Tuesday, 17 March 2009

Remembering Beth

Many of you have been drinking green beer and making friends with leprechauns today. Enjoy!

To me March 17 is, or rather was, above all the birthday of my friend Beth, gardener and political activist extraordinaire. 
She is so present in my gardens. The plants that remind me of her most are the old fashioned primrose and the red Russian kale. Like Beth herself they are hardy, generous beings. Every year I give some of those away, always with the reminder to plant and enjoy them in Beth's name.
In her day Beth had been not just nice looking but a raving beauty. I stole the picture below from the Facebook page of her daughter Karma, who is doing a brilliant job of succeeding her mother as the family matriarch.
Beth died a few days after her birthday in 2007, aged 68. She is dreadfully missed, but she packed more living into her 68 years than most others do in 98.
Seriously: if you live to be 100, and 40 of those years have been spent in a cubicle waiting for the weekend, can you call that living to be 100?

Most of our times together were spent in her gardens, or marching for various good causes. We saw each other most in the nineties, when a home support assignment took me to her neighborhood about 10 Km from my place once a week.
I was working with a mentally handicapped man. We were supposed to find something to do that might qualify as a job, so he could get some extra pension. In summer we spent Friday afternoons tidying up walk ways and camp sites at Summit Lake Park, just past Beth's place. It was wonderful!
After work we'd stop for a visit and a cuppa. Beth and I would walk her blooming property and exchange garden talk, while Joe contentedly puffed on Beth's cigarettes. I sincerely believe those times were among the happiest in Joe's life.
There were even a few Septembers when the park was closed, but the winter job hadn't started yet. We got work at Beth's farm, mainly digging out the goat manure and pruning the raspberries. Note the sturdy support system, vastly superior to my ramshackle contraptions. Beth was a self sufficient handy mountain woman.
Once I retired from Home Support in 2000 our paths didn't cross as much. Beth was living close to the edge and would never casually hop into a car to waste time socializing. I lived without a car for 7 years. We did make it t0 the garlic fest together, as witnessed by this newspaper clipping.
 We also marched together in protest before the start of the Iraq war. 

And our paths always crossed on Saturday at the farmers market, which Beth had started. Her children had a memorial bench placed under the tree where her booth used to be.

When she died I wrote this for the local papers. Many people commented on how well it captured Beth.
Celebrating Beth James
The mother of the Nakusp farmers market has left us. Beth James just died.

Apart from her grieving family and friends Beth leaves behind the legacy of the market, some rather spoiled goats, and an incredibly fertile piece of Earth.
Summit Lake is not exactly prime agricultural land, but thanks to Beth’s passionate care, backbreaking labor and plenty of goat manure her small stony acreage bloomed and produced like the finest Fraser Valley farmland.

Passionate is the first word that comes to mind when I think of Beth. Passion and compassion. Beth cared about all creatures great and small.
In body she never strayed far from the farm. Being the sole caretaker of milking animals will do that to you. But she had traveled extensively in her youth, and her intellectual scope was huge. In her mind Beth went everywhere under the Sun and beyond it and had strong well-informed opinions on anything she encountered.

Beth was both a proud patriotic Canadian and a true citizen of the world. She was acutely aware of the terrible injustices that occur on this planet and they made her furious. This ironic poster hung in the bathroom. The text reads: Is your washroom breeding Bolsheviks? Unreadable here, beneath, if memory serves: If not, you are not providing the right reading material. How about a subscription to Mother Jones?

According to Western standards Beth may have been poor, but those were not the standards she set for herself. She did not compare herself  to people with big houses and shiny cars, but to the wretched of the earth. So she lived mainly in gratitude, knowing that anyone living in Southern B.C. on her own piece of land is fortunate indeed.

The market will not be the same without Beth.
She never charged enough for her quality homemade products. Last summer I tried to talk her into raising the price for her goat cottage cheese. She was selling it for about half the usual price. Said Beth: “Oh, I always think, as long as everyone gets dinner”.

Ways to honor Beth’s memory:

Be good to your planet.

Count your blessings and give thanks daily.

Share your abundance.

Beth, we miss you. Thanks for sharing parts of this Earth round with us.


  1. Well, first of all, you don't know me. We've never met. But I was touched by this blog entry and wanted to say how wonderful to read of someone like Beth. She lived the life I wish I had . . . even though I'm not a gardener! It's the simplicity and sense of values that appeals.

    I now have your blog bookmarked as a favourite.

    I found your blogs through a post you left for one of Kim Klaver's blogs. You live a beautiful part of the world . . . somewhere I'd love to move to. I'm in Alberta, but I love the West Kootenays. I have relatives in Castlegar.

    Best wishes.

    Derek Bly

  2. What a beautiful day to remember! That beebalm sure loves goat shit. Dead isn't all it's cracked up to be. We love you Beth.

  3. What wonderful memories and lovely write up. Beautiful to have the flowers in the garden.

    1. Thanks Renee. I love the way perennial flowers remind us of the people they came from. Many of my plants came from friends, and in turn many gardens have flowers from my place.


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