All The Stories We Could Tell
By Peter Kingsmill
This week, we at Free Range Writers are pleased that Canadian environmental writer Peter Kingsmill agreed to share thoughts with us (see Peter's bio below). Thank you, Peter!
But all the stories we could tell, If it all blows up and goes to hell. I wish that we could sit upon the bed in some motel, And listen to the stories we could tell
Singer and songwriter Jimmy Buffett nailed it, and during the several years I spent traveling the bars and dance-halls of our land I lived that song, and sang it most evenings. Sadly, the eleven strings on my old guitar have gotten rusty and my sense of pitch and increasingly frog-like voice combine to remind me that those days are over, so if I want to tell those stories, I’ll have to find another way, and maybe other stories too.
Happily, green is my favourite colour, because I have spent a lot of time in my life being very green at something. And about three years ago I entered a whole new world of green when I decided that writing for other people and being paid for it is not enough. Now I want to write for myself; talk about a lapse of common sense!
Worse yet, I wanted to write about things I care about, things I consider important. Lakes and rivers and forests, the people who live where they are, and the governments and corporations that inexorably tear out the hearts of those communities. I could write from experience because I have lived those things, but I would have to write fiction and of course the setting could not be where I live because, well, because for an old guy I have a remarkably strong sense of self-preservation.
Since this is all fiction anyway, let’s sit on that motel-room bed for awhile and tell stories about being green – another kind of green. “Green” is fundamentally a colour, which may also be used to describe a way of thinking about the environment or it may describe that lack of experience I referred to earlier. So, green is also, fundamentally, in the eye of the beholder. I find it passing strange (ironic, really) that my real main-street neighbours consider me a greenie when it comes to the environment but never question my credentials as a novelist. Neither are fully accurate.
I have spent over 25 years trying to raise the “green” profile of an attractive saline lake in Saskatchewan. This thirty-square-mile (7200Ha) body of water is a sump… over the last 200 years or more the lake has been the lowest point in a closed watershed. It is saline (magnesium sulphate, for those who care about such things) in sufficient concentration to prevent the establishment of nuisance fish like trout or northern pike or walleye, but for a time enabled the politically profitable stocking of whitefish for a
commercial fishery. The whitefish population, too, failed, but stickleback minnows still do well in good years. The game-fish population – or the lack thereof – has had a profound impact on the environment of Redberry Lake and its uplands: the human species didn’t give a damn about the place either so by and large they have left it alone.
There are many stories here that I want to tell, and there are some good mysteries to stretch and even tales of sin and redemption. In his April 18, 2020, Free Range Writer Dave Butler discusses eloquently the three Ps of mystery writing: People, Place, and Plot. He writes: Plot carries the story, builds tension, and answers the many ‘what if?’ questions that are a critical foundation for mysteries. Here, I struggle. I see life as I see a recording tape: each bar of music is just a short, complicated segment of magnetic data on a seemingly endless roll of tape. The tape winds and unwinds, and the environment, too, goes on without resolution, no matter what evil we bestow upon it or what magnificent gestures we make to protect it. So our stories are truly but moments in time.
Dave closes his April 18 blog entry with can environmental mysteries also create a fourth ‘p’ -- purpose? Do they have a role in encouraging conversations? At a time when civil debate is increasingly fractured, do we have an opportunity as writers to do more than just tell a good story?
I’m not sure. I’d like to think so, and I do hope so. But I fear we may need to be content with inspiring moments of action in a reader or two, while sustaining our own dream-scapes to inhabit as writers.
If you ever wonder why you ride the carousel,
You do it for the stories you can tell.
Peter Kingsmill, from Hafford, Saskatchewan, is the author of the Awan Lake mystery series. Peter is a recipient of the Governor General’s Conservation Award (Canada) and the founder of the Redberry Lake (UNESCO) Biosphere Reserve in Saskatchewan. When he is not writing novels, he serves as publications editor with the Alberta Society of Professional Biologists and works as a consultant on regional development projects. Peter joined Crime Writers of Canada as a Professional Author Member in 2018.
Peter has been a frequent writer and editor since leaving high-school in Montreal and college in Vermont. He recently retired from many years as a riverboat captain and owner of a small-waters marine services business, and has worked at an eclectic mix of tasks which include logger, trucker and cattle farmer. He is passionate about Canada’s rural spaces and has served two terms as Mayor in his home community of Hafford, where he lives with his wife Valerie, an artist and the author/illustrator of the Redberry Tales series of gentle children's books.