so ridiculous; it didn’t make any sense at all—and that’s how this (book) came to be.”
Nelson children and adults alike came out for the book launch, which featured a live reading from Kivi and illustrator Amber Santos. Audiences learned that, like Jumbo, the book is densely populated with bears. If you look closely, there’s at least one on every page.
In one section, the Mathematician of Nothing says “Nothing from nothing leaves nothing”—one of Kivi’s favourite moments. On another page the Musician of Nothing adds “You got to have something, if you want to be with me.”
“We’re calling it an all-ages pictures book because there’s a bit in it for everybody,” Kivi said.
And though it’s a humorous read, Kivi believes the subject matter is serious—and important.
“This is part of our ongoing commitment to saying ‘no, that’s not what we want’. The Jumbo project was first proposed in 1990 and it’s been 25 years that people have been trying to keep the Purcells and the Jumbo Valley Wild.”
Many Jumbo activists were in attendance, and during question and answer period they discussed the environment minister’s recent decision to put the brakes on the project, and proposed turning the isolated concrete slab involved in the project into a community art project of some sort.
“I consider myself an art activist,” said Santos. “K.L. approached me first to paint a car. There was a rally outside city hall and we were trying to turn protesting into an act of joy.”
When Kivi asked her to be involved with the book, she jumped at the chance.
“For me it was a no-brainer. I feel passionate about our wilderness and Jumbo.”
Santos said expressing her political sentiments through art is a way to foster solidarity in the community.
“You can look around and say ‘wow, a lot of people feel the way I do’.”
A new Jumbo vehicle, decorated with Santos’ bears, was parked outside.
And though audience members joked that the best thing we can do to protect the wilderness is to stay out of it, Kivi emphasized the sustaining power it has.
“It’s amazing what happens when we do go out into the wilderness. It’s part of that bond. I’ve spent so much time over the last 10 years in Jumbo, and every time I go the commitment intensifies.”
She said it’s that love, not conflict, that fuels her.
“I think that things done out of love are stronger than if they’re done out of disagreement or opposition. I feel a lot of love for that place.”
The pair have received a Columbia Kootenay Cultural Alliance grant to tour the book, and already a generous donor has ensured every school library in District 8 has a copy.
The Town of Nothing is available at Otter Books. All proceeds go to the Keep Jumbo Wild campaign. The book will also be for sale during market days at the West Kootenay Ecosociety booth.